Allen Carlson, Ch 1: The Development and Nature of Env. Aesthetics


1.       Environmental aesthetics is the aesthetics of everything besides art

          a.       Natural environments (wild nature)

          b.       Human–influenced environments (parks)

          c.       Human-constructed environments (cities)

          d.       Aesthetics of everyday life (aesthetics of smells, food)


          e.       Environmental aesthetics embodies the view that every environment, natural rural, or urban, large or small, ordinary or extraordinary–offers much to aesthetically appreciate

          f.       And they can be as aesthetically rich and rewarding as are the very best of our works of art


2.       Concept of disinterestedness

          a.       Aesthetic (=aes) appreciation (=app) should be disinterested

          b.       Certain kinds of “interest” in the aes object are ruled out

                    i.        Not appreciating the object’s utility, for example

                    ii.       Not interested in what the object can do for you (or for others)

                              (1)     It’s a great play because people are coming to it and I’m making $

                    iii.      Aesthetic appreciation is an intrinsic valuing

          c.       For more, see Emily Brady on disinterestedness


3.       Different kinds of aesthetic value (of “beauty”): Beauty is no one thing

          a.       Beautiful (subtly variegated, smooth, delicate, fair), sublime (powerful, vast, terrifying), the picturesque (in between beautiful and sublime (complex, varied and irregular, rich an forceful)–“picture like”; nature with some signs of humans (relics)

          b.       Tragic, comic, fascinating, awesome


4.       Positive aesthetics: All of nature is beautiful

          a.       Carlson’s definition: “Untouched nature has only or primarily positive aesthetic qualities”

          b.       John Muir: Whole of natural env., especially wild nature, as aes beautiful; snakes, alligators, floods and earthquakes

                    i.        Ugliness in nature only where there has been human intrusion.


5.       History of environmental aesthetics

          a.       When aesthetics began in 18th century (e.g., Kant), nature was a paradigm of aesthetics

          b.       19th century and first 2/3 of 20th century, nature aesthetics ignored in favor of philosophy of art (aesthetics = philosophy of art)

                    i.        One prominent text: No problems of aesthetics if no one ever talked about works of art”

          c.       Last 1/3 of 20th century until now: Explosion of work in environmental aesthetics, including the aesthetics of nature.

                    i.        Ronald Hepburn’s “Contemporary Aesthetics and the Neglect of Natural Beauty”


6.       No possibility of aes app of nature?

          a.       Aes judgments/exp require considering object as product of intelligent design

                    i.        And evaluating it as an achievement of a creator

          b.       Appreciation of nature not aesthetic

                    i.        Unless treat it like an art object


          c.       Un-intuitive, as paradigm cases of app of nature delight in sunset or bird in flight

          d.       Anything can be aesthetically viewed”


7.       Unlike art, aes app of nature is messy, subjective and of less interest than (trivial compared to) art appreciation

          a.       Fewer constraints

          b.       Relative to conditions of observation


          c.       Hepburn (and others) argue that in nature app also a distinction between trivial/superficial and serious/deep


8.       Sociobiological approaches to aes appreciation of nature

          a.       Humans learned to find beautiful those environments in which they were safe (savannahs) and find ugly those in which not (jungles)


9.       Cognitive (conceptual) vs non-cognitive (nonconceptual) approaches to env. aesthetics (and aes of art)

          a.       Cognitive: knowledge about nature of object of appreciation is central to its aes appreciation

                    i.        For the appreciation of anything, need to be guided by knowledge of the character of the thing in question.

          b.       Non-cognitive: something other than knowledge is the central feature of aesthetic appreciation

                    i.        E.g., Imagination, emotion, engagement


          c.       Some try to forge connections between the two, combining the resources of both cognitive and noncognitive points of view

                    i.        A trend that Carlson notes is the convergence of cognitive and noncognitive approaches.


10.     One cognitive model, Carlson’s “natural environmental model” (also “scientific cognitivism”) claims

          a.       Serious appropriate aes app of art requires knowledge of what they in fact are (knowledge of art history/criticism)

                    i.        To appreciate Picasso’s Guernica, must know it’s a painting, a cubist painting

                              (1)     Also helps to know it was about Spanish civil war

                    ii.       Appreciate a dance/music as a waltz when it in fact is a tango?

          b.       So serious, appropriate aes app of nature requires knowledge of what natural aesthetic objects are (knowledge of natural history, common sense, and science)

                    i.        Scientific knowledge of nature can reveal actual aesthetic qualities of natural objects in the way in which knowledge of art history can reveal aesthetic properties of works of art.

11.     Other cognitive models change kind or degree of knowledge required

          a.       App nature on its own terms may involve app it in light of regional narratives, folklore or mythological stories about nature

                    i.        Examples

                              (1)     Proper appreciation of bald eagle requires knowing it is the symbol of the U.S.

