26 травня 2021 р.

Landscape as a composition of daytime surface painting, containing meaning

Oleksa Kovalyov


It seems that the landscape is such a difficult phenomenon that its definition will long cause controversy between the authors, each of which produces its own version. And this is good, the main thing is to support the discussion. One of the main questions about the landscape is the following: does it have a material, corporeal essence, or is it a mental image of the material environment that surrounds us? This question is so complex that it is often difficult to understand the point of view of an author. Another difficult question: does the landscape have parts and, accordingly, can it decompose, and if it so, what do they look like? I think these questions are enough for one small article. This should be discussed because many authors who write about the landscape do not even consider it necessary to define it. For example, J. Janssen and L. Knippenberg, consider the complex issue of landscape conservation and management, did not define it [Janssen, Knippenberg, 2012].

The first question: is the landscape tangible/corporeal or intangible? I think that most of those who cover landscape issues (I do not take into account ordinary people) believe that the landscape is material. But I have not yet found any justification for this view, it all comes down to assertion. Moreover, supporters of this view do not even discuss other points of view, which, incidentally, indicate the weakness of their position. The question arises: if the landscape is material/corporeal (bodily), does it have a body, can physical measures such as mass, weight, energy metabolism, physical state, melting point, freezing and boiling point, density, solubility, thermal conductivity, absorption, heat capacity, concentration, fluidity, etc. be used to describe it? And also: is it possible to break down the landscape into chemical elements and molecules? I think that the answers to such questions should be negative. We can't cut off a piece of the landscape and weigh it, that's nonsense. In this case, it makes no sense to talk about the landscape as belonging to the category of physical phenomena: a landscape - not a thing. We do not walk or ride in the landscape, planes do not land on the landscape, and this is due to the existence of a surface formed by various material bodies, consisting of soil, rock, ice, water, gas, nutrients. When it comes to movement, it happens on the ground: we cross the terrain, but not the landscape. So, if we cannot answer the questions in the affirmative, then the landscape cannot be material. But then what is it? I think this is a mental image that arises in a person in contact with a surface area that has a characteristic structure, a characteristic pattern - the terrain. It is a diurnal, visible surface that can be perceived by the senses. What is a mental image? «A mental image or mental picture is an experience that, on most occasions, significantly resembles the experience of visually perceiving some object, event, or scene, but occurs when the relevant object, event, or scene is not actually present to the senses» [Mental image, Wikiquote, 2021]. The Stanford Encyclopaedia gives the following definition: «Mental imagery (varieties of which are sometimes colloquially refered to as “visualizing,” “seeing in the mind's eye,” “hearing in the head,” “imagining the feel of,” etc.) is quasi-perceptual experience; it resembles perceptual experience, but occurs in the absence of the appropriate external stimuli. It is also generally understood to bear intentionality (i.e., mental images are always images of something or other), and thereby to function as a form of mental representation» [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Thomas, 2014].

 Then the landscape is:

• organization of the drawing of the day surface, as it is perceived (modeled) by the observer;

• organization of discrepancies identified by the observer (depends on many factors);

• the face of the terrain (metaphor) as a part of the day surface, which has certain features that allow the observer to form a holistic image.

Other definitions can be formed, but the main thing is that they should focus on the mental nature of the landscape. If we limit ourselves to the irregularities of such a surface, we will deal with relief as the organization of the field of heights and depths (the definition of relief as just a set of irregularities of the earth's surface is incorrect, because, for example, a chaotic set of irregularities does not allow to form an organized image).

Thus, it is said that the landscape and relief are integral images of a particular area, containing the main physiognomic features of its physiography. What are these features? In the first place, I would put the composition. This concept should be understood more deeply because it seems that it may be the most important for understanding the landscape.

Composition - from Latin. compositio - assembly, connection, combination, content-formal integrity.

According to dictionaries composition is:

Merriam-Webster, Learner's Dictionary:

the way in which something is put together or arranged

• the combination of parts or elements that make up something


the act of combining parts or elements to form a whole;

British Dictionary:

the act of putting together or making up by combining parts or ingredients

something formed in this manner or the resulting state or quality;

• a mixture the parts of which something is composed or made up; constitution

The Free Dictionary:

a. The combining of distinct parts or elements to form a whole.

b. The manner in which such parts are combined or related.

1. the act of putting together or making up by combining parts or ingredients

2. something formed in this manner or the resulting state or quality; a mixture

3. the parts of which something is composed or made up; constitution

Now it is clear that in order to obtain compositional integrity, the main thing is «putting together». Composition should be considered both as a process of entity formation, and as an organizational system of its internal relations. When listening to a piece of music, we do not perceive the sound of each note, but the melody as a whole. I think I will not be mistaken if I write that the composition includes compatibility (the ability of parts to combine), connectivity, kinship and positionality of parts. Consider them.

