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Arnold Berleant




The natural world has long held aesthetic attraction, but environmental aesthetics is only now emerging as a discipline in its own right, with distinctive concepts, issues, and theories. In the last three decades, scholars have begun in earnest to develop the field from scattered beginnings that predate the current environmental movement. Environmental aesthetics does not stand apart from other kinds of research. It draws from philosophy, anthropology, psychology, literary theory and criticism, cultural geography, architecture, and environmental design, as well as from the arts. It also has close philosophical connections, in particular, to ontology, ethics, and the theory of art. Moreover, environmental aesthetics has implications, too, for governmental policy and social practice. Like environment itself, the field of environmental aesthetics extends broadly and on many levels. This article will explore this field in several directions: historical, conceptual, experiential, and practical.


History:   The history of environmental aesthetics before the twentieth century is the history of the aesthetics of nature. An aesthetic interest in nature has probably been present since our hominid ancestors evolved, although physical evidence goes back only some thirty thousand years to the cave paintings and engravings in southwestern Europe. Curiously enough, these early manifestations of art are, in fact, environmental, for the caves were not picture galleries but total environments that even today require active participation. Preliterate societies characteristically exhibit an aesthetic sensibility that is thoroughly integrated with their religious beliefs and everyday activities, giving us good reason to think that an aesthetic awareness  infused people's attitudes and practices toward the natural world throughout prehistory.

Since the early history of Western civilization, not to mention the longer duration of Egyptian and Asian cultures, people have found aesthetic value in nature. Twenty-four hundred years ago, Aristotle recognized the beauty and order of nature, while a century later the Stoic Chrysippus claimed that the peacock's tail is proof that beauty is a value in nature. An aesthetic sensibility infuses the didactic nature poetry of Virgil and the natural philosophy of Lucretius, while the New Testament writers extolled the lilies of the field, the charm in the bending of a stalk of grain, and the gaping of ripe figs. Nature has long been a source and inspiration for aesthetic appreciation.


Attention to the aesthetic dimensions of landscape developed gradually in Europe during succeeding centuries. As the slow but cumulative process of clearing the forests left great reaches of open land, the practice increased of planting trees deliberately, and people began to take pleasure in woodlands. This culminated in the eighteenth century, when attitudes shifted definitively away from regarding wilderness as savage and threatening and toward viewing the forest as a domain of beauty. Indeed, the idea of the picturesque became popular in England at this time to express the aesthetic appeal of a rural landscape. The most influential picturesque theorists, William Gilpin, Richard Payne Knight, and Uvedale Price, were in close agreement on rejecting regularity of design and systematic order in favor of irregularity, variation, wildness, change, and decay. The picturesque, moreover, typifies the eighteenth-century aesthetic of gentlemanly contemplative observation. Aided by viewing the landscape through the frame of a Claude glass, a small viewer of convex black or colored glass, whose curved surface reflects the landscape in miniature and reduced color and framed as if it were a painting, attention was exclusively visual. Attention was directed to surface appearances only, ignoring, for example, the actual condition of the rural poor. Yet the interest in the picturesque directed art toward nature and aestheticized the natural world, implying a common mode of appreciation of both art and nature.


Much of the direct aesthetic attention to nature, though, lay in using it as a model for art. The imitation of nature dominated art from classical times through the eighteenth century, and has continued in attenuated form into our own, especially among regional and amateur painters. Gardens often reversed this relationship, applying artistic principles in refashioning nature. The designs of medieval and Renaissance gardens and the formal garden traditions in Italy and France reflect the same compositional fashioning as the arts and, in fact, until the eighteenth century gardens were often included among the fine arts. Other traditions in garden design, such as the Chinese and Japanese, selected elements from the larger landscape and placed them in an idealized setting. In England during the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, the naturalistic landscape designs of William Kent, Humphrey Repton, and Lancelot “Capability” Brown deliberately shaped the beauty recognized in uncultivated nature and, emulating the practice of Asian gardens, incorporated distant views as “borrowed landscapes.”


