Carlson on Environmental Art
• “Is Env. Art an Aes Affront to Nature?”
• 1986, Canadian Journal of Philosophy
Definition of Env. Art
• Site is part of the work itself
• Part of nature is part of aes object; it is part of the work of art
• Not just art that is located in nature
• How related to definition of site-specific art? Was TA env. art?
Christo’s Surrounded Islands 1983
DeMaria’s Las Vegas Piece 1970
• Eight foot by ¾ mile earthmark in desert
Smithson’s Spiral Jetty 1970
Nature of Carlson’s criticism
• Not moral or ecological criticism
– E.g., Flooding parts of Asia as artwork would be morally and ecologically wrong
– As it would harm people and nature
• An aesthetic criticism: Aes affront to nature
Aesthetic Affront to Nature
• Aes indignity
• Aes imposition
• Due to aes qualities of env. art
• Affront to nature, not necessarily to appreciator
• Nature can be affronted
– Even though nature doesn’t know it being affronted
– Jones might also not realize or be able to realize he’s being affronted
Mistaken accounts of why Env. Art is Aes Affront
• Similar/identical in appearance to things like mining/industry/commerce that all agree are aes affronts
– We require reclamation/restoration
– Because such an eyesore
Smithson’s Asphalt Rundown 1969
• Looks just like industrial pollution
• So it’s an eyesore like industrial pollution is and thus an aes affront
• Road foreman: “If I dumped my extra asphalt like that they’d make me clean it up.”
Heizer’s Double Negative 69-70
• 50 feet by 30 feet by 1,5000 foot double cut in Virgin River Mesa, Nevada, displaced 240,000 tons of rhyolite and sandstone
• Looks like skyline mining notches in Appalachia
• Thus it’s an eyesore like those are
Reply: Same appearance not = same aes quality
• Aes qualities of object those it appears to have when appropriately appreciated as the kind of thing it is
– When appreciated in the right category
• Two things identical in appearance can have different aes quality if different kinds of things
• E.g., Duchamp’s fountain
• E.g., Asphalt Rundown is art, not pollution, thus it may have different aes qualities
• Heizer’s double negative can have majesty while identically appearing mining notch does not
Why must appreciate aes object in right category?
• Lively or a bit sedate?
• Post impressionism or German Expressionism?
Change in kind of object can (must?) change its aes qualities
• Does change in aes qualities of an aes object lead to (necessarily?) an aes affront?
• Examples where it does
• Duchamp’s mustached and goateed Mona Lisa changed work’s kind from Renaissance Portrait to 20th century Dada and changed its aes qualities
• A clear denigration and aes affront
• Was this simply because it was a change in kind, or the type of change
• Monty Python’s turning of Michelangelo’s David into a kinetic structure with a moveable right arm
• Would have dramatically different aes qualities even when arm at rest
• An aes affront
Env art is aes affront to nature because
• Changes kind of thing part of nature is
• Changes if from being part of nature to part of an artwork
• Aes qualities are changed
• Env. art is an affront because turns nature into art and changes aes qualities and this is an affront
• Even if env. art is not necessarily an aes affront, many env. art in fact are like Duchamp’s LOOQ and Python’s David in constituting an aes affront
• Depends on how aes qualities changed, not that they are?
• Depends on intention of env. artist and the nature of the env. art?
• Is any dramatic env. change to nature an aes affront?
Some env. artists intend to affront nature
• Smithson: “Disruption of earth’s crust can be compelling and has a primordial grandeur”
• Heizer: “I’m in the construction business. I mess with nature. I defile it.”
• Picasso: “Nature exists to be raped”
Carlson replies to 4 objections
• Affront is only temporary
• Env. art improves nature
• Artist is a part of nature so not changing kind of thing part of nature is
• Env. art not changing nature’s kind or aes qualities, but spotlighting them
When env. art is temporary, so no aesthetic affront?
• Much env. art is temporary and nature is resilient
• Thus there has been no aes affront
• Reply: But affronts still affronts even if temporary
Christo’s Valley Curtain, Rifle, Co 1970-71
• Christo’s response to whether the valley near Rifle Colorado remains unaffected after having hosted Valley Curtain
• “Perhaps not”
• So not perhaps not temporary env art or perhaps affront is permanent?
Env art typically improves nature?
• Because done in non-scenic areas, env. art does not affront
– Little of aes merit there to affront
– “Bringing up” “low profile” landscapes (Smithson)
• Reply: Carlson’s Positive Aesthetics
• Because all of nature has positive aes qualities, can’t argue no affront
• If done in significantly humanized areas, not aes affront to nature as not nature, but attempting to restore some natural aes qualities
– E.g., Alan Sonfist’s Time Landscapes in NY City
Env. artist is part of nature?
• If env. artist is part of nature then env. art does not change nature to something that is not nature, so no change in kind and no aes affront
• Not plausible to say Duchamp’s LOOQ not an affront because both art (no change in kind)
– So even if env. art does not change basic kind of thing nature is, it can change it enough to be an affront
• If artist acts purposelessly like nature, then it’s like vandalism
Heizer’s Mass Removed and Put Back
Env. art not changing nature’s kind or aes qualities, but spotlighting them?
• Env. art is a means of displaying or enhancing nature’s beauty
• Rather like providing the Mona Lisa with lighting rather than with a mustache
• Does Christo’s 1969 Wrapped Coast—Little Bay—One Million Square Feet “accentuate, make more visible, reveal and intensify” the texture and color of the sand by wrapping it in this malleable fabric ?
• Does some env. art frame the landscape (internal skeleton-like frames) that displays and enhances rather than alters object’s aesthetic qualities
Christo’s Running Fence 72-76
• Internally frames the landscape?
• Frame overwhelms that which is framed
Alan Sonfist’s Rock Monument of Buffalo (1976-78)
• Rocks from the local region positioned such that the work “makes clear in one experience the geology of the entire region”
• Presenting rather than altering nature; “nature asserts itself as itself”
• Contrast with Heizer’s Elevated Surface, Depressed (1981), monument where rocks mounted on aluminum slabs and positioned according to geometrical rather than geological considerations
Sonfist’s env. art is most likely not to be an aes affront
• Time Landscape (1965-78) where he restored sites throughout NY City to their likely appearance before urbanization
• Attempt to create pre-colonial landscapes
• These do little if anything to alter nature’s aesthetic qualities and are best case for avoiding aes affront
• Worries that they assume nature can be appreciated only if it is taken to be art.