Carlson, Ch. 6: Aesthetic Appreciation of the Agricultural Landscape


1.       Overview:

          a.       Ag landscapes deserved much greater aesthetic attention

          b.       We should focus on their formal beauty and even more on the ambiguous expressive aesthetic characteristics they present

          c.       Their aes aes value depends on how well they perform their function (determined productivity and sustainability)


2.       The scenery cult (descendent from tradition of the picturesque), according to which only spectacular scenery suitable for picture taking has aesthetic value, has let to false idea that agricultural lands lack aes value, along with wetlands (smelly, bug ridden) , unbroken forests (boring) , vast expanses of open prairie (tedious)


3.       Agricultural lands have great formal beauty

          a.       Formal beauty = beauty of line, shape, and color, that is, form, independent of content

4.       Agricultural Midwest:

          a.       “Subtly of color and boldness of line combine with scale and scope to produce landscapes of breathtaking formal beauty: great checkerboard squares of green and cold, vast rectangles of infinitesimally different shades of gray, stretching mile upon mile to the margins of the sky”


5.       Should not appreciate ag lands (or art objects) solely in terms of formal beauty (as the formalists would have it)

          a.       This is to appreciate them only in terms of the thin sense of appreciation that focuses only on narrow features of their appearance

6.       Ag lands also have expressive beauty (aesthetic value); aesthetic value in thick sense whereby they express life values (derived from what is taken to be their true nature)

          a.       See ag lands (and other lands) as not just arrangement of pleasing colors, shapes, and volumes (purely formally)

          b.       “But as expressive of many things in life, drenched with the fused association of many scenes and emotions from memory and experience”

7.       Life values of an object depend their functions and how well or poorly they perform them

8.       Ag lands designed to perform a function

9.       In so far as they are well designed and succeed in performing that function, they can be positively aesthetically evaluated

10.     Modern agricultural lands are highly productive in producing food/fiber

          a.       “The are paradigms of good design–crisp, clean, uncluttered and expressive of life values such as ingenuity, efficiency and economy”


11.     But modern industrial agricultural lands viewed from an environmental perspective are unsustainable

          a.       Fossil-fuel and fossil water reliant, soil eroding, prime water polluter, destroyer of rural communities

12.     Industrial agriculture thus are “massively dysfunctional systems and expressive of waste, short-sightedness and profligacy”

          a.       Expressive ugliness not only expressive beauty


13.     Carlson concludes that expressive quality of ag lands depends on an empirical analysis of what in fact their true nature is (are they unsustainable or not)

14.     Ag lands expressive qualities are likely to be ambiguous

15.     This ambiguity of aesthetic value also likely to be present in other human environments (the exclusive suburban neighborhood, and buildings that may or may not be people or environmentally friendly)


Carlson, Ch 7: What is the Correct What to Aesthetically Appreciate Landscapes?


1.       Question of aesthetic relevance:

          a.       What thoughts or images or knowledge not present in the object itself is relevant to the aesthetic experience of it?

                    i.        Formalists: None.

                              (1)     Clive Bell: “Bring nothing from life to our aesthetic appreciation; no knowledge of its ideas and affairs, no familiarity with its emotions”” (extreme disinterestedness)

                              (2)     Only lines, colors and shapes are relevant

          b.       Given the indeterminacy and aesthetic ambiguity of contemporary landscapes and thus that they must be composed in order to appropriately appreciate them

                    i.        What thoughts, images, bits of knowledge

          c.       What is the correct curriculum for teaching appropriate aes app of landscapes?

                    i.        What skills, talents, thoughts images, information, knowledge must we give our children (or peers/ourselves) to engender rich appropriate aes app of landscapes?


