Arnold Berleant, “The Aesthetics of Art and Nature”

The Aesthetics of Engagement



2.      Questions:

         a.      Is aes satisfaction the same kind in art and nature?

         b.      Or is the kind of appreciation each encourages essentially different?

         c.      Is there one aesthetic or two?

3.      Two aesthetics view

         a.      A distinctively artistic aesthetics and another involving appreciation of natural beauty?

4.      One aesthetic view (unified aesthetics)

         a.      Both art and nature involve a single all-embracing kind of experience

         b.      Need a comprehensive theory to accommodate it

5.      Berleant supports unified aesthetics

         a.      Allows for diversity: Does not deny diversity of individual experiences and divergent cultural factors in encounters with art/nature

         b.      General aes must acknowledge these differences

         c.      “A single aes applies to nature and art because, in final analysis, they are both cultural constructs and so we are not talking about two things but one”

                   i.       !!!!!



7.      Berleant wants to naturalize aesthetics by recognizing its association/continuity with other regions of experience

8.      Aes a critical dimension of value that binds together many domains of human world

9.      A kind of “integrated aesthetic”

10.    Everyday aes: Berleant is a proponent of everyday aesthetics

         a.      Aesthetics permeates the everyday world and is not limited to some special experience



12.    Aes involves a special attitude and distinctive aes sensibility

13.    Aesthetic experience involves: Disinterested and contemplative attention to object for own sake (intrinsic valuing, not instrumental valuing)

14.    Disinterestedness

         a.      By “setting aside interest” we become capable of receiving aes satisfaction

         b.      Frees us from distractions of practical purpose and allows us to dwell freely on object and regard it as beautiful

         c.      Disengaged

15.    Clear borders

         a.      Disinterestedness is helped by circumscribing art objects by clear borders

         b.      “Art must be enclosed within borders instead of spreading across walls, ceilings, and staircases so it can be”

         c.      “Grasped in a single view

16.    Isolate object of beauty

         a.      Single it out so pay attention to its aes qualities

         b.      (Aes qualities are not something we have been able to define/explain, thinks Berleant)

17.    Focus on internal attributes of art object

         a.      Self-sufficiency, completeness, and unity

18.    Involves “objectification” of aes experience

         a.      See below



20.    Traditional view not fit with architecture

         a.      If put enough distance between us and a building, could comprehend it in a “single view”

         b.      But a building is more than object seen from a distance

         c.      Meant to be entered, moved through, house activities–used  

         d.      With architecture, utility and aes/beauty mixed

21.    Impossible to maintain a real division between beauty and utility

         a.      Form and function are related

         b.      Perception of space surface, sound and pattern can affect a buildings practical success, influencing movement, efficiency and mood of users

         c.      Traditional view would segregate utility (or any other feature) into a different domain

                   i.       Keep art from being sullied by association with practical activities

22.    Traditional view not fit the performing arts

         a.      Nor can performing arts maintain purity as contemplative objects, physically separate from surroundings

         b.      Musical and dance performances

                   i.       Insinuate themselves into our bodies,

                   ii.      Stir up somatic and affective responses

                   iii.     Engage us in way don’t fit contemplative ideal

23.    Traditional view does not fit literature

         a.      Literature even harder to distance oneself from

         b.      Literature employs our consciousness to lead us into an enchanted realm

24.    **Trad theory of art only modeled on one kind of art–visual arts of painting and sculpture

         a.      Has been extended to others arts in implausible ways



         a.      Can we approach the beauty in nature as contemplative

         b.      Rather than as active, involving practical use, owned or involved with desires?

26.    Traditional aes not apply well to nature

27.    Most of our appreciative experience of nature

         a.      Exceed limits of contemplative object

         b.      Refuses to be constrained in discrete boundaries

         c.      Not easily “distanced”

28.    Distancing of traditional aes difficult to achieve when one is surrounded by the object

29.    How we might appreciate nature using traditional view:

         a.      Scenic outlook overlooking panoramic landscape seems to turn environment into contemplative object!

         b.      Abandon nature entirely and look at its representation in art

                   i.       Painting frames the scene offering disinterested regard

                   ii.      No annoying insects to distract one, no wind to ruffle one’s hair, no precarious footing or dizzying heights

                   iii.     But clearly aes appreciation does not cease when enter and walk though environment

                   iv.     Berleant thinks of these alleged “distractions” as legitimate part of aesthetic experience of nature



31.    Traditional aes uses scientific model of distancing, disinterestedness, and objectification

32.    Assumption of traditional aes is that appreciation is directed toward an aes object (designed one in art or ordered one in nature)

         a.      Since objects so different, aes must be different

33.    Berleant questions this premise of “objectification”

         a.      World of lived experience is not a world of objects

         b.      Much more difficult to objectify nature than art

         c.      But not easy in art either

34.    Art that gets ride of “objectification”

         a.      Impressionists did away with the traditional aes involving objectification by “dissolving represented objects into atmosphere and art objects into perceptual experiences”

         b.      Good sculpture involves a charmed space, a space around the object that is energized–so no discrete object

         c.      Environmental art often requires direct physical participation and this too goes against “objectification”