                              (2)     Poper appreciation of the Gettysburg hillsides/fields involves knowing this was the sight of one of the bloodiest battles ever

                              (3)     Appreciation of field near Bozeman, enhanced by knowing it’s a place Lewis and Clark camped in 1807


12.     Non-cognitive approaches: something other than knowledge is the central feature of aesthetic appreciation

          a.       Aesthetics of engagement (Arnold Berleant)

                    i.        Rejects disinterestedness as an “isolating distancing and objectifying gaze”

                    ii.       Stresses contextual dimension of nature and multisensory experience of it

                    iii.      Total immersion of appreciator in object of appreciation (e.g., nature)

          b.       Arousal model (Noel Carroll)

                    i.        Emotional arousal is sufficient for aesthetic appreciation

                    ii.       No knowledge required for legitimate aes appreciation

          c.       Imagination model (Emily Brady)

                    i.        Imagination is most important in aes appreciation of nature

                    ii.       Combined with engagement and disinterestedness


13.     In aes appreciation of human environments, have same cognitive/non-cognitive division

          a.       Cognitive: to appropriately appreciate human environments (say a farm field) must know what something is, what it is like, and why it is like that

                    i.        Their histories, functions and role in our lives relevant to appropriate app of human environments.

                    ii.       So in addition to natural science, need social sciences: history, geography, anthropology and sociology

                    iii.      Need to know cultural traditions in aes exp of human environments

                              (1)     Sense of place


14.     Env. aesthetics and environmentalism

          a.       If scenic beauty is the paradigm, the swamps and wetlands will get short shrift

          b.       Positive aesthetics helps with env. protection

                    i.        If it embraces the equal beauty thesis, it helps much less as will not allow the use of aesthetics for conservation priorities (where comparative assessments of environments are needed)

          c.       If aesthetics is anthropocentric, that would be unhelpful at least for non-anthropocentrist environmentalists

          d.       Does scientific cognitivism help solve the worry that beauty is subjective and in the eye of the beholder?

                    i.        Since science is objective?

          e.       Does scientific cognitivism help with positive aesthetics

                    i.        No scientific story about nature is uninteresting....

                    ii.       Science finds nature orderly and harmonious and unifies it and these are positive aesthetic properties

          f.       If every environment is aesthetically rich, how criticize urban sprawl as blight, eyesore, ugly, aesthetically impoverished?

Chapter Two: Aesthetic Appreciation and the Natural Environment


1.       The central problem: What and how to appreciate nature

          a.       Given that nature is “indeterminate” and “promiscuous” in terms of what we can appreciate (the tree, hillside, mountain, clouds) and how (e.g., with which senses?)

          b.       So we must “compose it”


2.       No such problem with art:

          a.       Know what to appreciate and how

                    i.        Know the difference between the work and what is not the artwork

                    ii.       Listen to the sound of the piano (not the coughing of the audience or the sound of the train outside)

                    iii.      Look at front of a painting (not backside); look at the painting, don’t touch it

                    iv.      Don’t drink brandy the way you drink beer

          b.       True because we created these art objects to be appreciated and so know what and how to do it.

          c.       Not true of nature


3.       Five models of nature appreciation

          a.       Object model

                    i.        Isolate pieces of nature and treat them as non-representational sculpture

                    ii.       E.g., piece of driftwood on the mantle

                    iii.      Problems:

                              (1)     Appreciating nature as if it was art (something it is not, rather than as nature which is what it is)

                              (2)     Objects in nature are related to their environments and when isolate them, have different aesthetic properties

                                         (a)     Rock on mantel may look solid, in its environment (a scree slope) it may look crumbly

          b.       Landscape model

                    i.        View nature as if it were a landscape painting

                              (1)     Claude glass, scenic view point, picture postcard

                              (2)     Appreciate nature as if we were strolling though an art gallery of landscape paintings

                    ii.       Problems:

                              (1)     Again appreciating nature as something it is not, namely art, a series of landscape painting

                              (2)     Nature is not two dimensional

                              (3)     Nature need multi-sensuous perception

          c.       Non-aesthetic model

                              (1)     See above # 6: No possibility of aes app of nature?

                    ii.       Since nature not designed/created we can’t aesthetically appreciate it because this involves evaluating an object in terms of the intentions of its creator

                    iii.      Appreciation of nature not aesthetic

                    iv.      Problems: Nature is a paradigm of aesthetic appreciation

                              (1)     We learned what it is to aesthetically appreciate by appreciating nature

          d.       Aesthetics of engagement model

                    i.        Engage with nature, immerse ourselves in it, participatory aesthetics of nature

                    ii.       Total sensory immersion in nature

                    iii.      Problems: Too subjective, answers “what to appreciate question” with “everything” (not helpful, as we can’t appreciate everything)

          e.       Carlson’s natural environmental model (or scientific cognitivism)

                    i.        We can’t appreciate everything or we get James “blooming, buzzing confusion”

                    ii.       Must be limits

                    iii.      We have knowledge of natural environment that can limit and guide our appreciation of it

                              (1)     Common sense and scientific knowledge

                    iv.      “We must recognize the smell of hay and that of horse dung and perhaps distinguish between them; we must feel the ant as an insect rather than as say a twitch”

                    v.       Knowledge allows us to appreciate the sound of the cicadas and exclude the sounds of distant traffic (like ignoring coughing in a concert hall)

                    vi.      Appreciate different environments differently

                              (1)     Survey a prairie

                              (2)     Scrutinize the dense undergrowth of a forest