Allen Carlson, "Aesthetic Appreciation of the Natural Environment"



2.       Appropriate nature appreciation requires knowledge of natural history, just as appropriate art appreciation requires knowledge of art history

          a.       To know what and how to appreciate art and to insure one is properly appreciating art, one must appreciate art in light of the correct categories as specified by art history

                    i.        In short, knowledge of art history is necessary for the appropriate appreciation of art

          b.       To know what and how to appreciate nature and to insure appropriate appreciation of nature, one must appreciate nature in light of the correct natural categories and these are specified by natural history (i.e., common sense and scientific knowledge of nature)

                    i.        In short, knowledge of natural history is necessary for appropriate appreciation of nature

          c.       Example of natural history description:

                    i.        David Attenbourough on Bower Bird

                    ii.       Rudy Manke (S.C. Naturalist extra-ordinaire)



4.       To appreciate, one must know what and how to appreciate

          a.       Shouldn't drink brandy like one drinks beer

5.       Answering what/how to app (app=appreciate) art is easy because we make art to be appreciated and so we know what and how to app it

          a.       Examples: At a symphony we listen to piano not the coughing; at the gallery we focus on the painting's color not where it hangs

6.       Knowledge of art categories and art history allows us to focus our app (know what to appreciate and how to appreciate it)

7.       Answering what/how to app nature is different because nature is not our creation

8.       Also, nature is indeterminate and promiscuous and so to appreciate it, it must be composed

          a.       It is so rich in its diversity that to appreciate it we must select, emphasize and group its elements

          b.       Not clear what in nature we should appreciate or how we should appreciate it

9.       How should it be composed? How to know what to appreciate and how to appreciate?

10.     Carlson considers and rejects object, landscape, human chauvanist, and aesthetics of engagement models for aes app of nature and then proposes his own natural env. model (to answer what/how questions)

11.     Object model tells us appreciate pieces of nature by treating them as if they were like nonrepresentational sculptures       

          a.       Isolate them from their environment and appreciate their sensuous, design, and expressive qualities

12.     Carlson rejects object model because it either

          a.       (1) Turns natural object into an artifact (art object) via artistic enfranchisement, or

          b.       (2) Leads to appreciative mistakes because isolated natural objects have different aesthetic properties than do natural objects appreciated in their context (e.g., Does that rock express solidity?)

13.     Landscape model tells us to appreciate nature in the way we would appreciate a landscape painting–nature is simply scenery

14.     Carlson rejects the landscape model for

          a.       (1) Ethical reasons: It involves the scenery cult and ignores that unscenic nature is appreciable. and

          b.       (2) Aesthetic reasons: It appreciates nature as something it is not--a view or scene--rather than as what it is (a natural environment), and this leads to inappropriate appreciation, e.g., using only the sense of sight to appreciate nature rather than all the senses

15.     Human Chauvinistic Model (nature appreciation is not aesthetic appreciation) is rejected because nature is a paradigm of aesthetic appreciation

16.     Aesthetics of engagement model (nature appreciation involves total immersion in nature) is rejected because we cant appreciate everything all at once

17.     Carlson's Natural Environmental Model tells us to appreciate nature as an environment and as something natural (not human-made)

18.     According to this model, common sense and scientific knowledge of nature (i.e., natural history) is what allows us to structure (compose) our appreciation (answer the what and how to appreciate questions)

          a.       Just as art history is what allows us to structure our app of art





          a.       It requires knowing how to focus and select the appreciation

21.     With art, straightforward answers to what and how to aes app

          a.       Because works of art are our creations

          b.       Art has artists who created it for the purpose of aes app

          c.       For this reason we know what is and isn't part of work, which aspects are aes significant, and how to app them

22.     What to app in art?

          a.       Know how to distinguish a work and its parts from what it is not part of the work; Can distinguish aes relevant from irrelevant aspects

          b.       Examples

                    i.        Know should app sound of piano in concert hall and not the coughing that interrupts it

                    ii.       Know should app painting's color and not that it hangs in the Louvre

23.     How to appreciate art?

          a.       Different acts of aspection for different types of art:

          b.       Examples

                    i.        Should not drink brandy the same way one drinks beer

                    ii.       Should look at different styles of painting in different ways (focus on the light in some, colors in others, contours in still others)

          c.       Because we have created the painting, we know

                    i.        That its colors are important (and not its smell)

                    ii.       That we look at it and not listen to it

24.     In knowing the type (category) of art we know what and how to appreciate it


25.     Nature appreciation is not so clear

          a.       The what and how to appreciate nature not clear

          b.       No artists who created it and expects it to be appreciated in one way rather than another.

          c.       We must compose the aesthetic object

          d.       But how?


26.     Carlson proposes 5 models of nature appreciation and rejects the first four before proposing his own natural environmental mode.