35.    So traditional aes impedes our encounter with the arts

         a.      Worse with nature



37.    Berleant does not like this distinction

38.    Natural world been profoundly influenced by humans

39.    “Natural world is not independent sphere but itself a cultural artifact”

         a.      Nature pervasively affected by human action

         b.      Very conception of nature is historically emergent and differs between cultures

         c.      “No wonder an aes that aspires, like science to universality, has difficulty accommodating nature”

                   i.       Because different cultures have different conceptions of nature


40.    SUBLIME

41.    Sublime is one aspect of aes experience of nature

42.    Aspects of sublime

         a.      Natural world can act on such a monumental scale to exceed our powers of framing and control

         b.      Produce a sense of overwhelming magnitude and awe

                   i.       Ultimate immeasurableness of universe

         c.      Overpowering

         d.      Might of nature overwhelms us and produces fear, terror

         e.      Awe mixed with humility

43.    Examples of sublime

         a.      Great gray cloud masses accompanied by crashes/flashes of thunder and lighting, powerful hurricane, moving mass of mighty waterfall, all-embracing vault of starry heavens

         b.      Their sublimity not intellectual but perceptual grasp of force and rage

         c.      Can’t distance oneself from these

         d.      Aes power in part due to vulnerability

         e.      Personal involvement adds perceptual intensity

                   i.       Note how engagement here enhances a dimension of perception (the traditional key factor in aesthetics)

44.    Traditional aesthetics can’t handle sublime

         a.      Sublime bursts through boundaries of disinterested contemplation

         b.      Can’t objectify and contemplate the object with disengagement

45.    Sublime helps us understand Berleant’s idea aes experience of nature


46.    Gentle beauty (that is not experience of sublime)

         a.      Aes experience of nature not limited to sublime

         b.       Natural aes not only in bold and dramatic experiences, but also on gentler occasions

47.    Examples of gentler aes experiences of nature

         a.      Canoeing on a serpentine river when the quite evening water reflects trees and rocks along banks so vividly as to allure the paddler into the center of a six dimensional world, three above and three below

         b.      Camping beneath pines black against night sky

         c.      Walking through tall grass of hidden meadow whose tree defined edges become boundaries of earth

         d.      Note all examples are active, not passive



49.    Aes experience of nature encourages continuity, assimilation and engagement

50.    Engaged unity with nature

         a.      No nature/culture split

                   i.       Nature is realm in which we live as participants not observers

         b.      Safety we feel from seeing ourselves separate from nature is specious

         c.      Recognize connectedness with nature

         d.      Qualitative sense of unity with nature

         e.      Boundlessness of nature surrounds and assimilates us

         f.       Can’t distance ourselves from nature to objectify it

         g.      Continuity of human being with forms and processes of nature is a central factor in aes appreciation of nature

51.    Ideal nature experience

         a.      Sensory acuteness

                   i.       Acute perceptual consciousness

                   ii.      Focus on immediacy and directness of experience

         b.      Congruity of awareness, understanding and involvement

                   i.       Enhance by felt understanding of assimilated knowledge

                   ii.      Cognitive dimension, but it is implicit knowledge

         c.      Perceptual unity of nature and human

                   i.       Perceiving environment from within

                   ii.      Not looking at it, but being in it

         d.      Total engagement

                   i.       Aes marks of these nature experiences not disinterested contemplation but total engagement

                   ii.      Sensory immersion in natural world that reaches uncommon experience of unity

52.    Aes of nature leads us to engagement, a participatory aesthetics



54.    Continuity and perceptual immersion occur in our experience of art as much as nature

         a.      Eg, talks about earth works

55.    Both art and nature appreciation involve engagement

         a.      Can function reciprocally with appreciator

         b.      Enticing participant to join in a unified perceptual situation

         c.      Must give up DI contemplation approach



57.    Discussion of “beauty of beloved”

         a.      Main point is that aes of engagement can “honor” this as an aes experience and traditional disinterested contemplation aes cannot

58.    Includes element of sexual desire

59.    Appreciation here is clearly not disinterested

60.    Not confined to distanced senses of sight and hearing

61.    For trad aes of disinterested contemplation; no aes/beauty in sexual relations

62.    Aes of engagement, yes aes/beauty in sexual relations

63.    Beauty of sexually beloved

         a.      Not lie in possession, as not intrinsic value

         b.      No in arousal, as self-directed

         c.      Nor in idealization, which is objectification

64.    To appreciate sexual beauty for its own sake

         a.      Recognize its primarily inherent value

         b.      Value that dwells in sensuous and other perceptual qualities of situation



66.    Aes of engagement will

         a.      Hopefully solve more problems that it creates

         b.      Open up experience closed to aes appreciation by traditional theories (e.g., sex)

         c.      By extending appreciation to nature in all its cultural manifestations, entire sensible world is included within purview of aesthetics

                   i.       Aes of everyday included

67.    Aes of engagement which makes all world aes does not make world more beautiful

         a.      “It confronts us with failures of taste and judgment that have marked most industrial and commercial activities in this century

68.    If environment (nature as we live it) can have aes value

         a.      Then acts that ignore or deny this value can be condemned



70.    Problem of applying design appreciation to nature

         a.      If we think of enjoyment of art as appreciation of the skill and originality that went into creating art object and admiration of creativity embodied in the design

71.    Some see a need for separate “order” aesthetic for nature

         a.      Appreciative responses based on awareness, selection and understanding of order by which natural forces have produced the objects we admire

         b.      So order in nature replaces appreciation of design in art

72.    Allows us to keep traditional aesthetic of disinterested contemplation

         a.      By having separate aesthetics for art and nature

73.    Berleant rejects this insistence on order appreciation for nature

         a.      Can delight in profusion and continuity and not just regularity and symmetry (formalist discrete order)

         b.      Example: attraction of a spreading patch of bunchberry or stand of wild columbine

                   i.       Come from not only free play of imagination

                   ii.      But color, shape, poignant simplicity, delicacy and gratuitous extravagance

                   iii.     Fascination with intricate detail

                   iv.      Subtle tone, endless variety

         c.      Formal order is only one source of aes satisfaction, not necessary one


74.    Examples of fusion of art and nature

         a.      In modern architecture that is site specific, gardens, env sculpture, urban planning that responds to the geomorphological and geographical considerations, urban parks