This aesthetic interest in nature signified a shift in attitude toward the environment, a change that is still evolving. The great Kantian synthesis that reconciled the human realm with the natural one was grounded in subjective purposiveness, since purpose could presumably be found in nature and humans both, and it used the power of imagination to direct our response to nature. Yet it was the imagination of poets and essayists more than of philosophers that pursued the interest in natural beauty, an interest that grew during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Some nineteenth-century philosophers and writers, such as G. W. F. Hegel, Gustave Flaubert, and Charles Baudelaire, tilted the balance between the natural and the human to find the ideal in art rather than nature. Art and nature achieved greater equality among the Romantics and inspired William Wordsworth to particular eloquence. John Ruskin's tendency to equalize the relation of the human world with the natural one was a precursor of certain contemporary views. For him nature was not only the source of visual beauty but retains its original aesthetic value, and the great artist is the one who is able to convey its reality. This connection became more explicit yet in Friedrich Wilhelm von Schelling, who united in aesthetic activity both the ideal world of art and the real world of objects.


The theorists and practitioners of those centuries attempted to regulate natural beauty by the constraints of design, order, harmony and, for Immanuel Kant, by purposiveness. During this same period, however, the idea of the sublime emerged as the correlative of beauty, designating aesthetic experience that surpasses the controls that maintain art within rational bounds. As far back as the third century, Longinus had recognized that the sublime possesses the capacity to overpower the constraints of reason and order. He observed that it induces ecstasy in the appreciator, who prances and rears like a horse, fancying himself the creator of the literary work being recited. The sublime, in fact, disrupts the balance of nature and art to make nature preeminent. During the eighteenth century, the sublime assumed a central place in aesthetic discussion. Not literature, as for Longinus, however, but the natural world became its exemplar, for it is unbridled nature that most strikingly exceeds the constraints of order and limit. Early in that century, Joseph Addison cited one source of aesthetic pleasure in the great, the vast, and the grand, such as a boundless desert, mountain ranges, and a wide expanse of water. Kant, late in the same century, retained Edmund Burke's association of the sublime in literature with the emotion of fear and terror and its power over the imagination, but ascribed sublimity to nature only, not to art. It is the size or might of nature that excites this response, as in the innumerable stars in the heavens or the sands of the seashore, and in contemplating the force of a storm at sea or a torrent of falling water. While this led Kant back to human reason and the moral dignity of human beings, he recognized the capacity of nature, unbounded in its size and power, to surpass the human. Nature, indeed, excites aesthetic admiration in its very excesses. Over the past two centuries the aesthetic appeal of environment has broadened still further to incorporate architectural and interior design, on the one hand, and the city and the commercial and industrial landscape, on the other. Moreover, the normative range of aesthetics has also been extended to allow for negative values: a significant part of the criticism that emanates from the environmental movement is aesthetic in character. Efforts have also been made to place environmental aesthetics on a scientific basis by environmental psychologists, cultural geographers, and others.


Nature as an inspiration for art, the aesthetics of nature, ideas of the picturesque and the sublime, and environmental aesthetics are all different, yet they can be seen as stages in a single evolutionary process. Recognition has grown, too, not only of the power, magnitude, and importance of nature, but also of its fragility. By the last part of the twentieth century, this increased awareness combined with a heightened recognition of our interdependence with nature to encourage the reinterpretation of nature as environment. Such a modification of the sense of nature has also stimulated efforts to fashion ideas that reflect its aesthetic dimension and to understand the human place in an aesthetics of environment. Replacing the concept of nature with that of environment is more than a shift in terminological style: it represents a stage in the transformation of our understanding.



