Saturday, November 1, 2008

Artsound, Germano Celant

From SOUNDINGS, Neuberger Museum, State University of New York, College at Purchase, 1981 (ISBN 0-934032-X), Translated by Carla Sanguineti Weinberg

It is the opinion commonly accepted by authentic libertines that the sensations communicated by the organs of hearing are the most exciting and that their impressions are the most vivid.

Marquis de Sade: Les 120 JournĂȘes de Sodome

Once there was an avant-garde, and it represented oppositionally it is so totally accepted and established that it has become a common and quotidian matter. One can no longer speak about it because the violation of the rules is rhetorical, and intellectual discourse no longer evolves within the dialectic between avant-garde and tradition, but rather between avant-garde and avant-garde or, say, between tradition and tradition. The permutability of the terms carries within itself a challenge to the progression of tendencies and movements as much as it does to the interchange between progress and retrogression, revolution and reaction, development and involution, quality and quantity. At this stage, the sign is not susceptible to criticism and secures for itself a place in history without causing its antecedent to lose its place. The themes of discussion and struggle that used to condition inquiry crumble, and an all-encompassing course is adopted in which convention embraces experimentation. All values become comparable but Subtly subordinate to the well-being of the art establishment which, with the fall of the prohibition against non- involvement, is no longer differentiated from the industrial establishment. In fact, with the end of the political discords that characterized the art establishment during the sixties, some compromises are announced in which artists exclude the representation of disorder and the defeat of the imaginary.

What is produced now is no longer an agitation but an assent, the excess value of which resides in its maneuverability and reproducibility. Such a transformation could be explained as much by current consumer demands as by the withdrawal of artistic involvement that has realized the rise on the social scene of a creativity of the masses. The effect of homogenization, from which current inquiries suffer, is, furthermore, both the consequence of an overall conformity in accordance with which the area reserved for personal choice has been reduced and the realm of production has been extended and of an indoctrination characteristic of a society which, in the leveling association among products, tends to abolish disassociation and discussion. Art as well is associated with this process and so confounds its art-objects with decoration for the eye and ear that it disintegrates every sign of change and vitality. Furthermore, in order not to run the risk of becoming disassociated, art often aims at a passive imitation of the past, which, recycled by quotation, becomes contemporary in order to satisfy the demands of the consumer. In this sense, a part of "the new'' is presented as a copy of the modern and fulfills, in the post- modern, the double role of an object which is "experimental" art based on the security of the historical model. The subject of the sale is then secure; it moves between the tradition of the avant-garde and the avant-garde of the tradition.

In the U.S., too, the acceleration of the contemporary, brought about by the consumption of art as well as by the demographic explosion of gallery owners, dealers, curators, and museum directors, has so enlarged the base of power and cultural exchange that the illusion of a democratization of art has arisen. This mirage, sustained by the National Endowment for the Arts and by corporations, has taken on the appearance of an overall conformity to such an extent that individual sensibility has made itself subservient to a surrendering of taste and inquiry to the masses that has no equal in history. Exhibits multiply, new museums spring up, and private galleries flood the field, but the call to debate the procedures as well as the process of making art is extinguished, and the face of culture shows the terrified expression of one who waits behind the counter for the real and true command, the request of what to serve.

Along with its apolitical content, a linguistic debasement is the consequence to such an extent that, if one were to think about pattern-painting and the neo-Fauves, one would find a rise in the value of decoration and eclecticism as escapes from every problem other than business affairs and the multiplication in quantity of the "artistic gadget" that is to be collected on the walls of the petty bourgeoisie. In this process of despoliation that confounds the nightshade, the carpet, the couch, the fresco, and the painting, the aim of art is to he at the level of all the consumer signs. In respect to art's exit from the margin and its entrance into a decoration that satisfies the common taste, one may adopt various positions. One may enact an ideological amorality, as for years Warhol has done, and in a cynical way dry up the very concept of margin in order to render it anti-heroic and commercial, that is to say, to enact the total and definitive annulment of the concept "avant-garde" in order to turn it into a subculture for the rich. Or, one may move within art with the humanistic - and therefore idealistic - hope that art will bring something good to the world. The latter hypothesis, we know, is a suicidal one because it continues to believe in the separate womb of culture where the petty-bourgeois rarities are formed. At the same time, the former hypothesis, riskier but lucid and indifferent, seems open because in letting itself be maneuvered by the stars of finance, film, fashion, and musical stage, it can reach out for the definitive leveling between industry and art in which both reproduce inexpressive and cold objects and images that are the only experiences common to millions of persons. To redouble industry in order to devour it in a system of its own may seem utopian and unreal, but it also means that the passive becomes active and the artist attempts to put himself in the place of the object.

