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Natural Disasters

"I like natural disasters and I think that they may be the highest form of art possible to experience." [Walter de Maria, 1960]


Jacob More: The Element of Fire, 1787

Joseph Turner, 1817

Samuel H. Crone, 1906

Storms & Floods

Joseph Turner:
Shipwreck, 1805

Caspar David Friedrich: Eismeer
(Die gescheiterte "Hoffnung"), 1822

Joseph Turner: Shadow and Darkness
(The Evening of the Deluge), 1843

Barbara Bloom:
Titanic Champagne Bottle, 1989



John Martin: The Great Day of His Wrath, 1850

Walter de Maria: On the Importance of Natural Disasters. (May 1960)

I think natural disasters have been looked upon in the wrong way.
Newspapers always say they are bad. a shame.
I like natural disasters and I think that they may be the highest form of art possible to experience.
For one thing they are impersonal.
I don't think art can stand up to nature.
Put the best object you know next to the grand canyon, niagra falls, the red woods.
The big things always win.
Now just think of a flood, forest fire, tornado, earthquake, Typhoon, sand storm.
Think of the breaking of the Ice jams. Crunch.
If all of the people who go to museums could just feel an earthquake.
Not to mention the sky and the ocean.
But it is in the unpredictable disasters that the highest forms are realized.
They are rare and we should be thankful for them.

[In: Young (ed.): An Anthology, 1963.]

Ben Vautier: Accidents and Catastrophes. (June 1961)

The plastic beauty of certain photos of catastrophes, of accidents, led me in June 1961 to set my signature to the crushed and tangled bodywork of a car that had hit a tree.

Then, carried away by my creative élan, I signed:

AGADIR: Earthquake (board carrying documentation).

FRÉJUS: The dam which, giving way, caused the death of 300 people.

HIROSHIMA: As I remember is one of the most successful examples of this category of artwork created by the genius of man, and even if artistic intention was lacking, we can only congratulate ourselves on its esthetic reality.

[In: Vautier, 1963]



The Associated Press Library of Disasters. Danbury, CT: Grolier Educational, 1998.

Lee Allyn Davis: Natural Disasters: From the Black Plague to the Eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. New York, NY: Facts on File, 1992.

Keith Eastlake: World Disasters: Tragedies in the Modern Age. New York, NY : Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001.

George P. Landow: Images of Crisis: Literary Iconology, 1750 to the Present. Boston and London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.

E. Willard Miller: Natural Disasters: Floods: a Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2000.

Roger Smith: Catastrophes and Disasters. New York, NY: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001.

Ben Vautier: Moi Ben Je Signe, 1963. English translation by David Mayor: Me Ben I Sign. Surrey (UK): Beau Geste Press, 1975.

La Monte Young (ed.): An Anthology, 1963.


Afrika Sentrum vir Rampstudies.

Disasters. The Journal of Disaster Studies, Policy and Management.

James Cook University -- Centre for Disaster Studies.

University of Delaware Library -- Resources for Disaster Studies.

University of North Carolina -- Institute for Disaster Studies.

Wageningen University -- The Disaster Studies Database.


Remko Scha, 2005