Ronald Hepburn

Contemporary Aesthetics and the Neglect of Natural Beauty (1966)


1.      While 18th century aesthetic thought had serious treatment of natural beauty

2.      Contemporary aesthetics (until about 1975) ignored natural beauty

         a.      Many 1900s texts define aesthetics as "philosophy of art"

         b.      No problems of aesthetics w/o art


3.      Reasons for this: Assumption of communication/expression theory of art

         a.      Last widely accepted aes theory (expression theory) does better with artefacts and not so well with natural objects

         b.      Expression theory: Nature of art/aes objects is to express ideas or emotions

         c.      A communication theory (art is a communication from the artist to the appreciator)

                   i.       Fits with interpersonal communication of art works

                   ii.      Doesn't fit all that well with contemplation of sheer entities

                            (1)    Unless one thinks of nature as God speaking to us


4.      How nature might be expressive

         a.      Perhaps nature's shapes and colors can--by chance--serve as expressive vehicles for human feeling, but not constructed for that purpose

         b.      Does this idea make sense?

                   i.       Gnarly limber pine at tree line on a 14 thousand foot mountain expresses perseverance?


5.      Recent anti-intentionalism, and its critique of expression theory bodes well for aes concern with natural objects

6.      Intentionalism

         a.      Intentions of the artist key to interpreting and appreciating art and they determine the meaning of the art object

         b.      Communication theory of art assumes intentions of artist crucial

7.      Anti-intentionalism

         a.      Art-objects are independent objects, to be appreciated in their own right and not to be approached as simply a clue to artist's state of mind (his/her intentions or actual feelings)

         b.      Both art and nature are self-contained entities worth contemplating due to own objective properties


8.      Still important differences between art and natural objects and intentionality of art matters

         a.      Two perceptually identical objects, one an artefact, one natural

         b.      Misleading to say no difference

         c.      Need to attend to them differently and respond differently

         d.      Can't know how to properly evaluate an object if don't know if its an artefact or natural object

         e.      Examples:

                   i.       Smooth rock: Should we consider the geological pressure that produced it or sculptor's skill?

                   ii.      The perception when viewing a painting and looking through a telescope at the spiral nebula Andromeda may be the same, but mistake to appreciate them in same way

                   iii.     Mountain top removal mining or Grand Canyon?

                   iv.     Anti-formalism claims


9.       Origin and history of aes object central to its proper appreciation

         a.      Natural beauty helps us see what is wrong with an anti-intentionalism that denies this


10.    Reason it's unfortunate that aesthetics has ignored nature

         a.      Aesthetics is steered away from examining an important and richly complex relevant phenomenon

                   i.       An important set of human experiences ignored by a relevant theory

         b.      Impoverishes aes experience of nature

                   i.       The experience becomes less readily available, if can't find language to describe it that fits with the rest of our aesthetic talk

                   ii.      Aes experience of nature is seen as off the map and becomes seldom visited

                            (1)    (This is bad for conservation of nature)

                   iii.     If person's aesthetic education leads him to look only for what is unique to art, he will pay little aes attention to nature and miss much or look in vain for what is only in art

                   iv.     Without knowing differences between how appreciate nature and how art, won't get but a rudimentary appreciation/comprehension of natural beauty

                   v.      Assumption is that there are significant differences between how appreciate nature and how appreciate art


11.    That nature lacks features art has, need not impoverish but can enhance aes app of nature

         a.      Art objects have features natural objects lack and this lack can contribute positively to the aesthetic experience and need not be merely negative

                   i.       Lack of artistic intention can enhance wonder/amazement

                            (1)    Wonder at this amazing uncontrived adaptation

                            (2)    It needn't have been so; nature might not have been aesthetically excellent

                            (3)    See a pattern in art and expect it there (as someone made it)

                            (4)    See it in nature and more amazing as it was not consciously designed

         b.      Types of experience art can't provide to same extent as nature and in some cases can't provide at all

                   i.       Examples?




13.    One: Degree to which spectator is involved in natural aes situation is greater than in art appreciation

         a.      Landscape doesn't control spectator's response as much as does art/artist

                   i.       Does landscape control it at all?

                   ii.      So appreciator has more control in nature appreciation than in art appreciation?

         b.      Mutual involvement spectator and object

                   i.       Clearly this happens in art as well, but with art you add the artists involvement

14.    Two: We are in the nature and a part of the nature we are aes appreciating (unlike with art objects)

         a.      We rarely confront natural objects as a static, disengaged observer

         b.      Don't stand over and against it as a painting on a wall

         c.      Object envelopes the viewer on all sides: stands in the midst of a forest or ringed by the hills

         d.      Spectator may be in motion and this may be important to aes experienced

                   i.       E.g., Kayaking down a river

15.    Three: Spectator experience herself in an unusual and vivid way and this difference is dwelt upon aesthetically

         a.      This is an effect not unknown to art, especially architecture

         b.      But more intently realized and pervasive in nature experience


16.    Four: Aes appreciation is supposed to involve detachment, with nature there is a lot more involvement

         a.      Detached because not using nature, manipulating it, or thinking about doing so