The artist's identification with an undistinguished and easily recognizable entity (it could he a hook, record, film, photograph, advertisement, etc.) may he considered the norm of the mass-society in which the factitiousness of mass-consumption ion and of the fetishism of the signals dues not-mean losing oneself not- negating oneself, but keeping up with the times. And because the cadence is accelerated, one has to make the signals denser rather than rarer. The repetition carries with it a disturbance of the unique, but it increases its identity with the mass. Now, it is not surprising that contemporary artists identify themselves with everything that the artist of yesterday "lacks," in particular, the circulation of his wares and his signals. Here they are, then, taking into consideration the possibility of a teal diffusion through mechanical and electronic repeaters. with which they might lose themselves in the fields of television and radio. The goal for the artist is to divest himself of whatever is predestined and humiliating in his creativity, and to make of this predestination and humiliation, not a praxis of ruin, but of success.

The first step consists in discovering the threshold for crossing from one establishment to another so as to he able to circulate freely in the diversified fields of both the star establishment and the art establishment. The first breakthrough seems to have occurred in music and in the production of scores and records. Many artists today seem to address themselves to passing from an artisan to a machinelike function in order to translate their "dexterity" into consumption and money and their imagination into a warehouse from which business emerges. Now, there is no richer nor more fashionable field than music - a territory in which the "signed" sign Produces an economic and mythical acme. The idea of taking music-recording technology as a model for our own alteration dates from the beginning of this century when the Futurists and the Dadaists, renouncing using themselves as a unit of measurement, trusted! themselves to radio and the cinema like ecstatic lovers. The process continued up to the seventies* but always within the ambit of the experimental.

Today, instead, the Process seems to flood throughout the music industry itself, where the image of creativity is subservient to the work done by Ralph Records or RCA. In a kingdom of sounds, there once artists occupied a small reservation, art seems to have carved out for itself a domain. This is a proof of power, and for this reason art's intolerableness is today considered to be it uniqueness which can, however, be multiplied into millions of copies of either records or tapes. This attitude, by now common among artists and persons interested in art, is disquieting to those who have a horror of multiplication and reproduction, but it excites instead all those who are interested in the perfect ion of the "transmissions" because the absence of error typical of reproduction in a review or book serves to obliterate the difference between direct experience and indirect information. This coincidence occurs in records and concerts. For a generation educated via cable and satellite, which provide at home all the data and all the patterns, both narrative and cinematic, what counts is reception - because expression transformed into image and sound must result in perfection - since it is perfection that determines attention even more than content. The passion, in fact, turns on the quality of the recording and of the reprinting, and it is on these that the eye and ear express their judgment. All hits of information, insofar as they are expressed, recommend themselves for their reproductive and receptive qualities. What is consumed, sitting in front of 'a television and a movie screen, or walking or roller skating with the earphones of a cassette- recorder, is ever less a statement or a story and ever more an inexpressive and uniform image and sound. One might even say that the real stereotype travels in photographic and musical disguises. Those are the ones that are trustworthy as being objective-because they are controlled technically - more than the accounts of the human eye and ear.