Terminology and Scope:  Perhaps here more than in most fields, the use of familiar terms in environmental aesthetics is tendentious. Words like nature, landscape, and environment carry with them long associations with conventional beliefs and philosophical tradition that make it difficult for environmental aesthetics to develop as a free and independent field of inquiry. Social influences on our understanding of the natural world are powerful, while ethnic traditions incorporate a wide range of mythologies, beliefs, and practices concerning environment. Thus when theories of beauty and aesthetic value are directed to environment, they face a multitude of meanings and practices that are even more varied and diffuse than with art. In fact, the scope of environmental aesthetics is still more difficult to circumscribe than that of art.


Environment is a word that has acquired many meanings. Taken narrowly in its etymological sense, it denotes the region that surrounds something (Fr. en in+viron circuit). Conceived most broadly, it is sometimes confused with ecology, which refers to the complex set of interrelations and influences that bind an organism to its environment, or with ecosystem, which signifies those relations taken as a functional, interactive system of organisms and their environment. Most meanings of environment lie within this range and have a highly significant implication: they retain to some degree the assumption of an object and its surroundings or of a self and its setting, bound together in varying degrees of intimacy but ultimately distinct and separate. This dualistic presumption has been challenged increasingly by scientific and philosophical developments in the twentieth century. Relativity physics, quantum mechanics, and operationalism, together with the increasing influence of philosophical pragmatism, phenomenology, and hermeneutics all deny the principal presupposition of our conventional terminology that organism and environment are discrete entities that can be located and defined separately. These more recent developments have encouraged attempts to understand environment in ways that incorporate ideas of inclusion and continuity. The biological concept of an ecosystem is one such proposal. Another, still more general one, is to consider environment as a unified field incorporating a complex order of animate and inanimate objects bound together in spatial and causal transactions, and whose fluid boundaries respond to geographical conditions, human activity, and other such influences.


Landscape raises similar difficulties. Geographers tend to define it in visual ways as the space of the earth's surface that extends from the viewer's eye to the horizon. A similar understanding is reflected by the common idea of a natural landscape as an expanse of scenery seen in a single view, and in the genre of landscape painting as the representation of such a view. Yet with landscape, too, we can identify a range of alternatives, from the panoramic landscape that easily turns an environment into a visual object contemplated from afar, to the participatory landscape that incorporates the appreciator perceptually and relinquishes any sense of separateness. As with environment, the issue of separation or continuity with the perceiver remains problematic.


These alternatives suggest that the heart of the problem lies in different conceptions of nature, the most inclusive of these terms. Perhaps we can recognize the changing meanings and implications of the alternatives more clearly here. The familiar notion of nature as everything outside the human sphere places the natural realm separate and apart from the human. Until the early decades of the twentieth century, natural science adopted and refined this model, regarding nature as an objective system of spatiotemporal objects and events that can be designated in quantitative and absolute terms. Related to this conception is the familiar idea of nature as that part of the world apart from human activity, a view codified in the conventional distinction between the natural and the artificial.


As a consequence of increasingly influential developments in philosophy and theoretical physics, on the one hand, and of pressing environmental issues such as resource depletion, climate change, and an greatly expanded conservation movement, on the other, people have begun to rethink the customary understanding of nature. Challenges have been mounted against the many practical and legal barriers that circumscribe the scope of what is regarded as the natural world and that attempt to restrict its effects. The difficulty, perhaps the impossibility of locating regions on the earth that have not been affected in some significant way by human activity, and the recognition that human actions are increasingly transforming the planet irrevocably have led to the realization that the distinction between the natural and the artificial no longer holds. In the light of what we now know about the far-reaching effects of human actions—on the atmosphere, on the oceans and seas, on the polar ice caps, on climate patterns and geographical features—it is no longer plausible to think of nature, in any significant sense, as separate from humans. Nor, conversely, can we insulate human life from the reciprocal effects of these changes. We are all bound up in one great natural system, an ecosystem of global proportions in which no part is immune from the events and changes in the others. The natural world is, then, thoroughly artificial and, in the largest sense, includes human beings and human works. We can only conclude that nature has become all-embracing, either in Baruch Spinoza's sense of a total rational order or in Martin Heidegger's sense of an existential habitation in which we dwell poetically. This brings the issue back to aesthetics.


