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The word landscape as most westerners use it is completely entrenched in western notions of land, nature and art. It is generally only conceived of in terms of an emerging post-Renaissance dichotomy of nature vs. culture or pristine vs. mundane and contaminated. Alternatively, the genesis of the western concept of landscape is tied to the discovery of linear perspective and map-making. It is not true, however, that understandings of landscape, even within western culture, are necessarily formed around concepts of untouched nature or which locate the observer (as in the trope of the painted landscape) outside of the picture, the landscape itself. For many people, the dense mesh of city buildings is their landscape and their art may reflect this.
For others, human intervention in the natural world may be seen as the ideal environment and "visual pleasure" may be brought about by views of cleared tracts of land juxtaposed with threatening wilderness. The actual word "Landscape" is derived from the Dutch, "Landschap" or German "'Landschaft' meaning a sheaf, a patch of cultivated ground, something small-scale that corresponded to a peasant's perception, a mere fragment of a feudal estate, an inset in a Breugel landscape. This usage had gone out of vogue by the eleventh century, replaced by words that corresponded to the larger political spaces of those with power - territoire, pays, domain.
And then in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it re-emerged, tightly tied to a particular 'way of seeing', a particular experience, whether in pictures, extolling nature or landscaping an estate" (B. Bender in Landscape: Politics and Perspectives 1995:2). Through tracing the history of the term we come to see that even within the realm of art, it is tied to politics and power of conceptual organization, ownership and perspective. That landscape painting as form of representation was established in 15th century Italy and Flanders was due to new politics of vision. In fact, landscape, be it used to describe a genre of painting or the world we locate ourselves within, is never empty, never just a 'vista'. And, equally as significantly, never only experienced visually.
Landscape refers to the layout in terms of a land area and to its visual representation, particularly as portrayed by members of the painting community.
The term landscape even in terms of the physical sense implies the visual interpretation of the configuration in terms of the land, because that is the primary way in terms of which a landscape is perceived.
A landscape comprises several principal categories in terms of elements:
human-built structural elements
depth and breadth in terms of view.
A landscape may also include:
other life forms, particularly in terms of members of fauna and wildlife communities
human-made artistic representations
direction of lighting
Landforms are based on a set of elements that include elevation, slope, orientation, stratification, rock exposure, and soil type. Landforms by name include berms, mounds, hills, cliffs, valleys, and so forth.
The practice of designing landscapes to engage with issues around visual pleasure and other aspects in terms of function is landscape architecture. A member of the landscape architecture community who has passed a state registration exam is termed a landscape architect.
When the term landscape refers to a static painting, weather and sky conditions are also important elements.
The term landscape also is applied to the orientation of a rectangular page, painting or other graphic, denoting that the long axis is horizontal. When the long axis is vertical, it is termed portrait.
The Habitat Theory claims that people like open landscapes because
the human species originates in the African Savanna. This theory
has been applied to explain why open landscapes are valued, but
it fails to explain why this is not universally true.