The Landscape Guide

Landscape HISTORY & THEORY: History, Theory, Sustainability, Books, Vitruvius, Landscape Architecture, Manifesto, Lanship, Mimesis, Professional Oath, Landscape Architecture History and Theory CD, Definitions,


I thank the Chicago School of Media Theory for their concise account of mimesis:

"Within Western traditions of aesthetic thought, the concepts of imitation and mimesis have been central to attempts to theorize the essence of artistic expression, the characteristics that distinguish works of art from other phenomena, and the myriad of ways in which we experience and respond to works of art. In most cases, mimesis is defined as having two primary meanings - that of imitation (more specifically, the imitation of nature as object, phenomena, or process) and that of artistic representation. Mimesis is an extremely broad and theoretically elusive term that encompasses a range of possibilities for how the self-sufficient and symbolically generated world created by people can relate to any given "real", fundamental, exemplary, or significant world [4] (see keywords essays on simulation/simulacra, (2), and reciprocity). Mimesis is integral to the relationship between art and nature, and to the relation governing works of art themselves."

The following examples of how the concept has influenced garden and landscape design are from Garden History: philosophy and design (Tom Turner, 2004, Spons:London)

ï If gods control the natural world, they should be propitiated through ritual and sacrifice [Religious/Astronomical Compounds]
ï If it is natural for kings to become gods after death, they should be provided with temples and gardens for use in the afterlife [Temple and Pyramid Compounds in the Ancient World]
ï If the gods of nature intervene in our daily lives, sacrificial offerings should be made in a sacred place, such as an alter in a wood [Sacred Groves, Classical Temples, domestic garden shrines]
ï If the natural forms have a god-like existence (in a perfect world) they should be incorporated into architectural and garden design. [Greco-Roman Sacred Geometry]
ï If the nature of the world is revealed to man through religion, then gardens, as places for contemplation, should symbolise the perfection of nature [Medieval Gardens]
ï If the best knowledge of nature comes from the ancients, then modern gardens should be made in the style of ancient gardens. [Renaissance Gardens]
ï If the natural order is revealed to man through reason, then gardens should be based on mathematical ideas and perspective [Baroque Gardens]
ï If nature is best interpreted through empirical science, then gardens should exhibit a great range of phenomena: natural, artificial and emotional. [Romantic Gardens]
ï If nature is best understood through scientific analysis, then gardens should be based on the principles of abstraction [Modern/Abstract Gardens]
ï If our understanding of nature depends on our conceptual framework, then concepts should have a central place in the design of gardens [Post-Modern/Conceptual Gardens]

The concept of mimesis derives from Plato's Theory of Forms, explained as follows by Bertrand Russell in his History of Western Philosophy:

"This theory is partly logical, partly metaphysical. The logical part has to do with the meaning of general words. There are many individual animals of whom we can truly say ëthis is a catí. What do we mean by the word ëcatí? Obviously something different from each particular cat. An animal is a cat, it would seem, because it participates in a general nature common to all cats. Language cannot get on without general words such as ëcatí, and such words are evidently not meaningless. But if the word ëcatí means anything, it means something which is not this or that cat, but some kind of universal cattiness. This is not born when a particular cat is born, and does not die when it dies. In fact, it has no position in space or time; it is ëeternalí. This is the logical part of the doctrine. The arguments in its favour, whether ultimately valid or not, are strong, and quite independent of the metaphysical part of the doctrine. According to the metaphysical part of the doctrine, the word ëcatí means a certain ideal cat, ëthe catí, created by God, and unique. Particular cats partake of the nature of the cat, but more or less imperfectly; it is only owing to this imperfection that there can be many of them. The cat is real; particular cats are only apparent. In the last book of the Republic, as a preliminary to a condemnation of painters, there is a very clear exposition of the doctrine of ideas or forms."

It became a theory of art, described as Neoplatonic, under the influence of Plotinus and St Augustine. Since the theory continues to evolve we can call its derivatives neo-Neoplatonic, or add as neo- as many times as we please - since western philosophy is but 'a series of footnotes to Plato'.

[See note on Sacred Space: Religion and Garden Design History]