Environmental aesthetics encompasses these divergent ideas, and its various meanings reflect the disciplinary interests and goals of different investigators. Environmental psychologists, urban and regional planners, and other behavioral scientists commonly associate environmental aesthetics with the visual beauty of landscapes. They attempt to measure it quantitatively through studies of preferential selection and behavior with the goal of formulating guidelines for design decisions and for governmental environmental policies. Aesthetics here is usually taken to mean what is visually pleasing. Factors such as coherence, complexity, legibility, mystery, and attractiveness are identified for purposes of empirical studies, which determine and measure their value from the preferences of experimental subjects. Others, including philosophers and some social scientists, consider the quantitative bias of such empirical research to be restricted and even flawed by being conceptually naive, perceptually undiscriminating, and heavily assumptive. Some choose a qualitative orientation and identify environmental aesthetics with the beauty of objects or scenes as apprehended by a skilled viewer. Those who adopt a phenomenological approach emphasize the activity of perception, the formative contribution of the perceiver in aesthetic experience of environment, and the fundamental reciprocity of perceiver and environment.


In its largest sense, environmental aesthetics denotes the appreciative engagement of humans as part of a total environmental complex, where the intrinsic experience of sensory qualities and immediate meanings predominates. The experience of environment as an inclusive perceptual system includes such factors as space, mass, volume, time, movement, color, light, smell, sound, tactility, kinesthesia, pattern, order, and meaning. Environmental experience here is not exclusively visual but actively involves all the sensory modalities synaesthetically, engaging the participant in intense perceptual awareness. Moreover, a normative dimension suffuses the perceptual range, and this underlies positive or negative value judgments of an environment. Environmental aesthetics thus becomes the study of environmental experience in the immediate and intrinsic value of its perceptual and cognitive dimensions.


In practice, we always inhabit a particular environment whose boundary is the horizon of our perceptual field. Yet distinguishing among individual environments may be more troublesome than helpful, for their boundaries may overlap or be defined differently, and the environments themselves may merge with one another. Moreover, there are different types of environment and these require emphases appropriate to them.

Architecture, not ordinarily thought of as a form of environment, is coming to be regarded more as the design of the built environment rather than of isolated physical structures. Architecture shapes both interior and exterior spaces. It crafts volumes, surfaces, and patterns of movement for various purposes—domestic, industrial, governmental, celebratory. Moreover, architectural structures occupy sites that are contiguous with other environmental configurations and are often part of an urban area. The aesthetics of the architectural environment therefore merges with that of landscape architecture, as its concerns move beyond the physical boundaries of a structure to embrace its connections to its site. Architectural aesthetics also coalesces with urban design by including relationships and groupings of multiple structures and patterns of human activity.


Landscape aesthetics concerns larger domains, often defined visually, as we have seen, yet not necessarily so, as we begin to understand the aesthetic inhabitation of a landscape. On one end of the spectrum it may include landscape architecture, from foundation planting and site landscaping to the design of gardens and parks as perceptual wholes. On the other end of its range, landscape aesthetics may reach to the perceptual horizon, even extending to a geographic region conceived as well as perceived cumulatively as a whole because of similar or complementary landforms and vegetation or by unifying human activity. Landscape aesthetics, understood most generally, may be thought of as synonymous with the aesthetics of environment or with the aesthetics of nature.


Urban aesthetics focuses on a particular landscape, the built environment, shaped almost entirely by humans for human purposes. We do not, however, have to oppose the city aesthetically to the countryside or to wilderness, a common tendency. The city is rather a particular environment, made from materials obtained or derived from the natural world and embodying the same perceptual elements as other environments, but designed and guided by human agency. Moreover, although the city is a distinctively human environment, it is nevertheless an integral part of the geography of its region from which it usually has no distinct boundaries and with which it has a reciprocal relation.