Compatibility (connectivity, compatibility communion) - the fact of being able to exist, lives, or work successfully with something or someone else: capable of existing together in harmony (agreeable, amicable, congenial, kindred, and united).

Congeniality (affinity) - the quality or state of being congenial; a close similarity between two things; an attraction or sympathy for someone or something [English Vocabulary in Use, 2021].

Positioning – «the way that customers think about, or the way that a company wants customers to think about, a product in relation to similar products or to competitors' products» [English Vocabulary in Use, 2021]. The term positioning first appears in epistemology, a branch of philosophy that studies the following: how we know what we know. When it was first used in the mid-1920s, positioning did not describe social and political forces but meant the following: simply where things are in relation to other things - the nature of their location.

When considering the composition should also use concepts such as physiography and physiognomy. Physiography refers to the landforms present in an area. Physiographic province means a region (or area) with similar landforms that are distinctly different from the landforms in adjacent areas [Introduction to Physiography, 2014]. Physiognomy - the general form or appearance of something.

The main «laws» of the composition are the unity of form and content, the proportionality of parts between themselves and the whole, the integrity of the composition. It is the composition, not the components, that conveys the meaning of the image, the image. The best question of the composition is considered by the example of the picture. Let's compare paintings of women's faces painted by two prominent artists L. da Vinci and P. Picasso. Both contain a complete set (consist) of elements of a woman's face, but if da Vinci has a clear composition (there are connected and related parts with their position, which are proportional to each other and the whole, etc.), then Picasso to collect a face image from a fragmented image, it is necessary to place its parts (more precisely, fragments) mentally properly (according to the normal topography of the face) taking into account the above features of the composition. The same applies to the structure of the day surface: in order for the bridge to be landscape-forming, it must reflect a single process, the action of which leads to the formation of a harmonious pattern, the parts of which are coordinated with each other. This is important because it is about the location of the functional zones of the whole (as is the case with the organs in the body of a living organism). There are many publications whose authors use the terms «landscape composition», «landscape configuration», «landscape structure» (for example, [Redhead, Oliver, Woodcock, Pywell, 2020], [Mimet, Pellissier, Houet, Julliard, Simon, 2016], [McGarigal], [Shahanov, 2017], [Zamberletti, Papaïx, Gabriel, Opitz, 2020] and many others). Sometimes landscape composition is considered as «land cover in the landscape», and on their spatial distribution (landscape configuration), but does it make sense to talk about the composition and configuration of the landscape? This question is almost the main one, because the answer to it allows us to understand why the landscape emerges in our minds as a pattern. The answer is as follows: the landscape is a physiographic composition of the day surface, reflection of the complex structure of the geoenvironment as geoholarchy, it is the basis for the formation of the terrain pattern. And this already indicates that the landscape is not material, it is not a body that has a mass-energy exchange with the environment, it does not have physical characteristics, we do not walk on the landscape and planes do not land on it. In essence, the composition is the law of correct placement of structural and functional parts by position. As an example, I will cite a landscape from the movie «Avatar» (Fig. 2): the appearance of the environment is contrary to logic and raises the question: is it possible? Compare this landscape with the view of the real area «Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Hunan Province» (Fig. 3): the components are almost the same, but their positions are quite logical, which is admirable, not surprising.


Fig. 1. Portraits: left - Mona Lisa (Leonardo da Vinci); on the right - a portrait of a woman (Pablo Picasso). 


Fig. 2. Landscape from the movie «Avatar».




Рис. 3. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Hunan Province. If you’ve watched the hit sci-fi epic Avatar, Zhangjiajie will be familiar to you – the Southern Sky Column was the inspiration for the movie’s Halleljuah Mountains. No prizes for guessing the highlight here - a slew of pillar-like formations rising from the lush forest foliage as a result of years of natural erosion. Zhangjiajie attracts millions of awe-struck visitors, bolstered by the addition of the Bailong Elavator (the world’s tallest at 1070 feet), which is situated on the side of a cliff with three glass elevators. Maybe don't look down.



Another point is related to the influence of positionality on the possibility of forming an image of the area, which makes sense if we consider the structure of the day surface as «text». Take plain text define landscape by the European Landscape Convention (ELC): «an area, as perceived by people, which character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors» [Council of Europe, 2000: 15]. Let's write down its separate fragments in different languages and change their places: koji je lik (Bosnian) a cselekvés és az interakció eredménye (Hungarian) o nā kumu kūlohelohe a / a kanaka paha (Hawaiian) տարածք, ինչպես ընկալվում է մարդկանց կողմից (Armenian). I don't think anyone will be able to understand this text right away. The same happens in the case of landscape: the landscape is manifested only if the elements of the day surface are related to one «alphabet», logically combined, having a logical position - located within the area according to their functions. The question immediately arises as to whether we can use the notion of logic in relation to Nature, that is, whether logic is inherent in Nature. As noted by J.M. Musacchio, «Nature is logical because elemental logic has been implicitly abstracted from natural processes. The symbolic representation of logical statements shows a “form” that logicians have long believed to guarantee the truth of statements» [Musacchio, 2012: 143].

