Thursday, October 29, 2009

Art and Nature

Thoughts on the “appropriate aesthetic appreciation” of nature:

1. Aesthetic means “involving the arts.”

2. Aesthetic appreciation refers variously to our valuation/assessment/enjoyment of the arts.

3. “Appropriate” aesthetic appreciation is variable and context-dependent.

4. Therefore, (from 1 &2) only art objects (including events) are the proper object of (appropriate) aesthetic appreciation.

5. Art objects are, minimally, intentional artifacts.

6. Nature is not an intentional artifact.

7. Therefore, (from 5 & 6) nature is not an art object.

8. Therefore, (from 4 & 7) there can be no (appropriate or inappropriate) aesthetic appreciation of nature.


  1. A qualification: if some nonhuman animals are (to some degree) intentional art producers, then (nonhuman) nature may contains some art objects available for our aesthetic appreciation.

  2. I wait for Jacob's response with bated breath. In the meantime, I would challenge as arbitrarily restrictive premise "1) Aesthetic means 'involving the arts.'" I'm no expert, but I'd have said that one can and does have aesthetic responses to all sorts of experiences, artistic and non. To appeal baldly to authority, it seems that Kant, Peirce, Dewey, and Merleau-Ponty, in different ways, treat the aesthetic as a central and even defining feature of experience as such. There is also some interesting new work in evolutionary theory about the biological functions of disgust reactions (which are not entirely variable across cultures)...

  3. Appreciative, emotional, valuational responses to all sorts of things, yes. Aethetic responses only to art.

  4. This is etymologially odd, to begin with. Aisthanesthai is an Ancient Greek verb for perception. It seems to me that the term most naturally covers all perception, specifically regarding our judgment of what we perceive on a scale of beauty and ugliness. The aesthetic qualities of works of art would then be a special case in the application of this judgment. The arts as we know them seem devised specifically to isolate and concentrate on these same (secondary or tertiary) responses that we have toward natural perceptions.

  5. Etymologically odd, yes. That helps to make the argument contentious and noteworthy! I'm beginning to think, with Kant and against Hegel (who alone among the Great Dead Ones makes claims similar to premise #1), that premise #1 is faulty after all; that aesthetics justifiably (and not simply historically or conventionally) refers to the application to any object of perception the judgment of taste. A consequence I had hoped to avoid by delimiting the application of the concept was the seemingly unavoidable radical indeterminacy/relativity of natural aesthetics (where any kind of "appreciation" of any collection of entities counts). Oh well.

  6. Wouldn't we still have the problem of indeterminacy/relativity, even confining the aesthetic to what we conventionally term art? After all, the history of art is full of disputes about whether any given artifact or medium qualifies as such -- think of the 19th century controversy over photography -- and at least a part of the dispute was over the medium's aesthetic qualities.

  7. Yes, but at least there, other necessary conditions obtain (viz., artifactuality, intentionality). Not just anything goes.