Article

Real-World Geography: How people use geography and the geographic perspective in their everyday lives and real-world careers.

Illustration by Mary Crooks

By Mary Schons

Friday, January 21, 2011

EARLY WORK

“In 7th grade, at age 11, Ms. Rasmussen, our art teacher, asked us to paint something about the rain. That night, from my house on a hill, I looked down on the black asphalt.  Lights glistened against the rain-wet streets.  The car lights seemed to cut down into the roadway.  I decided to paint this phenomenon.  I stayed up very late that night excited by the wonder of exploring an idea visually.”

Judy grew up with a wide exposure to the geography and cultural landscape the of the United States.

“Our family was economically poor but culturally rich. My parents took us to museums and to foreign movies, art films and plays. When I was eleven, our family drove across the United States. That was very memorable. I learned early about a very large world, both in geography and in art.  I saw great films from India, Mexico, Europe, Russia, and the United States. I read stories that took place in different parts of the world.”

Perhaps because of her early exposure to the arts of the world, Judy considers the artistic community a global one, not limited to one culture or place. “The community is a large one:  the artists who have come before me, from whom I have learned, some from my own culture, others from different parts of the world.  The Dogon from Mali.  The Inuit from Canada and Alaska.  Abstract expressionists, many of whom were children of Eastern European immigrants to the United States.  I have learned from the aesthetics of different cultures, such as the simplicity of the Japanese.  Art grows out of the landscape in which it is formed.  The art that has influenced me comes out of very different landscapes.”

“From 1993 to 2005 I lived on a Hopi reservation in New Mexico. My last name, Tuwaletstiwa, is a Hopi word meaning ‘wind making ripples in the sand.’ At Hopi, the ceremonies are performed much as they were centuries ago because people stayed in one place for a thousand years. The religious ceremonies grew out of the landscape, and the needs of the Hopi people living in that landscape.”

“The great film director Federico Fellini once said, ‘Art is the dream activity of mankind.’ Art is from every culture.  It is an expression of that culture’s relationship to its geography, just as language is.”

MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

Judy is continually surprised by where her artistic vision will lead. “The act of creation becomes more mysterious the more I do it. Maybe I haven’t lived long enough to decipher its meaning. Living as an artist means being part of the flow.”

MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

“My work is always demanding. When my children were young, I'd put them to bed and then work on my art until midnight. Now I'm in the studio from nine to five every day, but I am never not thinking about art. It demands time, lots of time, very quiet time during which I might study an ant carrying a fragment of a leaf twice its size, a woodpecker pecking on a tree, listening for a hollow sound that could mean insects, a leaf moving in the wind.”

“Sometimes when I'm making art I like to put on the radio, but usually I prefer there to be absolute silence. I don't answer the phone. I need the time to think long thoughts, time to unfold and not to rush anything.”

HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

Geo- means ‘earth’ while -graphy means ‘to write.’  I think of geography as a language that helps us understand patterns on this Earth.”

Time and space are both important parts of geography. “Geography, for me, moves from the small to the large: a tectonic plate breaking away to form another continent, an ant carrying a pebble out of the earth. Geography stretches through time, changing over the millennia, sometimes violently, sometimes very slowly.”

GEO-CONNECTION

Judy’s artwork is influenced by the geography around her.

“When I traveled to New York City, the buildings were so tall that standing on the sidewalk felt like being at the bottom of a canyon. The storms in New York City are like storms in canyons.”

Judy’s 1993 painting “Prisoner’s Song” was inspired by a sidewalk scene in New York City. “A black Salvation Army Santa, dressed in a red costume, his tired middle-aged face masked behind a fake white beard, stood on the corner of 54th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City. Leaning with one hand on a lamp post, he wearily rang his bell as streams of shoppers hurried past him. 

“Different cultures met in this man in a way I found both beautiful and painful.”

Judy’s latest exhibit, called Natural Languages, includes paintings, sculpture, photographs, and poems. Natural Languages is inspired by a bosque, or small wooded area, near her studio in Galisteo, New Mexico, near Santa Fe. "I feel lucky to live beside a stream in the desert. When I began my new series, I decided it was important to spend time in the bosque that the stream creates. I hoped . . .  to use a variety of media in studying the bosque: photography, painting, sculpture, and text.”

“The bosque is just a ribbon of water no more than 10-15 feet across, but it supports a tremendous variety of plant and animal life. It's prone to flash floods. I see all kinds of animal prints in the mud—deer, coyote, mountain lion. The bosque feeds into the Rio Grande. We are very careful not to pollute it. The land is protected within the Hopi reservation, but it's vulnerable to outside development.”

