Environmental aesthetics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M047-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved July 15, 2024, from

4. The central philosophical issue of environmental aesthetics

The central philosophical issue of environmental aesthetics is determined in large measure by the contrast between the nature of its objects of appreciation and the nature of works of art. Paradigm works of art are more or less discrete, stable and self-contained objects of appreciation, typically meant to be appreciated with specific senses and from particular distances and positions. Each of these features is in marked contrast with those of the objects of appreciation of environmental aesthetics. Since these objects are everyday environments, events and activities, appreciators are immersed within the objects of their appreciation, or at the very least not separated from them by preordained distances or at particular positions. Moreover, no specific senses are required; as appreciators occupy or move around and among such objects of appreciation, they see, hear, feel, smell and perhaps even taste. These aspects of the experience are intensified by the open, unlimited and promiscuous nature of the objects themselves. They change as appreciators move and change of their own accord. They are constantly in motion, and with the passage of time changes continue without limit. They also extend through space, again without limit. There are no frames for the objects of environmental aesthetics – either in time or in space.

These differences between the objects of appreciation of environmental aesthetics and paradigm works of art relate to what is perhaps the deepest difference between the two. Works of art are the creations of artists. Artists are intentional human designers, typically creating works of art by working within artistic traditions and by embodying designs in objects. Thus, works of art are tied to artists, artistic traditions, and designs both causally and conceptually: these determine both what works of art are and what they mean. By contrast, the objects of appreciation of environmental aesthetics are not typically the creations of artists. They come about ‘naturally’; they change, grow and develop by means of natural processes. Even when environments are human-influenced or human-constructed and thus involve human agency, only rarely are they primarily the products of designers working within explicit traditions and embodying particular designs.

The upshot is that aesthetic experience of the world at large is seemingly very different from the aesthetic experience of art. In the former case, unlike the latter, appreciators are confronted by, if not intimately and totally immersed in, objects of appreciation that impinge upon all their senses, are constantly in motion, are limited in neither time nor space, and have no predetermined nature and meaning. Appreciators are within and among objects of appreciation and their task is to achieve aesthetic appreciation of those objects. Moreover, appreciation must seemingly be achieved without the aid of frames, the guidance of artistic traditions, or the direction of artists and their designs. Thus, in order to treat the aesthetic appreciation of the world at large, environmental aesthetics must begin with basic questions, such as what to appreciate and how to appreciate it. These questions are fundamental to the field; its central philosophical issue concerns what resources, if any, are available for answering them.

Citing this article:
Carlson, Allen. The central philosophical issue of environmental aesthetics. Environmental aesthetics, 2011, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M047-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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