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Flirting with Space offers a fresh approach, a new way of thinking about ideas of space in art, especially landscape painting. Yet, it represents much more than that. For while Crouch’s study is an academic one, it is also rooted in his own experience of journeys undertaken over the course of 20 years or so. He recalls the people he met with on those journeys and the spaces in which he encountered them; he brings these two things together in a way that aims to help the reader understand their own journeys and, ultimately, their place in the world, better than before.
At the centre of this is the suggestion that our journeys through daily life inevitably lead us to meet with fellow human beings and material culture in ways that open us up to creativity. Crouch theorizes this through the notion of ‘flirting with space’, a term that seems to hold good for situations as diverse as allotment holding, the work of artists, caravanning and tourism, photography and the researching of parish maps. On Crouch’s account, these varied situations are commonly connected by the way that we interact with space. He conceptualizes space as constantly in flux and it is, he says, our journeys through the flux and flow of people and material culture that act to generate creativity in all human life.
Crouch looks at the art of Cornish painter, Peter Lanyon (1918–64) and explores the idea of what he calls Lanyon’s geographical knowledge. What he means by this is a kind of geographical consciousness evident in the work, suggesting that: ‘Lanyon’s particular geographical knowledge was built upon his situatedness in Penwith, his sense of Cornishness, his social networks, his movement and his work’. It is certainly thought provoking and, in line with this book’s dual approach (theoretical and experiential) it not only encourages closer study of Lanyon’s work, but also inspires a desire to experience the spaces of the Cornish countryside as Lanyon once did.
In some respects this is a difficult book. After all, Crouch is dealing with difficult ideas and trying to forge new ways forward in understanding this material. The theoretical framework he offers is a complex one, drawing as it does on many different thinkers, but perhaps that is what is needed. In other respects, Crouch’s arguments are quite straightforward in the sense that, fundamentally, he is dealing with feeling. It is, in the end, a very honest account of the author’s own experiences. As he notes in his concluding chapter it is ultimately about: ‘how we get along in our more immediate and more stretched out, intimate and other journeys, and how we may respond differently to contexts, producing our own trail of contexts as well as creativity around us’. In offering the reader a scholarly account of how to live more creatively, Flirting with Space surely achieves something significant.
David Crouch is an academic in the field of cultural geography so it is not surprising to find cultural geographic ideas playing centre stage in this book. What is more surprising, perhaps, is the way in which he weaves those ideas together with others more at home within the disciplines of philosophy, art history, social science and cultural studies, skilfully traversing disciplines in a potentially useful way.
Flirting with Space: Journeys and Creativity by David Crouch is published by Ashgate Publishing 2010. 162 pp. 4 colour illus. ISBN-978-0-7546-7378