Environmental Aesthetics

he discipline of Environmental Aesthetics proposes a philosophical and phenomenological analysis of human relationships to environments be they man-made or natural. Theorists have used this analytical struc­ture to ex­am­ine specifically human relationships to the natural environment and to create a catalyst for environmental preservation and engagement. Through the process of cognizant, aesthetic interaction with the natural world in­di­vi­duals, societies, and cultures can develop an environmental awareness away from an anthropocentrically centered system—such as stewardship or own­er­ship—toward a participatory ethical relationship to the natural world.

Nature and the natural world have historically been the subject and object of aesthetics. The natural has been conceptualized and theorized as the beau­ti­ful, pastoral, sublime, and picturesque. These aesthetic categories have historically functioned to frame and construct the natural world for us against a human, technologically determined environment. Environmental Aesthetics poses questions and forms an analysis of our aesthetic re­la­tion­ship and judgments of the natural world as a methodology for coming to a better relationship that will promote environmental respect; not just pre­ser­va­tion. Additionally, this field attempts to situate humans within the nat­ural world in contrast to situating them above and against it. En­vi­ron­mental Aesthetics asks: Is our relationship to nature always already an aesthetic mode of perception and articulation?

The Projects

In the pursuit of this question and as an investigation into Environmental Aesthetics, the UCSC Digital Art | New Media Graduate Project Group, Unnatural Selection , has created this web site as a format to disseminate its research into:

Aesthetics and suburban development (Manifest Landscape)

The aesthetics of genetic manipulation (The Genetics of Desire and The Transgenic Sublime)

The issues of aesthetics alternative energy (The Art of Alternative Energy)

The creation of an experimental installation dealing with the relationship between Early American Pastoral Aesthetics and contemporary Environmental Aesthetics (The Hudson River Bonsai Project)

Primary Sources

A few key published works have been influential on the shaping of our projects:

The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World
Michael Pollan  (2001)

Random House
ISBN 0-375-76039-3


The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America
Leo Marx (1964)

Oxford University Press
ISBN 0-19-50038-7

Influential Artists

Certain 19th century painters of the American Landscape have played an influential role with Unnatural Selection's research, especially Albert Beirstadt (1830-1902). Beirstadt was a key member of the Hudson River School of landscape painters. He painted in the typically monumental style which celebrated America’s notion of Manifest Destiny and the country’s relationship to new western expansion. He had a flair for painting trees with particularly grotesque stylization which lends itself to use in the Hudson River Bonsai project. He was also prolific. There is a listing with images of 560 paintings by Beirstadt here.

Home  |  Environmental Aesthetics  |  Manifest Landscape  |  The Genetics of Desire  |  The Transgenic Sublime  |  The Art of Alternative Energy  |  The Hudson River Bonsai Project  |  The Project Group