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Art in the north - tourism and influences  
by Rósa Rut Þórisdóttir


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Why Icelandic art ?
  Why tourists buy paintings is governed by many different reasons and differs from nation to nation, just as the choice of paintings they buy.  An American told me “Icelandic art is like art in the States a hundred years ago.  No one there is doing landscapes any more.  That is why I would like to buy an Icelandic painting, because paintings like this have become a rarity in the States.”  It has also been said that to be able to enjoy the art you have to understand it and know how to appreciate it on its own terms. Frank Willett, who has studied and lectured on African art and art history, says “The only sensible way to approach foreign art traditions is on their own terms, and so as not to prejudge them we should speak of them by their regions of origin as traditional African, Oceanic or American art” (Willett 1986:28).
  The Icelandic art lover
  For the Icelandic buyer, the artist is often what people seek.  They like the paintings of a specific artist and want to own a piece by him/her.  Icelanders living abroad especially think it is important to own paintings by an esteemed Icelandic artist.  Icelanders are conservative in the respect that they rarely dare to buy art objects in strong colours, especially if it is meant as a gift.
  The Icelandic home usually has a wide variety of art objects that have accumulated during the years, combinations of gifts from friends and family, from artists that have appealed to them during the years.  Many say their taste has changed over the years and that this gives the home an interesting collection.  Icelandic homes are full of art but differ from the Faroese home, which tend to have a huge collection of similar paintings.  The Icelandic home more commonly has an odd collection of various objects which still makes a whole in a given home.  
  Landscape and nature
  Tourists are mostly drawn to paintings of landscape and knowing the location seems to play a big role in which landscape painting is chosen.  They agree that the nature does not seem to be a big part of Icelandic culture and that many Icelanders are alienated from it.  This can be seen by the way the Icelanders themselves dress when up on mountains or in the wilderness, which is in most cases not appropriate given place and weather.  The tourists themselves say they are often better prepared for the Icelandic weather and nature and probably feel more closeness to it than many Icelanders.  They know how to appreciate this unspoiled and clean nature but the Icelanders seem to take it for granted by not bothering in many cases to stop the car and walk around. 
  The paintings of houses, people or some figures are nice they say but the nature is what has influenced them the most when coming here and thus, a beautiful water-colour painting of a landscape is the best thing to bring back to remember this trip.  People also take photos and most tourists say they have endless negatives of mountains, waterfalls and snowfields[4].
  This gives an interesting twist to Willett’s theory whereas here the tourists understand the subject of the art rather than the art itself.  They understand the nature on its own term and thus are able to enjoy paintings of Icelandic landscape.
  Everything natural (that is coming from nature) seems to attract the tourist.  In shops selling mystic merchandise, tourists look for Icelandic energy stones.  Demand for rune stones has also been considerable, but a shop owner told me the stones themselves have to be picked on an Icelandic beach and hand painted.  This is something she found out and did, as the imported rune stone did not sell.  The tourists also find it important to know from which beach the stones came from.
  The same tourist traits were shown when interviewing the artists from one mosaic and two ceramic workshops.  “Items with Icelandic natural stones sell well.”  The tourists want all natural while everything with gold is working for the Icelandic buyer.
  When buying the Icelandic pullovers, tourists in almost all cases ask for pullovers in the natural Icelandic sheep-colours.  The tourists refer to these as ‘calm’ pullovers, their perception of the nature has transferred over to the colours of the pullovers and the natural sheep wool colours have become ‘calm’ like the nature itself.
  Though the tourists are most likely to buy landscape art, the artists claim they would not paint anything they didn't want to paint.  “But sometimes you make exceptions”, one said.  “Everybody has to earn a living.”
  Puffins, sheep and plovers
  After the landscape, paintings of puffins, sheep and plovers seem to be the next popular thing.  Many of the artists resemble each other in these paintings which are often in a rather naïve style and frequently don’t show anything more than a faceless sheep on a hill.  It is common for this type of painting to be a little raw or naive, with no shadows, or any detail and often in strong colours.  These paintings also often have a humorist touch where the animals are portrayed with philosophical expressions.  These painting are very popular with Icelanders. 
  Puffins are maybe the most popular animal with the tourists and this is reflected in the demand for Puffin souvenirs.  The American tourists, a gold smith told me, have asked so many times about small puffin amulets to for their bracelets that next summer they will start making some.  These amulet bracelets are not known in Iceland and it will be curious to see the development in ten or even five years if amulets bracelets become a great hit with Icelandic youth.
  Foreigners living in Iceland
  Foreigners who come regularly to Iceland and who stay over a certain period of time, can be more specific about what they want and allow themselves to wait for something very special to come along.  Sometimes people also wait due to financial reasons as those who stay longer or come more often tend to want bigger paintings than those who are just stopping for a few weeks.
  Foreigners who lived here for a period of few years also talked about Icelanders obviously being proud of their art objects and much of the art they owned were gifts from Icelandic friends who felt it important their foreign friends got to know and appreciate Icelandic art.   
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Art in the north-tourism and influences, by Rósa Rut Þórisdóttir.
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