The exasperating minutiae that these new realities form offers great interest today. Compared to the silence and opaqueness of painting and sculpture, music seems sensational-owing to a certain fashionable dazzle which fascinates-because it corresponds to quotidian reality. Each sound is an absolute entity, born out of fixed points, but it renders the world something unheard of. The unusual, which the frame or the pedestal used to send forth, today originates from loudspeakers and the projector. For this reason the greatest measure of the contemporary artist is that of self-expression in order to be a painter, a photographer, a filmmaker, and a musician like Robert Longo and Mayo Thompson, Alan Vega and Laurie Anderson, Jack Goldstein and The Residents. Their needs are relegated, in fact, in accordance with the imprint left on the paper, the film, and the record, on which one is able to incise a perfect sign. In addition, the original matrices shape the world itself, because from them thousands of copies-consequently millions of images and sounds-are derived which circulate everywhere in the eye and ear of all. Now, since artists have always been interested in shaping reality, or at least in influencing it, what better process is there than to reproduce their own ideas in limitless quantities? As may well he seen, after the opening up of the media that has taken plate in the last twenty years, all the artists are now armed with cameras and recorders. To them, to click a shutter or record a tape is a normal process; it serves to tranquilize them, since they are able to take away with them any image or sound whatsoever, on the instant, without designing or composing it. The identification between trace and real world renders the world a box of sounds; therein lies its own existence, the rest does not count. And so it is perfectly logical that artists today react to their own restricted existence, and they start to roam like vagabonds in the space of electronic and filmic images. On this ground, the location is not fixed, as it is in painting and sculpture, but spread out, since the panoply of figures and noises pours out through gigantic sources of emission. It is not surprising, then, that following the historic example of the Velvet Underground, the artists working at the beginning of this decade have broken away from the margination of art and have passed from the "personal show" to the "music show" in nightclubs and on television.

The list of artists or persons coming from the art world who have formed groups is today very long; it goes from Red Crayola (dubbed Art & Language) to the Disband of Martha Wilson, from Cabaret Voltaire to Alan Suicide, front Brian Eno to Glenn Branca, from Rhys Chatham to David Byrne. For these, imagination or the process of conceptualization has made everything useable, to the point where they urge the creation of an indiscriminate catalogue of products. This attitude is premonitory of a change in the artistic establishment as well as in the musical establishment, as if it were aiming at a spectacular tune-up of the avant-garde. It is not by chance that the Talking Heads have put into MUSIC poems by Hugo Ball and that Cabaret Voltaire has used the Sonorous poems of Marinetti, or that Phil Glass "translated" himself in Polyrock.

Besides, music is an industrial sector; it permits expansion toward the audience and the direct verification of its reactions. In contrast to the sepulchral silence of exhibition spaces, the actions induced by music are explosive, almost like an exorcism of a dead painted or sculpted object. Each sound eradicates, in fact, the knowledge of the body, to the point of revitalizing the blind and spent pupil as well as the atrophied arms of the spectator of the show.

Might the mechanism which was formed in these years of musical wandering now be called "inversion,'' which is to say, substitution of one establishment for another? One might say, no; one might, rather, speak of equivalence, due to the fact that industry entered into art, and art, instead of being passively present at its own despoliation, has entered into industry. In addition, if the musician allows himself the luxury of artistry, he does it because art "acts" on the audience, and it (an then be put on the stage. The musical rite is, therefore, complimentary to the artistic sacrifice, except that the artist hides behind the object, does not transcribe himself, and remains separate from the senses of the audience, while the singer and the musician do not. In some way, if artists form bands, from Peter Gordon to Arto Lindsay arid Pere Ubu, it means that art aspires to the destruction of the limits that condition its systems of traditional reception. It attempts to sacrifice itself, sweats and howls, in order to he accepted and adored by thousands of spectators, to whom the ''diversity" of the rite gives pleasure. All forget, in fact, that the aspiration of every artist is to penetrate the castle of society and to be recognized; now, from 1968 to 1977, with the feeling of shame caused by political involvement, this chance was just missed unless they had recourse to the ''tragedy" of "decoration." And yet if it is moralistic to declare oneself rich, as well as poor, today no one wants to oust himself from the world, and artists least of all.