2.       Carlson’s answer:

          a.       Required for all aes app:

                    i.        (1) Form, (2) Common knowledge, (3) Science, (4) History (of use), (5) Contemporary use

          b.       Required for particular individuals, contexts, groups, cultures:

                    i.        (6) Myth, (7) Symbol, (8) Art


3.       The Postmodern View of Landscape Appreciation (anything goes relativism)

          a.       Anything and everything and nothing in particular is relevant and should be in the curriculum

          b.       “Whatever” and “the more the merrier” “It’s all relative”

          c.       There is no correct way to appreciate landscapes (no better or worse way, nothing that should be in the curriculum, nor nothing that should be left out)


          d.       Like the post modern view about interpreting a text (book):

                    i.        No reading (or meaning) has priority, including the meaning the author intended;

                    ii.       Any meaning the text has acquired or that we may find in it for one reason or another is as good as any other


          e.       For landscape appreciation, whatever vague and whimsical reverie, imagination, emotional response we may bring to the landscape is as good as any other

                    i.        Fine to simply amuse oneself by dwelling on the cumulo-nimbus cloud as a basket of wash


4.       Carlson rejects the post modern view

          a.       Best sort of aes app requires training

          b.       Don’t need it for trivial, easy beauty:

                    i.        “A chuckle at a puffy floating-by basket of washing”

          c.       We need to train ourselves to get the fullest and richest possible appreciation of landscapes

          d.       Just as there are misinterpretations and mistaken readings of texts

                    i.        Interpretations read into the text rather than read out of it

          e.       Some readings of landscapes are inappropriate or mistaken: misinterpretations that are not basis for appropriate app


5.       (1) Form is relevant

          a.       Form: aesthetically moving combinations of lines, shapes, and colors

6.       (2) Common knowledge is relevant

          a.       Common knowledge: the normal classifications in our commonsense conceptualization of the world

                    i.        So instead of seeing landscape in terms of lines, shapes and colors (as formalists wants us to), we see it in terms of fields and cottages

                    ii.       We us such knowledge/concepts to “compose” the landscape

7.       (3) Science is relevant

          a.       Natural history of landscape as illuminated by natural sciences like geology, biology and ecology

          b.       Science is as vital to aes app of landscapes as is common knowledge

          c.       Science is simply an extension of common knowledge

                    i.        E.g., from “a series of rocky peaks jutting from a rolling valley” to “a series of faulted igneous uplifts exposed by erosion of surrounding sedimentary deposits”

          d.       Move from common knowledge to science is not a move away from aes appreciation

          e.       Is a movement “from easy to difficult and more serious beauty” (superficial to deeper aes appreciation)

          f.       Analogy with art history argument

                    i.        Just as deep, serious appreciation of art requires knowledge of art history/criticism (the nature and creation of art, its categorization, and history of production)

                    ii.       Science provides similar knowledge necessary to deeply appreciate landscapes

                              (1)     E.g., Geology tells us how to classify landscapes and tells the story of how then came to be (history of production)

          g.       Curriculum for aes app of landscapes must include readings by scientifically informed nature writers

                    i.        Thoreau, Muir, Leopold, Lopez

                    ii.       Note these are not scientists, but people who write passionately about nature in a way informed by scientific knowledge

8.       (4) History of use is relevant

          a.       Disanalogy art and landscape

                    i.        Not (typically) relevant for art, but relevant for landscape

                    ii.       Art (typically) completed at point in time, landscapes continue to change

          b.       Unlike the history (after production) of a work of art which is irrelevant to its aesthetic appreciation of the work of art

                    i.        After artwork created, historical facts about where it was first displayed, that shipped here and there, and now hangs in Smithsonian is not normally considered relevant to its appreciation

          c.       History of a landscape is aesthetically relevant

                    i.        Because, unlike a artworks which are normally completed at a specific time, landscapes are ongoing entities (made and remade), and so their history of use is part of their ongoing history of production

          d.       Knowledge of ongoing histories of most landscapes is vital to their aes appreciation.

          e.       Examples

                    i.        That Devils Tower in Wyoming was set aside as first National Monument in 1906 extremely important to understanding its current relatively pristine state

                              (1)     This is an interesting (and troubling?) case because this “history of use” did not physically affect than landscape

                    ii.       Mount Rushmore in South Dakota; need to know it was sculpted into the heads of four U.S. presidents if appropriately appreciate it.