"Just as a poem is composed of ordinary words, words we all use, the bosque is composed of ordinary materials . . . trees, grasses, water, earth, rocks, sand. The work in the series Natural Languages is composed of mundane materials we all see.  A poet creates rhythm and pattern, giving birth to images that awaken us to new ways of seeing.”

“I am seeking to use photographs, mixed media paintings, text, and sculptural objects like a poet uses words.”

SO, YOU WANT TO BE AN . . . ARTIST

“Learn to see. Really see. Notice the smallest blade of grass. How the light reflects off of it, how it grows.  Notice what is around you. Turn off the television. Sit in silence. Listen. Each day notice something new. Educate yourself. Do not let a day pass by without noticing something you didn’t see the day before. When you look at a photograph, study it. Learn about this large world in which we live.”

GET INVOLVED

“Support your local museums. Look at things you might not understand. Photograph the changes. Learn about the natural world. What makes a leaf fall? Find out.”

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

abstract expressionism

Noun

art style that focuses on spontaneous, dramatic composition and not representation.

aesthetics

Noun

study of beauty.

art film

Noun

movie, usually with a lower budget, made with artistic as well as commercial (economic) motives.

asphalt

Noun

chemical compound made of dark, solid rocks and minerals often used in paving roads.

blade

Noun

single leaf of grass.

bosque

Noun

woodlands found along streams, mostly used in the southwestern United States.

canyon

Noun

deep, narrow valley with steep sides.

Encyclopedic Entry: canyon

ceremony

Noun

activities to celebrate or commemorate an event.

college

Noun

institution of higher learning, attended after high school in the United States.

compose

Verb

to be made of.

continent

Noun

one of the seven main land masses on Earth.

Encyclopedic Entry: continent

coyote

Noun

wild animal, related to a wolf, native to North America.

cultural landscape

Noun

human imprint on the physical environment.

culture

Noun

learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

decipher

Verb

to figure out or interpret.

deer

Noun

mammal whose male members have antlers.

desert

Noun

area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

Encyclopedic Entry: desert

development

Noun

construction or preparation of land for housing, industry, or agriculture.

Dogon

Noun

people and culture native to central Mali.

earth

Noun

soil or dirt.

economic

Adjective

having to do with money.

exhibit

Noun

display, often in a museum.

exposure

Noun

availability of knowledge about something.

Federico Fellini

Noun

(1920-1993) Italian filmmaker.

flash flood

Noun

sudden, short, and heavy flow of water.

foreign

Adjective

having to do with another culture, country, or nation.

fragment

Noun

piece or part.

geography

Noun

study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

Encyclopedic Entry: geography

grass

Noun

type of plant with narrow leaves.

Hopi

Noun

people and culture native to the southwestern U.S.

immigrant

Noun

person who moves to a new country or region.

Inuit

Noun

people and culture native to the Arctic region of Canada, Greenland, and the U.S. state of Alaska.

lamp post

Noun

streetlight or tall pole with an electric light that illuminates the street below.

landscape

Noun

the geographic features of a region.

Encyclopedic Entry: landscape

media

Noun

means of mass communication, such as television or the Internet. Singular: medium.

millennium

Noun

1000 years.

mountain lion

Noun

large cat native to North and South America. Also called a cougar, puma, catamount, and panther.

museum

Noun

space where valuable works of art, history, or science are kept for public view.

paint

Noun

chemical used for color.

pebble

Noun

very small, rounded rock.

phenomenon

Noun

an unusual act or occurrence.

photograph

Noun

image produced by the reaction of light and certain chemical substances on paper or another medium.

play

Noun

performance of a work written for the stage.

poem

Noun

written or spoken composition notable for its beauty or rhythm.

pollute

Verb

to introduce harmful materials into a natural environment.

reservation

Noun

land in the U.S. reserved for the political, cultural, and physical use of Native American tribes and nations.

Rio Grande

Noun

(2,900 kilometers/1,800 miles) river that runs from the U.S. state of Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico, forming part of the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Called the Rio Bravo in Mexico.

rock

Noun

natural substance composed of solid mineral matter.

sand

Noun

small, loose grains of disintegrated rocks.

sculpture

Noun

three-dimensional artwork that is carved, molded, or modeled to create its shape.

storm

Noun

severe weather indicating a disturbed state of the atmosphere resulting from uplifted air.

stream

Noun

body of flowing water.

Encyclopedic Entry: stream

studio

Noun

space where artists work.

tectonic plate

Noun

large, moveable segment of the Earth's crust.

tree

Noun

type of large plant with a thick trunk and branches.

tremendous

Adjective

very large or important.

visually

Adverb

by sight.

vulnerable

Adjective

capable of being hurt.

woodpecker

Noun

bird with a hard, sharp bill for penetrating tough substances like tree bark.


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Writer

Mary Schons

Editor

Kara West
Jeannie Evers

Producer

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

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