Let's move on to the second question: does the landscape consist of parts and, accordingly, can it decompose? I think not. Landscape is integrity, a single pattern and a single meaning. Pattern - regularity is an image - scheme that acts as an intermediate representation, or a sensory concept, thanks to which, in the mode of simultaneity of perception and thinking, patterns are revealed as they exist in our environment. Patterns are a way to curb the complexity faced by a person in a complex environment, which allows you to navigate faster. Moreover, we understand the situation precisely because of the patterns as a manifestation of regularity, and in their absence we find ourselves in a state of uncertainty. Good examples are the «braided channel» patterns (Fig. 4), «Idealized fluvial system» (Fig. 5) - here we have a reduced, schematic image, and many others.


Рис. 4. A braided channel on the Waimakariri River. Source: Wikipedia


Рис. 5. Zones of erosion, transport, and deposition, and the river channel as conveyor belt for sediment. (Reprinted from Kondolf 1994, with kind permission of Elsevier Science-NL.) [Kondolf, 1997: 534].


It should be noted that the formation of patterns in the mind is nothing more than a search for order in the midst of chaos. As K. Guilbert notes, «Patterns are the key to reality. I would say that is because the waveform is one of the key constituents of reality. Not only is a waveform a pattern in itself, but the interaction of waveforms as being constructive or destructive can literally form an infinite number of patterns. We use these patterns in our everyday perception of our world… from the fluctuations in the stock market, the changing seasons, the movement of the heavens, weather, music, or technology. All of these and much more are only possible through a perception and decoding of patterns» [Why are patterns so important to humans? Guilbert, 2020].


Now we can say with confidence that the landscape is not material (corporeal), it has no physical properties that would allow describing it in terms of physics, it is not a body, and it is an abstract image. Authors often write that a landscape is an area with characteristic features that are not similar to the features of neighbouring areas, but to denote such areas there is the term «locality» (area, terrain), but it is not the same as the landscape. Areas of different scales can form a complex organization, being nested in each other which are a consequence of the complex structure of the geoenvironment, which, in turn, is seen as geoholarchy, and it is they that are material, corporeal, it is with them that the observer-researcher comes into contact. It can be mountain, steppe, urban, rural, plain, rugged terrain and many other options with its own characteristic pattern, its own physiography and physiognomy, each of which corresponds to its landscape. In this case, the landscape is the face of the area - a mental image, a pattern of its material surface, so there is no need to see the whole area, just see its part, which contains the main features. We keep such patterns in our memory. Since the landscape contains the main features of the physiography of the area, it is nothing more than a physiographic composition of the day surface within the area, it is not a body. Therefore, when we see the terrain (and this is not just visual material), we abstract from the details and our brain forms its general meaning. In this case, all the details of the physical surface seem to disappear; therefore, the landscape does not consist of elements and cannot be subjected to classical analysis. The main conclusion is that the composition of the day surface underlies the landscape. We cannot change landscapes; we can change the physiography of the day surface within areas, which entails a change in landscapes as their images. In this context, the day surface can be considered as a palimpsest.



Janssen J., Knippenberg L. From Landscape Preservation to Landscape Governance: European Experiences with Sustainable Development of Protected Landscapes // Studies on Environmental and Applied Geomorphology, 2012. –


Mental image, Wikiquote, 2021. - https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Mental_image

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Thomas N.J.T., 2014 -


Merriam-Webster, Learner's Dictionary https://www.dictionary.com/browse/composition#:~:text=the%20act%20of%20combining%20parts,His%20moral%20composition%20was%20impeccable.

Dictionery.com https://www.dictionary.com/browse/composition#:~:text=the%20act%20of%20combining%20parts,His%20moral%20composition%20was%20impeccable.

British Dictionary https://www.dictionary.com/browse/composition#:~:text=the%20act%20of%20combining%20parts,His%20moral%20composition%20was%20impeccable.

The Free Dictionary - https://www.thefreedictionary.com/composition

Merriam-Webster: congeniality


English Vocabulary in Use. Cambridge University Press, 2021. –


English Vocabulary in Use, 2021: positionality -


Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 May. 2021.


Introduction to Physiography, Part 1, Radford University, 2014


Redhead J.W., Oliver T.H., Woodcock B.A., Pywell R.F. The influence of landscape composition and configuration on crop yield resilience // Journal of Applied Ecology, v. 57, 2020. – Pp. 2180–2190. –


Mimet A., Pellissier V., Houet Th., Julliard R., Simon L. A Holistic Landscape Description Reveals That Landscape Configuration Changes Moreover Time than 

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