So, now that they no longer seem to have anything to do with politicians, they have been infiltrating the shows, first in performances and in the theater,-now in concerts. Since the show is made to he seen, the jump from visual art does not prove unnatural; in addition, the event occurs for everyone, in a way that replaces the loneliness of art with a mass-participation that is further augmented by the circulation of records. Welcome, then, he the exchanges and collaborations between artists and filmmakers, musicians and photographers, who tiled together at the Mudd Club or the Rocky Lunch in New York in order to set tip gigs with Blondie and Lydia Lunch, Steve Pollack, the Bush Tetras, and DNA. Naturally, debarking in the terra incognita of music is not easy. We understand, then, the trust in chance and improvisation that characterizes the musical products oft he "new wave." The vagabondage of persons educated within the avant-garde of Futurism and Dadaism, of metaphysics and Surrealism, cannot be predirected, but must be found, like a readymade. Many musicians neither know music nor know how to use traditional musical instruments; they often trust themselves to toys and gadgets, which, along with gestures, lights, and filmed hits, become resounding instruments on a par with percussion instruments and the guitar. The horizontal convergence of "diverse' sonorous apparatuses, even if bound together by their "immateriality," does not alter the status of the artist, who, operating in the Minimal and the Conceptual, is accustomed to carry to the extreme any "material" whatsoever that results in the sensitive or the insensitive, expressive or inexpressive, so as to satisfy the spectator and the audience, who today scent more and more interested in sustaining the opinion of de Sade.

NOTE *Germano Celant, The Record As Artwork: From Futurism to Conceptual Art (Fort Worth, TX: The Fort Worth Art Museum, 1977).

reproduced from:

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Great Northeastern Power Failure (1966), Billy Kluver

Well, to begin with, the title of my talk is not going to be entirely unrelated to what I am going to say. What I will discuss is a new mode of interaction between science and technology on the one hand and art and life on the other. To use a scientific jargon that is currently in, I will try to define a new interface between these two areas.

Technology has always been closely tied in to the development of art. For Aristotle, Techne means both art and technology. As they became different subjects they still fed on each other. New technological discoveries were taken up and used by artists and you are all familiar with the contributions of artists to technology. The contemporary artist reads with ease the technical trade magazines. The new chemical material is hardly developed before it gets used by an artist. Today the artist tends to adopt the new material or the new industrial process as his insignia. We talk about artists in terms that he works in such and such a way or that he uses such and such materials. We hear about artists being poisoned and hurt in their work. In this century, artists have also embraced technology as subject matter: the enthusiasm of the Futurists, the experiments of Dada, the optimism of the Bauhaus movement and the Constructivists, all have looked at technology and science and found material for the artists. But for all this interest, art remains a passive viewer of technology. Art has only been interested in the fallout, so to speak, of science and technology. The effect of technology on art can apparently be even a negative one: the invention of the camera helped kill off representational painting, and we are now witnessing how the computer is about to take care of music and non-representational painting.

The new interface I will define is one in which the artist makes active use of the inventiveness and skills of an engineer to achieve his purpose. The artist could not complete his intentions without the help of an engineer. The artist incorporates the work of the engineer in the painting or the sculpture or the performance. A characteristic of this kind of interaction is that generally only one work of art results. In other words, the engineer is not just inventing a new and special process for the use of the artist. He does not just teach the artist a new skill which the artist can use to extract new aesthetic variations. Technology is well aware of its own beauty and does not need the artist to elaborate on this. I will argue that the use of the engineer by the artist is not only unavoidable but necessary.

Before I try to justify why I believe that this interface exists and why the interaction between artists and engineers will become stronger, let me give you a few simple examples of what I mean in terms of works that already exist. I shall be modest and limit myself to use examples from my own experience. But there exist several others.

You probably have heard about Jean Tinguely's self-destroying machine, "Homage to New York", which more or less destroyed itself on March 17, 1960, in the sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In retrospect I think my modest contribution to the machine was tot visit garbage dumps in New Jersey to pick up bicycle wheels and to truck them to 53rd Street. However,there were a few technical ideas hidden in Tinguely's machine which incidentally were mainly the contributions of my technical assistant at the time, Harold Hodges. there were about eight electrical circuits in the machine which closed successively as the machine progressed toward its ultimate fate. Motors would start, smoke would come out, smaller machines would leave the big one to escape. In order to make the main structure collapse, Harold had devised a scheme using supporting sections of Wood's metal which would melt from the heat of overheated resistors. At another point this method was used to light a candle. Contrary to what I hear frequently said, Tinguely's machine did not contain many of these technical links. It was mostly Tinguely's motors that did it.

