Adult Opportunities

Art History of Plants

Explore the relationship between nature and humans as expressed through Western art.

Content Detail

Whether in landscapes, still lifes, or botanical illustrations, plants have a significant presence in art. How plants have been depicted in art matters. The long history of plant representation has influenced the ways in which societies look at and interact with plants. Through lectures, visits to The Morton Arboretum’s special art collections at the Sterling Morton Library, and walks around the Arboretum’s grounds, this class will look at the ways that art has shaped perceptions of plants, and how that perception has shifted over time with new cultural and scientific understandings.

In this class you will:

  • Become familiar with how plants have been depicted within a Western art historical tradition, with an emphasis on imagery from the 18th century to the present.
  • Understand the ways that these historical modes of representing plants have influenced how many people see, understand, and interact with plants today.
  • Begin to think about your own relationships to specific plant species and broader ecologies, especially in terms of the historical contexts that have shaped them.
  • Learn skills of visual analysis to examine artworks beyond those discussed within the scope of this class.

This three-week study will enrich the art appreciator, the nature lover, and the artist by considering the relationship between humans and nature as expressed through art.

This program meets in person at the Arboretum.

Instructor: Jessica Landau, art historian, University of Chicago

Age: 16 and older

Course number: A400


Jessica Landau, art historian, University of Chicago

Jessica Landau, PhD, is an assistant instructional professor in the MA program in the humanities and art history at The University of Chicago. She received her PhD in art history and American Indian and Indigenous studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2020. She is particularly interested in 19th- and 20th-century images of North American megafauna and in wilderness and conservation history. Before coming to University of Chicago, she taught at the University of Pittsburgh, Eastern Illinois University, and National Louis University. Additionally, she has more than a decade of museum experience, including as an assistant curator at Carnegie Museum of Natural History and associate curator at the Brinton Museum in Big Horn, WY.

What to Know

This program will be held indoors and outdoors.

The field location has a covered area that provides shade.

Program Schedule

This program includes the following three meeting dates and times.

Saturday, September 7, 2024, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Saturday, September 14, 2024, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Monday, September 23, 2024, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Thornhill Education Center, West Side


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