Urban aesthetics deals with the same perceptual factors that are found in all environmental experience. And as the preeminent cultural environment, the city's social and historical dimensions are inseparable from its sensory ones. Aesthetic value here, then, is more than a matter of urban beauty of built structures; it encompasses the perceptual experience of meanings, traditions, familiarity, and contrast, as well. Further, urban aesthetics must also include a consideration of negative aesthetic values: the obstruction and degradation of perceptual interest by noise and air pollution, strident signage, utility lines, littered streets, dull, trite, or oppressive buildings, and the razing of traditional neighborhoods. Indeed, an aesthetic critique should be a key factor in evaluating a city's character and its success. To incorporate aesthetic considerations into urban planning is to place the city in the service of the values and goals that we associate with the full meaning of civilization.


Environmental Appreciation:  The appreciation of environment draws people to many different activities: visiting gardens and parks, hiking, camping, bicycling, canoeing, sailing, and even gliding and flying. For some it is the main appeal of certain sports, such as golf. Yet while environment is increasingly appreciated for its aesthetic character, there is active debate on the explanation and theory of that appreciation. Certain complexities make it even more difficult to develop an aesthetics of environment than of art. For one thing, environment involves perceptual categories that are wider and more numerous than those usually recognized in the arts. No single sense dominates the situation; rather, all the modes of sensibility are involved. Sight, touch, hearing, smell, and its correlate, taste, are all active in environmental experience. So, too, is the proprioceptive awareness of internal muscular and visceral sensations and the kinesthetic sense of movement. Cognitive factors often are present in environmental appreciation to a degree found only occasionally in art. An awareness of geological and land use history, for example, is very much part of traversing an old footpath, viewing an eroded hillside, or climbing the rough heights of a morainal landscape.


Second, in part because of the range and activity of environmental perception, it is more difficult and often impossible to adopt the model of appreciation traditionally assigned to the arts. In fact, it is necessary to question the suitability for environment of traditional ideas of aesthetic appreciation. The usual account stresses a contemplative attitude, a receptive attention toward a special object separated from the appreciator and taken in isolation. This seems to lend itself to some environmental occasions, such as viewing a formal garden or enjoying the vista from a scenic overlook. Yet much environmental experience requires more active participation, such as strolling through a garden, hiking along a mountain trail, paddling a canoe down a flowing stream, or driving through a scenic countryside. Even when an environment does not demand physical engagement, part of its appeal lies in the magnetic forces that seem to emanate from it. One can feel in one’s body the invitation of an entryway or the pull of a serpentine garden path or winding country road. Even when standing still, the embrace of a sunset can draw one into an intimate relation. Such experiences make it difficult to accept the usual account of appreciation as disinterested contemplation, and this has led to theoretical accounts, such as pragmatic and phenomenological ones, that emphasize the active qualities of environmental experience. Some, indeed, have argued for an aesthetic engagement that rejects the traditional separation of viewer and object of appreciation in favor of their total absorption or assimilation in an environment. Not only do the empirical conditions of environmental appreciation require a radical rethinking of traditional aesthetic theory; they raise doubts about the appropriateness of that tradition for the arts themselves.

Redefining aesthetic appreciation requires expanding other traditional aesthetic concepts when they are applied to environment. Beauty, for example, no longer concerns the formal perfection of a prized object but becomes the pervasive aesthetic value of an environmental situation. That value, moreover, is measured less by formal traits than by perceptual immediacy and intensity in enhancing the intimate bond of person and place. The sublime comes into its own as an aesthetic category here. It designates experience that is not so much in contrast to beauty as it is an aesthetic force that comes from the sense of being part of a perceptual matrix of overwhelming magnitude or power. Creation, important in the theory of the arts, is transmuted into a sometimes cognitive awareness and awe of natural processes coupled with the formative contribution of an active, participating perceiver.