28.     Natural objects are to be appreciated like non-representational sculpture

          a.       E.g., Bird in Space, Bransusi 1919

          b.       App its sensuous qualities and abstract expressive qualities

                    i.        E.g., it glistens, has balance and grace, and expresses flight itself

          c.       It has no representation connections, no relational connections to surroundings

                    i.        In contrast, Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper is representational (itrefers to, represents (and thus is related to) something besides itself)

          d.       Can app object of nature in this way (as a non-representational sculpture)

          e.       Consider a rock or piece of driftwood actually or contemplatively remove it from its surroundings and dwell on its sensuous and expressive qualities

          f.       Natural objects are often so app: mantel pieces littered with rocks and driftwood



30.     Object model has us appreciate the rock abstracted from its environment and limits our appreciation to sensuous and expressive qualities of rock in isolation

          a.       It is smooth, gracefully curved and expresses solidity

31.     Problem: Removing natural object affects its aes qualities

          a.       E.g.: The rock on the mantel may express different qualities when it is in its environment

          b.       On the mantel it may express solidity

          c.       Leave that rock on a scree slope where it was found and it might not look so solid

32.     Isolating natural objects (physically or in contemplation) thus leads to aesthetic mistakes

33.     Object model ignores a large part of what is aes appreciable about the natural object (its relation to its environment of existence and creation)



          a.       Landscape model suggests perceive nature as if were a landscape painting

          b.       Usually as grand prospect (suitable for taking a picture of) seen from specific standpoint and distance

          c.       Nature is divided into scenes, aiming at an ideal dictated by art, especially landscape painting

                    i.        Claude glass once used to help nature appreciators see landscape as landscape paintings


36.     Ethical criticism of this model (part of scenery cult)

          a.       Scenery cult: Only dramatic natural landscapes are appreciated; only nature that is "picturesque" (suitable for a picture or a picture postcard) is appreciated

          b.       Swamps, prairies, backyards not appreciable

          c.       R. Rees criticizes the "scenery cult" for "it is an unfortunate lapse which allows us to abuse our local environments and venerate the Alps and the Rockies"

37.     Aesthetic criticism of landscape model

          a.       Reduces environment to a scene or view

          b.       But env. is not a representation, not static, not two dimensional

          c.       So this model has us app nature for what it is not and so is an inappropriate model

38.     A Carlson assumption: We should appreciate things for what they are and not for what they are not

          a.       The idea is that if you try to app something in a manner appropriate for something else which it isn't, then you are likely to app in a manner inappropriate to it

          b.       E.g., trying to appreciate a tango (or dance to tango music) as if it were a waltz will lead to inappropriate aesthetic responses

39.     Landscape model also limits our appreciation of nature to its visual qualities like color and overall design and this is misleading, as it ignores other senses


40.     HUMAN CHAUVINISTIC AESTHETIC (nature not aesthetic)

          a.       Aes appreciation involves judging an object as an achievement of a creator

          b.       Since nature is not the product of any designing intellect, it can’t be evaluated in aesthetic terms

          c.       Appreciation of nature is not aesthetic

41.     Carlson’s Objection

          a.       Everything can be aesthetically appreciated

          b.       Nature appreciation is a paradigm of aesthetic appreciation (fiery sunsets, soaring birds).



          a.       Aes appreciation of nature involves total sensory immersion in nature

          b.       Rejection of subject/object dichotomy

          c.       Participatory aesthetics of nature

43.     Carlson’s Objection:

          a.       Aesthetic appreciation require some distinction subject and object

          b.       Answer to the what and how to appreciate nature questions unhelpful

                    i.        What: everything

                    ii.       How; total immersion

          c.       We can't app everything; need to focus our attention

          d.       Must be limits and emphases in aes app of nature, as in art

          e.       W/o limits get booming buzzing confusion (like a baby experiencing the world without concepts)



          a.       Stresses that nature is both natural and an environment (unlike object and landscape models)

          b.       Even though we have not created nature, we do have knowledge of it

          c.       Knowledge comes from natural science and common sense

          d.       This knowledge can play the role in the appreciation of nature that knowledge of art forms, works and traditions plays in appreciating art

          e.       Knowledge of the environment can lead to selecting appropriate foci of aesthetic attention

                    i.        Recognize smell of hay and horse dung and distinguish between them

                    ii.       Distinguish the sound of cidacas from sound of distant traffic and exclude the later for nature appreciation


45.     Must appreciate a prairie differently than a forest (different "acts of aspection")

          a.       Survey a prairie

                    i.        Look at subtle contours of land

                    ii.        Feel wind blowing across open space

                    iii.      Smell mix of prairie grasses and flowers

          b.       In a dense forest environment

                    i.        Examine and scrutinize, inspect the detail of forest floor, listen carefully for sounds of birds, smell carefully for scent of spruce and pine

46.     It's our knowledge of those environments that tell us what acts of aspection to use

47.     “In appropriate aesthetic appreciation of nature, as in art, classification is of the essence”


48.     Just as art critic and art historian are well equipped to aes appreciate art

49.     So naturalist and ecologist are well equipped to aes appreciate nature

          a.       If they are well equipped, then those who lack that information are "poorly equipped"

50.     Example: Better equipped to appreciate a valley if you know how it was formed?

          a.       V shaped valley

          b.       U shaped valley

51.     Knowledge of different environments of nature and systems and elements within those environments necessary for (an appropriate? for any?) aes app of nature, for we need some mechanism for selecting and focusing our attention

          a.       Does this mean that a person from ghetto of New York city who knew nothing about different environments and systems of nature would have no aes app when she goes to the rainforest (or perhaps only a rudimentary sensuous response)?



53.     NEM helps support a positive aesthetic of nature (all of pristine nature is beautiful)

          a.       For if appreciate nature under scientific categories, nature will appear orderly, harmonious, and unified and these are aesthetically positive traits

54.     NEM allows for objectivity in nature appreciation and this is important for using aesthetics to protect nature (“Aesthetic preservationsim”)