The empathy we feel for a species is enhanced by knowledge of its natural history and ecology, that is, the story of each species and its relationships with the rest of the natural world. The story shapes the composition of our paintings.
Richard once made a large painting of Black-eyed-Susans with some Ox-eye Daisies in the foreground. The daisies were clearly past their prime, their petals were faded and drooping below swollen seed clusters. He could easily have taken a few weeks off the lives of the daisies to show both ray flowers in their prime, but then he would have failed to tell the story. The story is that these plants stagger their peak flowering times to share the bees and other pollinators. As the daisies begin to fade, the Black-eyed Susans take over. Telling the story is an important part of our art.
There is some truth to the old cliché “to know you is to love you” when it comes to the appreciation of nature. This cliché may seem like a stretch when applied to trees, but that is only because they are less familiar to us than animals. We expect to see tigers in tropical surroundings and zebras in grasslands. We know so much about these animals that an image of the animal out of its natural context would be jarring. Perhaps as we know more about the flora, we will find satisfaction seeing plants in their natural habitat and among their usual companions˜like sun flowers in an open field or violets in the forest.