Implications, Applications, and Scope:  Theoretical considerations and practical purposes are inseparable in environmental aesthetics, and properly so. As the landscape of daily life and the landscape of appreciation are indivisible in practice, so too are the theory of environmental aesthetics and its applications. The importance of the aesthetic dimension of environment becomes increasingly compelling as industrialization and its products irretrievably affect the land surfaces, the seas, and the atmosphere of our planetary environment.


Environmental aesthetics can make a distinctive contribution to many areas of environmental discussion, although its influence so far has been limited. Empirical studies of landscape preference have been used in formulating policy for parks, forests, and wilderness preserves, but theoretical and critical debate on environmental appreciation, though highly relevant, has until now had little effect. Critical aesthetic studies of specific urban and rural environments have implications for planning, where decisions affect the quality of our experience of city and countryside. Debate on issues such as wilderness preservation, safeguarding endangered species, and conservation tends to center on ethical issues, but some have argued that the underlying foundation of such ethical concerns lies in aesthetics. Architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design often recognize aesthetic values as an integral part of the discipline. Zoning and other land use regulatory practices may include aesthetic considerations explicitly, as in the desire to maintain scenic views, but they are always implicit, since such practices cannot help but affect the quality of environmental experience. In clarifying concepts such as environmental aesthetic value, scenic beauty, and aesthetic degradation, environmental aesthetics can contribute to the formulation of clearer and sounder criteria for judgment. In contributing to methods for assessing aesthetic value, it can help raise the quality and sophistication of standards. And in developing a better understanding of environmental appreciation, aesthetics can extend the scope of aesthetic appreciation. Whether in agriculture or forestry, town planning or landscape design, environmental aesthetics can assist by increasing the awareness of the aesthetic dimension of environment in the education of professionals in these fields and in the practice of these and similar environmental professions. Most generally, it is important to include aesthetic value, along with economic, biological, and ethical values, as an essential factor in all environmental decision-making.


The scope of the aesthetics of environment therefore extends far beyond the conventional limits of the work of art considered as an aesthetic object created for contemplative appreciation. Any environment in which a perceptual aspect is significant possesses aesthetic value. Any human context in which the aesthetic dimension predominates is an aesthetic environment, and policies or actions that affect its aesthetic value act, to that extent, then, as arts of environment. In some contexts, such as architecture and landscape design, a sense of the aesthetic has long been cultivated; in others, such as city and regional planning, it may yet have to be even recognized. And while there is a sensitivity to the aesthetic character of interior design, architecture, and landscape architecture, this has had relatively little theoretical articulation. Yet by focusing on our immediate, active environment, these design fields challenge the object-oriented aesthetic of traditional theory. And by integrating an aesthetic function with their practical one, they embody the denial of the convention that separates beauty and practice into separate, uncommunicating camps.


Recognizing aesthetic values in the broader environment is more recent. As the natural landscape is overtaken by human uses and engulfed by urban sprawl, the threat to these values has become increasingly grave and their importance more commanding. This has led to the development in recent years of landscape assessment along with the environmental movement. Such assessment attempts to identify landscapes whose beauty is a value for society as a whole and therefore whose preservation lies in the public interest, although as we have already noted, the quantitative measures commonly adopted are partial and inadequate. The aesthetic dimension of urban design and regional planning has not yet achieved clear recognition in the United States, although in some other countries it is debated intensely. In political forums and in planning circles, practical and economic considerations are often virtually unchallenged as the sole determinants of policy and design decisions.  Nonetheless, a literature on urban aesthetics is beginning to appear. Another theoretical consequence of environmental philosophy is that all these areas exhibit the intimate relation of the aesthetic domain with the ethical. The influence of environmental conditions on health, contentment, and human fulfillment is pervasive, powerful, and readily recognized. The aesthetic character of those conditions is a major factor in that influence but is only beginning to be acknowledged. Aesthetic values are also entering into discussions about the future of wilderness areas and other environmental resources, where economic interests involving private gain, local economic benefits, and short-term convenience are pitted against long-term public values.


