Allen Carlson, "Appreciation and the Natural Environment"
Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism


1.      OVERVIEW


3.      Appropriate nature appreciation, like appropriate art appreciation, requires knowledge (of natural history in the case of nature and art history in the case of art)

         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

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 appreciate art is easy because we make art to be appreciated and so we know what and how to appreciate 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

         b.      Knowledge of art categories and art history allows us to focus our appreciation

6.      Answering what/how to appreciate nature is different because nature is not our creation

7.      Carlson considers and rejects object and landscape models for aes appreciate of nature and then proposes his own natural env. model (to answer what/how questions)

8.      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

9.      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 aes properties than do natural objects appreciated in their context (e.g., Does that rock express solidity?)

10.    Landscape model tells us to appreciate nature in the way we would appreciate a landscape painting

11.    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

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

         a.      Environments are unobtrusive backgrounds, but to appreciate something we must foreground it and select and focus our appreciation (and answer the what and how questions)

         b.      Common sense and scientific knowledge of nature (i.e., natural history) is what allows us to structure our appreciation of nature (answer the what and how to appreciate questions)

                   i.       Just as art history is what allows us to structure our appreciate of art




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

15.    With art, straightforward answers to what and how to aes appreciate

16.    What to appreciate in art :

         a.      Know how to distinguish a work and its parts from what it is not part of the work

                   i.       E.g., Know should appreciate sound of piano in concert hall and not the coughing that interrupts it

         b.      Can distinguish aes relevant from irrelevant aspects

                   i.       Know should appreciate painting's color and not that it hangs in the Louvre

17.    Know how to appreciate art (what "acts of aspection" to perform)

18.    Acts of aspection: Things one does when appreciate aesthetically

         a.      Contemplate painting, or scan it, or study it

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

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

19.    What is the basis of this knowledge concerning what and how to appreciate art?

20.    Because works of art are our creations

         a.      Know what we made, and its parts, and purposes, and thus know what to do with it

         b.      We made them for the purpose of aes appreciation

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

21.    Example: Because we have created the painting, we know

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

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

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

         a.      Carlson claims this is beyond serious dispute

         b.      Beyond dispute that art history grounds our appreciation of art? (See Thom Heyd)

         c.      There are serious disagreements about what and how to appreciate art.......(e.g., how important are artists intentions)


23.    Given that nature is not our creation (and that art history is not applicable)

24.    What grounds (guides) the what and how to aes appreciate of nature?

         a.      Carlson first provides two artistic paradigms--Object and Landscape Models--that he rejects

         b.      Then provides his own model (Natural Environmental Model=NEM) as an acceptable answer



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

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

         b.      Appreciate it as the actual physical object it is

         c.      Appreciate its sensuous and design (order) qualities and abstract expressive qualities

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

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

         e.      In contrast, Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper is representational

         f.       It refers to, represents (and thus is related to), something besides itself

         g.      Michelangelo's David is a also representational sculpture

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

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

         b.      Natural objects are often so appreciated: mantel pieces littered with rocks and driftwood


29.    One version of object model turns objects of nature into found art (like ready-made art)

         a.      As artistic enfranchisement turned a urinal into Duchamp's Fountain

         b.      So too a piece of driftwood becomes art by being placed on the mantel

         c.      Do get answers to what and how to appreciate questions

                   i.       Treat it like a non-representational sculpture and appreciate its form, expressive qualities, etc

30.    But appreciation of nature lost, now appreciating art

         a.      Appreciate a sculpture that was once driftwood is no closer to appreciating nature than is appreciating a totem pole that was once a tree

         b.      Conversion from nature to art/artifact is complete

         c.      Take a piece of driftwood, put it on a mantel, appreciate it as a sculpture

         d.      We've turned it into art (converted it into an artifact) and no longer are appreciating nature

31.    Different version of object model (continues to view it as a natural object)

         a.      Still actually or contemplatively remove natural objects from surroundings but they remain natural objects and don't become art

         b.      Don't consider rock on mantel as ready-made sculpture but as an aes pleasing rock

         c.      Appreciate the object not qua art object but as natural object

         d.      Our appreciate will be limited to sensuous and design and expressive qualities of rock

                   i.       It is smooth, gracefully curved and expresses solidity

32.    Problem: Removing natural object affects its aes qualities

         a.      If remove an aesthetically self-contained art object from the environment of its creation and display, won't affect it aes qualities

         b.      But natural objects have an organic unity with their environments of creation/existence which are relevant to aes appreciate of them

                   i.       Forces that created a natural object and its environment of existence matter to the aes appreciate of that object

                   ii.      For example: The rock on the mantel may express different qualities when it is in its environment