A better example is two neon light power supplies that we made for two paintings by Jasper Johns. In one case, the light was the letter A, in the other the letter R. What was new was that Johns wanted no cords to the painting. To stack up batteries to 1200 volts would have been messy, dangerous and impractical. So we started out with 12 volts of rechargeable batteries and devised a multivibrator circuit which, together with a transformer, would give us 1200 volts. The technical equipment, all 400 dollars worth of it, was mounted behind John's painting.

My final example is Rauschenberg's large sculpture, "Oracle" which was shown in New York last year. It was the result of work carried out over three years during which time two complete technical systems were finished and junked. The final system enables the sound from five AM radios to be heard from each of the five sculptures in the group, but with each radio being controlled from a central control unit, in one of the sculptures. There are no connecting wires between the sculptures and they are all freely movable, on wheels.

All these examples have on thing in common: they are ridiculous from an engineers point of view. Why would anyone want to spend 9000 dollars to be able to control five AM radios simultaneously, in one room? I want to emphasize that the examples contain very simple engineering and should not be taken as very original. But each of the projects required an engineer or a technically skilled person to achieve what the artist wanted. And an important point is that the artist could not me quite sure about the outcome.

We have been taught by Robert Rauschenberg that the painting is an object among other objects, subjected to the same psychological and physical influences as other objects. During a musical piece by John Cage, we are forced to accept the equality of all the sounds we hear as part of the composition. In his happenings, Claes Oldenburg lets the actors play themselves although in most instances the actors are unaware of this. He writes his happenings with a particular person in mind, allowing the specific shyness, nervousness, sensuality of the person to become part of the happening. The tradition in art can, therefore, not tell us anything else but that the technical elements involved in the works I have described are just as much a part of the work of art as the paint in the painting. It is impossible to treat the sound as part of "Oracle" and not the radios. Jasper Johns has already shown us the backside of the canvas and I am afraid he will have to accept the not-so-elegant backsides of "Field Painting" and "Zone" as well. But if the radios and the amplifiers are part of the work - what about the engineer who designs them? In the same way as Oldenburg works with the peculiarities of people in his happenings, the artist has to work with the peculiarities and the foreign mode of operation of the engineer. On the basis of this observation, I hereby declare myself to be a work of art - or rather an integral part of the works of art I have just described. I am definitely not a violin player who interprets and feels for the work of his master. I know nothing about art or the artists involved. I am an engineer and as such, only raw material for the artist.

But how can I claim that this new interface between art and technology does in fact exist? Maybe I wanted to become a work of art and devised this ingenious scheme for my own ends? Well, I think that we don't have to look too far. We all know how technology has become part of our lives. And now we can see absolutely no reason why it should not become more so. No sound has been heard from another culture to oppose Western technology. The faster the underdeveloped countries can have it, the faster they want it. On the other end of the spectrum, we now have systems where we don't know quite where the machine ends and the human being begins. I am thinking of the space program which has introduced the new and maybe inhuman objective: the system has to work, no failures are allowed, no personal emotions or mistake may interfere with the success of the project. The space program is developing a new managerial type which is totally responsible. I read recently that President Johnson has let the contract to solve the Appalachian problem to the electronics industry. We are now getting the fallout from cape Kennedy and can expect more.

