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Durham University

Department of Philosophy

Staff

Publication details for Professor Andy Hamilton

Hamilton, Andy (2007). Indeterminacy And Reciprocity: Contrasts And Connections Between Natural And Artistic Beauty. Journal of Visual Art Practice
  • Publication type: Journal Article

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

The indeterminacy of natural beauty is a focus of dispute between a critical and a positive aesthetics of nature. I am concerned to defend various aspects of this indeterminacy against criticism by environmental aesthetics, and to give qualified support to Adorno's position in Aesthetic Theory. The opposed scientific and Idealist positions, at least in their more contemporary manifestations, must share some common ground concerning the indeterminacy of natural beauty, even if they disagree in its interpretation. For that indeterminacy expresses data concerning the aesthetics of nature that should be universally accepted, viz. two related formal contrasts between the aesthetic appreciation of nature and art. The first flows from the tautology that, at least in limiting cases of untouched nature, the natural aesthetic object has no human creator distinct from the observer. In contrast to artworks, natural objects are not intended, and cannot have as part of their purpose, to delight aesthetically - even if, as Kant famously affirmed, they may appear to. Hence there is in nature no analogue of an understanding of artistic purpose, and with the decline of religious belief, no creator to invest a natural object with meaning. No vision is expressed; nature, as Adorno says, is mute. The second, related datum is that, in nature, unlike art, there is no determinate aesthetic object; appreciators of nature have the freedom to decide on the frame or focus of attention. Interpretation of this datum - the extent to which appreciators play a genuinely creative role in fashioning an aesthetic object from indeterminate natural material - is disputed, however. This is the so-called frame problem, and I deny the claims of aesthetic realists such as Zangwill that it is a genuine one. (Under the heading of the indeterminacy of natural beauty may also be included the indefinite potential of every natural scene or object to exhibit beauty, and the indeterminacy of meaning of natural beauty.) I also deny the claim of positive aesthetics that all nature is at least potentially beautiful, and argue that Ronald Hepburn's distinction between serious and trivial appreciation of nature offers the beginnings of a critical aesthetics of nature. I conclude by defending a reciprocity thesis, which says that there is an interdependence or reciprocity between the appreciation of art and nature.