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Natural Aesthetics vs art

Natural Aesthetics vs art

I love art but it garners too much attention, e.g. ‘Monet, Renoir and Degas paintings to travel to Melbourne . . . NGV director Tony Ellwood announced the blockbuster exhibition’, (Guardian. 1.3.2021). We should balance the obsession with art and ‘great artists’ with the rich multidimensional aesthetics of the natural world.

Since Alexander Baumgarten (Aesthetica, 2 vol. (1750–58), aesthetic discourse has narrowed, generally ignoring the natural, though Kant in his Critique of Judgement claimed natural beauty is superior to fine art, writing: ‘the beautiful in nature  . . . [provides] a voluptuousness for the mind in a train of thought that we can never fully unravel.’[i] John Dewey alerted us – the aesthetic is cut off from everyday, even though it arises through active engagement with our environment, involving, as he put it, ‘the entire living creature’.[ii]

I believe that natural aesthetics is one way for people living apart from nature getting to know the natural and care for it.

By Natural Aesthetics I refer to:
1. Art with a capital A that references to or makes us of natural materials, representations and processes; and

2. The experiential natural aesthetic of being in a forest, or a park, of being aware of the surrounding fauna and flora and, hopefully, some of the eco-processes immersing you. We must appreciate and love what we have. It elides to an everyday aesthetic widely scoped as Aesthetic Ecologies.

I also favour an aesthetics that:

1. That avoids past blindness to the ideologies behind eclogues, the georgic and pastoral, and takes cultural history of natural environments seriously.

2. That is a normal part of the everyday. In the pre-pandemic world entertainment was boundless – now one can learn to appreciate what is around you – and is disappearing fast!


March 5, first sunny day for a while. We drive north a little way to Bongil Bongil National Park. After all the rain, I knew the Paperbark swamp would be a beautiful site, visually and musically, with bird song.

[i] Kant, Critique of Judgement (1790), S42, AK. 300, trans. W. Pluhar, Hackett, 1987, p166-7.

[ii] John Dewey, Art as Experience, (1934), Perigee, 1980, p48-50.


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