                            (1)    On the mantel it may express solidity

                            (2)    Leave that rock on a scree slope where it was found and it might not look so solid

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

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



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

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

         b.      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

         c.      Centers attention on those aes qualities of color and design that are seen best at a distance


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

         a.      Carlson ties the landscape model of aes appreciation of nature to the scenery cult and the picturesque approach to nature appreciation

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

                   i.       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"

                   i.       Assumes nature made for our pleasure

                   ii.      "A special form of arrogance involved in experiencing nature in the categories of art. It involves accepting idea that natural elements arranged for sake of man's aes pleasure (as are traditional art objects)"

                   iii.     Confirms our anthropocentrism by suggesting nature exists to please us (as well as serve us

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 appreciate nature for what it is not and so is an inappropriate model

         d.      Assumption: We should appreciate things for what they are and not for what they are not

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

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

         e.      This model also limits our appreciation to visual qualities like color and overall design and this is misleading (as it ignores other senses)

         f.       Robert Stecker supports the object and landscape models as partial modes (one way) of appreciating nature



39.    NEM: Appreciate natural env. (1) as an env. and (2) as natural

40.    Env. is something we are a sentient part of, our surroundings, our background

         a.      Our relation to it is self to setting, not subject to object or traveler to scene

         b.      It is something we take for granted, hardly notice and is necessarily unobtrusive

41.    That natural environment is an unobtrusive background suggests implications for what and how to app

         a.      What appreciate?

                   i.       Everything, for an essentially unobtrusive setting there seems little basis for including and excluding

         b.      How appreciate?

                   i.       Those ways in which we normally are aware of and experience our surroundings

                   ii.      Eye and ear lose privilege, use all senses

                   iii.     Like an animal fully present to the senses or like a child?

42.    But Carlson argues we can't appreciate anything that is only an unobtrusive background

         a.      Agrees with Dewey that to appreciate anything it must be made obtrusive and must be foregrounded

                   i.       We have to pay attention to it

43.    And we can't appreciate everything; need to focus our attention

         a.      Must be limits and emphases in aes appreciate of nature, as in art

         b.      W/o limits get Jamesian blooming buzzing confusion (like a baby experiencing the world without concepts)

                   i.       Not aes exp (nor any experience at all)

44.    So how do we get this focus?

         a.      Unlike humanly created art that we can understand and appreciate by way of knowledge of the purposes of this creation and our involvement in it

         b.      Nature is not our creation and can't be known or appreciated on this basis

45.    That nature is not our creation doesn't mean we have no knowledge of it

         a.      We have learned much about nature using common sense & scientific knowledge

46.    Thus, common sense/scientific knowledge of nature is what allows to focus our aesthetic experience of environment (and answer the what and how questions)

         a.      Like knowledge of types of art and artistic traditions allows us to appreciate art

         b.      Might there be other ways to focus aesthetic response to nature besides knowledge of it, such as emotional response (Noel Carroll) or imagination (Emily Brady)?

47.    Knowledge of different environments of nature and systems and elements within those environments necessary for (an appropriate? for any?) aes appreciate 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 appreciate when she goes to the rainforest (or perhaps only a rudimentary sensuous response)?

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.    Examples: For aes appreciation

         a.      Must recognize the smell of the hay and that of the horse dung and perhaps distinguish between them

         b.      Must feel the ant at least as an insect rather than as a twitch

         c.      Must have some way to include sounds of cicadas and exclude sound of distant traffic (like exclude coughing in concert hall)

                   i.       Since the traffic is not nature

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

                   i.       Survey a prairie

                            (1)    Look at subtle contours of land

                            (2)    Feel wind blowing across open space

                            (3)    Smell mix of prairie grasses and flowers

                   ii.      In a dense forest environment

                            (1)    Examine and scrutinize, inspect the detail of forest floor, listen carefully for sounds of birds, smell carefully for scent of spruce and pine

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