Imaginative Landscape Overview and Themes

Imaginative Landscape is one of four contexts that students may study within the “creating and presenting” section of the VCAA English Study Design. There are four texts for Imaginative Landscape, of which schools choose two:

The context of Imaginative Landscape is broad and can be approached in a number of ways. This article covers some of the “big ideas” that students will need to understand to respond effectively to prompts.

What is an “imaginative landscape”?

The concept of an “imaginative landscape” is complex. Firstly, it is important to understand that “landscape” does not simply refer to countryside or an ocean view, but can mean the emotional or cultural landscape of a room or even an item. By adding “imaginative” to this word, the phrase is now directing the scope of the discussion explicitly away from physical landscapes and towards internal conceptualisations of place.

It is important to always keep in mind the relationship between the external and internal worlds when discussing Imaginative Landscape. Remember that we do not simply see something and absorb it without adding our own interpretation. Instead, we experience the world around us from our specific viewpoint as an individual and transform this into something that makes sense to us within our minds.

Together, the terms “imaginative” and “landscape” therefore ask us to consider the ways that humans interact with and interpret the world around them.

Landscape is subjective

Fundamentally, no two people can experience landscape in the same way. Even if we are to accept that, philosophically, some things are objective, landscape remains a subjective idea. Our perceptions of the world around us are coloured by a range of factors, which differ between individuals. Past experiences, our upbringing, religion, culture, gender and age are just a few factors that shape how we interpret the world around us.

The subjective nature of connection to landscape means that there is somewhat of a barrier in the dialogue we have about landscape. This gives way to phrases such as “a picture means a thousand words,” because we simply cannot express to another person what sort of affect such a view would have. Sharing personal experiences of landscape is made somewhat shallow: regardless if the person we share with was there at the same time as us, they are still a different person at a different place in their life, and could never have taken the same emotions and associations away from that place.

Human connection to landscape is profound

This idea can manifest itself in several different ways. First and foremost, Imaginative Landscape prompts can reflect on the deep internal connection that exists between humans and the spaces around them, whether this refers to natural spaces or otherwise.

This idea can also be related to prompts that revolve around how landscapes influence the way we think. The space around us is undeniably important in the formation of our world view, but it can also be seen to influence our sense of identity or belonging; our sense of ourselves and those around us.

Landscapes can have an effect on our emotional states, both positively and negatively. A landscape that evokes a particular emotion in its inhabitants is reflective of the power of human connection to space (but remember this reaction will not necessarily be the same from person to person!).

Positive and negative landscapes

It can be said that no landscape is neutral, because we naturally invest any place with our personal feelings and impressions. There will always be certain ideas, experiences and emotions associated with any given place. Even if a person is to move through a landscape without really taking notice of it, it is then this disassociation or disconnect with the space around them that generates meaning. Perhaps even this meaning will grow more significant with time as new realisations are brought to surface about place and our personal connection with it.

Many things can make a landscape positive or negative for an individual, keeping in mind that this is inherently subjective. Foreignness and familiarity are often governing factors for whether or not a person interprets it positively. This in turn has an influence on the person experiencing the landscape; how they behave and how they think. Of course, this response is subject to change and reinterpretation.

Changing Landscapes

There are several ways a landscape can “change” and it is important to understand each to give you a wider choice of interpretations of prompts.

Physical change

Landscapes can physically change; because of natural disasters such as earthquakes and cyclones, or simply gradual shifts over time. Some change in a cyclic way, such as a beach which washes itself clean or the Australian bush which changes wildly between wet and dry seasons. This form of change is particularly complex when it is humans that cause the change, such as an oil spill or natural disasters brought on by climate change.

Interpretive change

As people change, so too does their interpretation of landscape, even if that place has not physically changed. As we grow and mature, our world view changes, and so our sense of place will alter.

As a person ages, they can transform a landscape of their memory, allowing it to have new meaning with the wisdom they gain from age, or the new perception they develop of people or experiences associated with that place.

Changing locations

Unlike many species (and our ancestors), modern humans are capable of completely uprooting and moving to another place. When we physically shift places, so too does our connection with the world around us.

Reflection of human states in landscape

Because we are so interlinked with landscape, humans often see themselves, or aspects of humanity, reflected in the spaces around them. This feeling is reflected in advertising and writing. For example, a popular representation of human tenacity and resilience is a small green shoot springing forth from the ashes of a bush fire. Authors will often give human qualities to inanimate objects or anthropomorphize animals not only to add to their description, but to speak to this sense in people.

The relationship between the internal and external landscape

There is a distinct link between the internal and the external landscape- a relationship that goes both ways. Not only does the space around us influence the landscape we hold within us, the opposite is also true.

The creation of an internal landscape is highly personal and relative to the individual. Nonetheless, it is true of many people that the landscape we hold within us is dependent on landscapes of our memory and places we have found a positive connection to.

Imaginative Landscape requires students to examine the way these two spaces, physical and emotional influence one another throughout a person’s life.

Quotes and ideas

Key words: place, land, home, memory, personal, natural, live.