9.       (5) Contemporary use of landscape is relevant

          a.       Contemporary use: all various functions and roles in human life that environments have in the modern world

          b.       Contemporary use, like historical use, and history of production (natural history) is part of the landscapes ongoing history of production and thus is aesthetically relevant

          c.       Social sciences, like geography and sociology, that focus on recent and current factors shaping landscapes are important

          d.       Unlike historical uses of landscapes, we tend to find current uses as contributing negatively to their aesthetics (abuse of the land)

                    i.        Strip mining, clear cutting, suburbanization of farm land


          e.       Michelangelo’s Pieta example:

                    i.        1972 a mentally disturbed geologist attacked it with a hammer and then it was reconstructed and missing fragments replaced with marble and polyester resin

                    ii.       W/o this knowledge when we view the contemporary Pieta, we will surely misunderstand and misappreciate it.


10.     (6) Myth, (7) Symbol, (8) an Art are not in general relevant (as are 1-5), but can be for particular individuals or groups and in certain contexts

          a.       Uses of landscapes in mythical, symbolic, and artistic creations of different peoples and cultures

          b.       Not physical uses (don’t seem to make and remake lands)

          c.       Examples:

                    i.        Devils Tower Mateo Tepee: 7 sisters and their brother; he turned into a bear, they jumped on a tree stump which rose into the ski; the bear scrapped the tower to produce its lined surface and the 7 sisters went into the sky and became stars of Big Dipper

                              (1)     This myth tied to sacred uses by Native Americans of Devils Tower, a symbol of creation of earth and sky

                    ii.       Steven Spielberg’s use of Devil’s Tower as a landing site for visitors from outer space in Close Encounters of the Third Kind is an artistic use of landscape

          d.       On the surface these mythical and artistic uses of landscapes seem irrelevant to their proper aes appreciation

                    i.        To appropriately appreciate Devils Tower must know about Spielberg’s film?

                              (1)     Visitors to Devils Tower most frequently asked “Where did the space ship land?”

                    ii.       Or native myth about formation of Devils Tower?

                    iii.      My intuitions say first is not relevant and misleads, but that the second, though not required, is relevant and can enhance

                    iv.      Park Service at Devils Tower considers its “cameo role” in Close Encounters whimsical and wants visitors to be in awe of the Tower for its own dramatic presence and not as the setting for an imaginary spaceship landing.

          e.       Unlike first 5, which shape how a landscape is, myth/art/symbol leave landscapes just as they are; they do not remake landscapes and thus explain how they look to us

11.     When myth (etc.) holds individual captive, it becomes relevant landscape appreciation

          a.       When myth, symbol, and art uses of landscape are so powerful for a person and culture that they “hold them captive”

                    i.        (People can’t look at Devils tower w/o thinking about the movie or the bear story)

          b.       This information is relevant to explaining how landscapes look to those held captive by relevant images

12.     Carlson endorses a contextual pluralism about what is appropriate appreciation of landscapes, not the anything goes relativism of the post modern approach

          a.       Like post modern view of texts, we can read into landscape many of various meanings–thus pluralism

          b.       Unlike post modern view, we should reject anything-goes relativism, for some possible meanings (myths, symbols, art interpretations) have priority and are privileged readings of landscape for certain individuals/groups

                    i.        Depending on which images of landscapes hold them captive

          c.       Pluralist gives a contextually constrained legitimate role to uses of myth, symbol and art in the aesthetics of landscape


13.     1-5 (knowledge of the histories of production) are essential to the aes appreciation of landscapes by any appreciator, while 6-8 (myth, symbol, art) only relevant to certain individuals/groups

          a.       Myth and symbol, unlike history of production, poses danger of misleading aes appreciation


14.     1-5 (knowledge of history of production) belong in the core curriculum

          a.       6-8 (symbol/art) belong in a supplementary curriculum