The great initiator of all this technological soul-searching is the computer. Laboriously we are translating every aspect of human activity into computer language. In fact, I believe the computer will turn out to be the greatest psychoanalyst of all times. Now where does all this leave us? The engineers may be psychoanalysts but they are not visionaries. John Cage has recently written a wonderful article called "How to Improve the World". As a blind engineer, one of his observations gave me a real jolt. Cage points out that there exist systems of interaction between human beings which work without any police or power structure whatsoever. In fact, there are hundreds of agreements between the countries of the world that work perfectly well. In particular, technological questions are dealt with without any complications. It seems that technology breeds agreement. This is such a simple observation that it frightens you that you did not think of it. I believe that Cage's discovery fully justifies the statement that technology will force the solution of such problems as food distribution and housing. There is no other stable optimum but to give people food and housing. The Dadaists' suggestion of free food and Buckminster Fuller's suggestion of free housing for the people of the world will happen. But the alternatives that the engineer can imagine for the full use of the fantastic capacity of technology are even so few and limited. He is, as I said, no visionary about life. But the artist is a visionary about life. Only he can create disorder and still get away with it. Only he can use technology to its fullest capacity. John Cage has suggested: Let the engineer take care of order and art (in the traditional sense) and let the artists take care of disorder and life. And I am adding technology. This to sum up: First the artists have to create with technology because technology is becoming inseparable from our lives. "Technology is the extension of our nervous system," as McLuhan says. Second, the artists should use technology because technology needs the artists. Technology needs to be revealed and looked at - much like we undress a woman.

The artist's work is like that of a scientist. It is an investigation which may or may not yield meaningful results, in many cases we only know many years later. What I am suggesting is that the use of the engineer by the artist will stimulate new ways of looking at technology and dealing with life in the future.

What about power failure? I wish we knew more about what happened. We heard a lot about how people became friendly and helped each other out. The whole thing could have been an artist's idea - to make us aware of something. In the future there will exist technological systems as complicated and as large as the Northeastern power grid whose sole purpose will be to intensify our lives through increased awareness

above copied from:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Aesthetics of Junkyards and Roadside Clutter, Thomas Leddy


A little more than thirty years ago, Allen Carlson argued that although the concept of "Camp" would seem to allow for the aesthetic redemption of roadside clutter and junkyards, it does not.[1] He opposes those who claim that if one takes the right attitude to roadside clutter it can be seen as aesthetic. In this essay I argue that that there is nothing wrong with this, although I will not base my argument on the idea of Camp sensibility.


aesthetics, Allen Carlson, junk, junkyards, Camp, clutter, environmentalism, Susan Sontag, thick appreciation, thin appreciation

1. The Aesthetics of Waste

Several years ago my sister, a painter, took me to a junkyard she was quite excited about. "Bring your camera," she said. She had been purchasing items there to add to her paintings as assemblage elements. We went and had a great time. When I fi[rst started writing this paper it struck me that I would be sad to hear that the junkyard was gone. Recently my sister informed me that is in fact gone, and I actually was saddened. Carlson argues that my aesthetically positive response to this junkyard would be inappropriate, and that it is almost inconceivable that I would be saddened by its disappearance. He thinks that I could appreciate the junkyard in what he calls a "thin" formalist sense, but not in a "thick" knowledge-based sense, and that my advocating the aesthetic value of junkyards is unethical since I am thereby indirectly advocating many negative values, especially anti-environmentalist ones. Yet I am quite sympathetic to environmentalism and, although I am sad to see the junkyard gone, I would probably be happy enough if, in the unlikely event, I found later that it was replaced by a lovely meadow. But one person's roadside trash is another's treasure, and I wouldn't be surprised if Carlson would insist that my junkyard must go. Thus, I must deny his premise that junkyards and roadside clutter generally are not aesthetically pleasing, if by that he means (and I think he does) that they are never appropriately aesthetically pleasing."

Denying this premise is tricky since the word 'clutter' has a negative connotation. People who, like myself, sometimes favor clutter might be better described as favoring what others consider clutter. Still, part of the aesthetic fascination with clutter, for those who like it, is that it is not neat. As I have argued elsewhere, messiness can sometimes be a positive aesthetic quality.[2] In short, I think that we should allow for the possibility of aesthetically appreciating roadside clutter and junkyards, and even for the possibility of being saddened if a favorite junkyard were to be removed.

It is not that I favor preserving of eyesores. But I do favor appreciating and even sometimes preserving some things that others consider eyesores. This parallels the fact that I find my own working-class neighborhood endlessly fascinating visually, although much of what I appreciate and photograph there would be considered clutter by others. The middle-class neighborhood next door is delightful to walk in; all of the front yards are very tasteful. But they are, photographically, pretty uninteresting by comparison. That is, there are many photography buffs like myself who take more pleasure in cluttered or visually unusual front yards than in the "tasteful" ones found in more middleclass environments.