         b.      Involved: Not just a spectator but actor


17.    Four: Art objects are "framed" in a way natural object are not

         a.      Art objects are set apart from their environment in distinctive ways

                   i.       Frames, pedestals, stage area/audience area

         b.      Concert convention: Only relevant sounds made by performers

         c.      Mechanisms to prevent art object from being mistaken for a natural object or for an artefact w/o aes interest

         d.      Frame helps determinateness and stability of aes object

         e.      Art objects are essentially bounded objects

                   i.       Aesthetic characteristics determined by internal structure and interplay of their elements

                   ii.      Formal completeness of art objects

                   iii.     Interesting in themselves separate from their relation to environment

                   iv.     These claims may not be all that true of some avant garde art


18.    In contrast, natural objects are frameless and this allows for interpretative creativity

         a.      Both aesthetic disadvantages and compensating advantages

         b.      What lies beyond frame of art can't become part of aesthetic experience

                   i.       Chance train whistle can't be integrated into string quartet, but interferes with its appreciation

         c.      Because no frames with nature appreciation, sounds or visible intrusions challenges us to integrate them into our aes appreciation of nature

                   i.       To modify our experience to make room for this

         d.      Challenges our creativity and can experience a sudden expansion of imagination

19.    Five: Aesthetic appreciation of nature is more creative than appreciation of art

         a.      Because aes object not bounded (limited and controlled) by artist's intent or frame

         b.      More suitable for an aesthetically courageous person (versus aes apathetic or un-adventuresome person)

         c.      Lack of guideposts must unify the experience yourself

         d.      Absence of frame makes natural aes objects more indeterminate and unpredictable

         e.      Makes room for surprises and a sense of adventurous openness

         f.       Increased risk of drawing a blank and being unable to hold various elements together in a single object of aesthetic contemplation



Miscellaneous Notes


20.    This frame/unframed distinction does not map universally onto art/nature distinction

         a.      Not every art object has a frame

         b.      E.g., Architecture, like natural objects can set no limits to viewpoints from which properly regard them;

                   i.       Church from several miles away may dominate and determine how see whole landscape

         c.      Still distinction is true for most part and a useful one


21.    Frame of a painting exerts controlling influence that helps determine nature of aes object and proper context of viewing it

         a.      Don't get this with natural objects

         b.      Aes impact of tree determined by context we include in our view of it

                   i.       We choose the frame?

         c.      Example

                   i.       Look at one tree bent over, strained and grim

                   ii.      Look at whole hillside of such trees and see a delightful pattern with quite different emotional quality (may be cheerful)


22.    Any aes quality in nature is provisional, correctable by reference to different-wider or narrower context

         a.      Idyllic scene? Have you noticed the distant advancing thunderclouds and how threatening and ominous they look?

         b.      Leads to a restlessness, alertness in viewer and an active search for new standpoints and more comprehensive way of seeing


23.    Aes appreciation of nature can allow experience of a range of emotions that human artifacts/scenes by themselves can't evoke

         a.      Desolateness of desert

         b.      Nature's otherness can affect our own sense of being

         c.      Oneness with nature (with aesthetic object)

                   i.       Not possible with art (for we are not part of art/one with art)

         d.      Env from which get food, protect ourselves, eventually take us (death) and to which finally united


24.    Role of thought/scientific knowledge in aes appreciation of nature

         a.      Not require to have pure aesthetic contemplation unmixed by impure associations/thoughts

         b.      Tidal basin example: Realizing the wide expanse of sand and mud one stands on is a tidal basin with the tide out is not irrelevant to aes experience

                   i.       Not theoretical knowledge for own sake but to help us determine aesthetic impact of object on us.


25.    Better and worse in nature appreciation

26.    Passage in both appreciation of art and nature from easy beauty to more difficult and serious beauty

         a.      The true, false, profound, shallow, superficial in aes appraisal of nature (as well as art)

         b.      Where in aes appreciation of nature is there room for talk about truth, depth, triviality?


27.    Examples

         a.      Utter loneliness of the moor? But there are 100 people there hiding behind the bushes?

         b.      Rolston's moon/microwave tower example

         c.      Tree's solidity, sturdiness and strength (touch it and it crumples)

         d.      Outlines of clouds as resemble a basket of washing

                   i.       Trivial, shallow appraisal of a freakish element

                   ii.      Focus on inner turbulence and 250 mile wind speeds in cloud that determine its structure

                   iii.     Less superficial experience, more worth having

         e.      Rock made by great pressure (or looks like a funny face)


28.    Exploration of roles of science

         a.      Science can enhance an aes experience of nature, but can also undermine it

         b.      See full moon rising behind winter trees and it is more beautiful to see it as a flat disc at no great distance from the trees

                   i.       Why have one's enjoyment spoiled by someone telling that you need to realize moon's true shape and distance

         c.      No guarantee truth here will enhance aes experience

                   i.       Increase aes enjoyment vs make it a better aes exp

         d.      Can imaginative assimilation of scientific knowledge ultimately lead to aes impoverishment?


29.    To reject intentionalism is not to embrace formalism:

         a.      That intention of artists aren't of total importance in aesthetic appreciation of art (or are not even relevant?) allows for many other factors besides formal ones to be relevant (such as history of production, context of appreciation, etc.)