A number of scholars have contributed to the early development of the field of environmental aesthetics. The essays of R. W. Hepburn had a wide influence in stimulating interest in the aesthetics of nature. Arnold Berleant has combined environmental values with the arts in a contextual account that leads to a reconsideration of traditional aesthetic theory on the basis of environmental experience. Allen Carlson's arguments for a cognitivist approach in the aesthetic appreciation of nature, and especially for the role of scientific knowledge, have evoked considerable debate. Yrjö Sepänmaa was one of the first to develop a systematic view of environmental aesthetics that includes works of art and environments other than nature. These scholars and others in growing numbers who have followed them have helped shape the direction of philosophical discussion on the aesthetics of environment.  


Moreover, an increasing number of international forums have taken place, initially in Finland beginning in the early 1990s and more recently in China.  These have served to increase the awareness, scope, and communication of aesthetic values in environment.  In Finland, environmental aesthetics is part of a wider interest in applied aesthetics and has attracted attention, not only in the academic community but in the scientific and governmental ones, as well in the general public.  In China, environmental aesthetics is part of broader attention to environmental concerns.  It has combined there with increasing ecological awareness and ethical concerns to form an interesting hybrid known as ecological aesthetics or, more commonly, eco-aesthetics.  This activity has encouraged a growing literature in Chinese on environmental aesthetics.


Recent work in environmental aesthetics has pushed inquiry in wider directions. One of these is the aesthetics of gardens, considered historically, cross-culturally, and in relation to the traditional arts and crafts. Another is comparative aesthetics, particularly the comparison and interrelation of Western with Asian traditions. Sensitive studies of the aesthetic character of specific environmental features, such as snow, rain, color, and light and shadow, have been highly revealing and theoretically significant. Their discussion includes such topics as the comparison of nature to art, the relation between the built environment and the natural one, the history and character of landscape appreciation in national traditions and in general, and the aesthetic critique of specific environments.


The range of environmental aesthetics has also continued to expand in new directions, extending beyond the natural and the built environment.  Recognition is growing that environment must be understood to include its human participants and, further, that human relationships can themselves be better understood when environmental and aesthetic considerations are taken as integral to them.  Recent work in social and political aesthetics has emerged in developing perceptual implications inherent in environmental aesthetics.  Similarly, interest is increasing in the aesthetic significance of the ordinary environment and has led to rich new research into the aesthetics of everyday life.  Work in these areas and issues will undoubtedly continue to expand as environmental aesthetics achieves greater visibility and influence.


The aesthetics of environment is, then, a rich and varied field and its significance is equally broad. It extends the range of traditional aesthetics to encompass the many different settings in which we participate, from rooms and buildings to streets and neighborhoods, from villages and cities to the countryside and the wilderness, from the experience of an individual to the active engagement of a social group, from majestic natural landscapes to the prosaic immediacy of daily life. In all these, environment must not be construed as our material surroundings alone but rather as the socio-physical context which we inhabit and in which we participate. The salience of different factors in an environment varies with the individual case. Sometimes physical features such as mountains, rivers, or a great tree or rock have a dominating influence and give the situation its prevailing tone. Sometimes the social aspect predominates, as in personal relations, a classroom, a party, or a sporting event. Whatever the situation, environment is always inclusive and it encompasses a multiplicity of physical, social, and perceptual features.


The significance of environmental aesthetics is therefore equally broad. Its study demonstrates the need to restructure aesthetic theory to accommodate the varied circumstances and applications beyond the arts in which the aesthetic emerges as an important factor. An adequate theory should be able to incorporate the presence and character of aesthetic experience in all its occurrences, whether in art or in other domains of human culture. This includes acknowledging the presence of an aesthetic factor, not only in the landscape but in environments of all sorts, including human situations and social relationships. Aesthetic value is not only omnipresent in environment but universal in its scope.


See also Landscape; Nature; and Picturesque.




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Sepänmaa, Yrjö. The Beauty of Environment: A General Model for Environmental Aesthetics. 2d ed. Denton, Tex., 1993.

Ibid., Note 11.