How is it possible that clutter and junkyards can be legitimately appreciated? Modern artist made it possible: the works of Pablo Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Edward Kienholtz, Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg, Allan Kaprow, Bruce Conner, Joseph Cornell, Alberto Burri, John Chamberlain, the Arte Povera artists, and many others. A recent example would be Richard Misrach, who takes gorgeous photos of waste sites in natural settings, for example, "Bomb, Destroyed Vehicles and Lone Rock, Bravo 20 Bombing Range, Nevada," 1987. In another recent example, contemporary painter Altoon Sultan takes roadside objects in rural environments that might often be seen as unsightly and transforms them into things of beauty.

The aesthetics of junk has not been lost those who are in the business of waste management and recycling. Norcal Waste System, for example, has an artist-in-residence program in which artists are encouraged to incorporate junk and waste into their creative process.[3] Seventy-eight artists have participated since 1990. It is doubtful that Camp sensibility played much of a role in this. Most of this work, rather, is an extension of the concepts of collage and assemblage developed in the early part of the 20th century. There have been other motives as well for artistic interest in garbage. Rauschenberg, for example, was interested in a critique of the merely pretty and the decorative. [4] And some of the artists at the Norcal site are interested in issues of recycling and environmentalism.

Carlson is very aware of the influence of contemporary art on our appreciation of junkyards, although he puts his point in terms of the concept of Camp. As he says, "Camp has developed hand in hand with certain avant garde art movements, some of which often imitate such things as billboards and tin cans, and others of which occasionally utilize junk and trash as a medium."[5] He thinks that these art objects can sometimes escape his condemnation of junk without in any way legitimating aesthetic appreciation of the junkyard. But is this really possible?

In the article which originally inspired Carlson’s theory, Monroe Beardsley refers to a cartoon in which a junkman proclaims that his pile is not an eyesore because of its similarities to some works by Picasso. Beardsley argues that this gives rise to what he calls "the dilemma of aesthetic education."[6] The dilemma is between two ways of directing taste: one that is reformist towards an ideal of beauty, while the other aestheticizes everything, taking the aesthetic point of view whenever possible. The first is more traditional. It is associated with programs of beautification in which highways are shielded from junkyards and billboards. But he observes that the second might sometimes be appropriate when the intensity of the regional qualities of the object "partly depends on its symbolic import." In such circumstances an ordinary object can be expressive. As he puts it "Suddenly, a whole new field of aesthetic gratification opens up. Trivial objects, the accidental, the neglected, the meretricious and vulgar, all take on new excitement. The automobile graveyard and the weed-filled garden are seen to have their own wild and grotesque expressiveness as well as symbolic import."[7] He thinks that although at first we find litter, junkyards, and so forth unsightly, but they may be perceptually transformed. However, he sees the second way as "defeatist" as it does not aim to eliminate the junkyard. Moreover, he observes, a "weighty tradition" argues that sometimes there are moral objections to taking an aesthetic point of view, as in aestheticization of Auschwitz. Nonetheless, he thinks that "there is nothing…that is per se wrong to consider from the aesthetic point of view."[8]

Just before bringing up the case of the junkyard owner, Beardsley mentions the concept of Camp that was developed in the late 1960s by Susan Sontag.[9] Sontag argued that Camp, a certain way of seeing, can transform our experience of things we generally do not find aesthetically pleasing, for example kitsch.[10]

This attitude, however, is hardly limited to Camp. It is equally true for Dadaist, Surrealist, and Postmodern sensibilities. Moreover, Camp is a specialized sensibility that is only indirectly related to aesthetic appreciation of junkyards. (Beardsley seems to realize this, but Carlson does not.) Sontag associates Camp with "artifice and exaggeration." It is a sensibility that "converts the serious into the frivolous." Basically it is an urban and gay thing. (Sontag calls it "androgynous," and although she does not identify it with gay culture, she observes an affinity. Also, when she refers to junk she seems mainly to be thinking of things to be found in junk stores rather than to junkyards or roadside clutter.) Camp is associated with the glitzy and the glamorous. In the last line of her essay Sontag that the ultimate Camp statement: "it's good because it's awful." Yet this does not seem to apply to appreciation of junkyards and roadside clutter. Rauschenberg's work, for example, seems unrelated to Camp.[11] Nothing he says, for example, implies that he thought garbage was good because it was awful!

