Year of Graduation
Level of Access
Open Access Thesis
Department or Program
Glaciers have long been synonymous with exploration, scientific inquiry, fear and fascination, and recreation. Now, they have become a poster child for climate change, their recession modelled and charted not only through data, but in the pictorial documents from the Romantic era. From early panoramas to field sketches, large-format paintings to satellite images, the faces of glaciers have been rendered in a variety of media. Their creators are just as multifaceted, serving as artists, geologists, mountaineers, and explorers. However, despite the progression of technology, artistic movements, our approach to depicting glaciers has remained stagnant, replicating the landscape painting conventions fostered by the German Romantics. Glaciers and their terrain are overwhelming, incomprehensible, and terrifying. To overcome these fears, humans rationalise and attempt to control the landscape, a mechanism that is defined by Kant in regard to the sublime. Art depicting glaciers conveys the need for human control and creates a hierarchy whereby humans dominate nature, a separatist relationship that threatens our ability to confront climate change and salvage the very landscape we have damaged. My thesis tracks late 18th-century and the 19th-country and contemporary depictions of the glaciers of the Berner Oberland and Wallis region in the Swiss Alps and the Northern Cascades in the United States. This essay aims to bring together robust research on artistic-scientific collaboration and mountaineering in the Alps to challenge claims that modern glacial landscape images are objective and position us in a new relationship to nature in contrast to the Romantics. It aims to bridge the gap between scientific efforts to communicate climate change through art and the failures to visualise the glacier in a new way. Finally, my work will consider what alternatives have or might break the cycle of sublime, romanticised, and combative relationships with the earth and how these approaches integrate human’s reliance and co-existence with ice with a new lens.
Available for download on Friday, May 19, 2023