Color it Green I

The Aesthetics of Environment

Things change and old words take on new meanings.  Green for example has come to mean many things other than a color…nature, environment, products, politics, and many more.  Here in the mountains of western North Carolina we have a lot of green.  The mountains are clothed in a cloak of green, the meadows, fields, and lawns are green and gold, and it is beautiful. We are told by philosophers that Aesthetics is the study of beauty.  Apparently, the root of the word is derived from the Greek terms for sensing or feeling or perceiving.  I sense and perceive that a healthy world is a green, fecund, and growing world...a beautiful world.  These mountains are beautiful but my professional work has taken me from the deserts of the American West and Southwest to the Gulf Coast and Caribbean and, now, to the Southern Appalachian Mountains and I have seen a great deal of beauty in all of these places.

In recent decades Aesthetics has expanded its scope to investigate the questions of beauty in nature.  We now talk about environmental aesthetics. What is it that we sense when we look at a beautiful river valley or the winding rows of corn stubble cut for silage in the fall, or a small park in a concrete and steel city?  Something happens. We can feel it, we can sense it.  Sometimes that feeling is very powerful and often it is shared. A lot of work is being done on what it is that we feel by neurophysiologists, psychologists, biochemists, and other specialized fields such as cognitive studies.  Perhaps, one day they will tell us all about it in the often sterile, reductionist words of science.  But there is nothing sterile about our individual or, very often, our collective response to these things. 

We are moved by nature to paint it, write poetry about it, to emulate it in our gardens. In terms of the issues addressed by conservation biology, why is it important what we find beautiful?  A number of observers have made the point that the kinds of natural settings we find beautiful often make a substantial difference when it comes to reaching that collective decision of what places we wish to set aside, to save, to restore or enhance and which to surrender to other, perhaps more consumptive uses.

We most often perceive of transformation to a green world in a mega-sense…for example the greening of government programs…corporate greening…and organizational transformation. But, in fact, critical transformation can only take place one person or even one action…one blade of grass, if you will, at a time.

(Continued in the next post.) 

(The literature on the aesthetics of environment and nature pertaining to the world  environmental crisis has grown considerably over the past several decades with numerous journal articles and books.  Over the years, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism and Contemporary Aesthetics have published a number of articles on the subject. Arnold Berleant, Allen Carlson, John Fisher and others have contributed significantly.  Books addressing this subject include those by  J.B. Callicott, T. Morton, and others. I also suggest Lance Hosey's The Shape of Green: Aesthetics, Ecology, and Design)


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