2. Sensibility and Aesthetic Appreciation

The interest in junk as a medium for art was widespread in early 1960s. Arman (Armand Pierre Fernadez) a French artist, produced a show in 1960 called "Plein" ("The Filled") in which he completely filled a gallery with garbage. Even before that, in 1959, he produced found-object sculptures called "Poubelles" ("Garbage Cans") which were glass cases filled with cast-offs of friends.[12] Relocating to New York City in 1961, he continued his interest in garbage, making realistic bronzes of it in the 1970s. He saw himself as attacking the culture of consumption and waste.[13]

Although Sontag is right that having a certain sensibility is important, something more traditional and broader than Camp, like disinterested perception, the aesthetic attitude, or Beardsley's own "aesthetic point of view" would probably be sufficient for appreciating junk. Carlson recognizes this, but avoids discussing the point as he thinks that the concept of the aesthetic attitude, and presumably the "aesthetic point of view," are questionable.[14] However, even if the aesthetic attitude idea has been expressed awkwardly in the past, there is surely nothing wrong with the notion that someone who appreciates junkyards aesthetically looks at them in a different way or attends to different features than someone who's interest is, for example, purely financial. When a junkyard owner appreciates his property for the money it brings in, this is not aesthetic appreciation. Country Vermonters often appreciate their junk piles as collections of possibly useful materials: junk cars, for example, as sources of spare parts. This too would not be aesthetic appreciation.

Part of Carlson's argument against roadside clutter is that it is not natural, that roadsides that appear in "nature" (i.e. the relatively pristine nature that conservationists, environmentalists, and many poets love) should not have such unnatural things as junk and clutter alongside. Yet, if his argument is that the non-natural in natural environments should be excluded from appreciation, then it should be extended to Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. Perhaps Carlson does not so extend it because he finds Wright's work attractive. If so, then the issue really has nothing to do with what is natural: it is entirely a matter of taste. Carlson is aware that the argument based on what is natural is weak. As he observes, "artists and craftsmen make objects more aesthetically pleasing simply by making them less natural," for example, when a cabinet maker polishes his or her wood. Also, defining "natural" in such a way as to exclude what humans do is problematic given that humans are products of nature.

Carlson therefore turns to a stronger argument based on the distinction between thin and thick senses of "aesthetically pleasing." The thin sense refers to physical appearance, whereas the thick sense goes beyond the physical to refer to "qualities and values which the object expresses and conveys to the viewer."[15] To illustrate the distinction, he quotes John Hospers: "When we contemplate a starry night or a mountain lake we see it not merely as an arrangement of pleasing colors, shapes, and volumes, but as expressive of many things in life, drenched with the fused association of many scenes and emotions from memory and experience." Yet exactly the same thing can be said about a junkyard, i.e. that it is expressive of many things in life, has many associations, etc. Indeed, when Beardsley introduced the second horn of the dilemma he did so by describing the aesthetic experience of an automobile graveyard as one in which the objects are taken as symbolic and expressive.

At first it seems that Carlson simply assumes that appreciation of a junkyard must be thin rather than thick, that it must be somehow purely a matter of attending to physical qualities, which Hospers, at least, seems to understand in terms of the qualities that formalists like in art. Yet, it is not clear that we ever see things aesthetically purely as physical and without other cultural associations. If so, the very distinction between thick and thin is problematic. At best one could speak of appreciation being relatively thin or thick.

Carlson thinks that a junkyard could not be perceived aesthetically thickly for then it would have to be perceived as expressive in a special and unacceptable way: "[T]he quality must be associated with the object in such a way that it is felt or perceived to be a quality of the object itself." I take this to mean that there cannot be any consciously imaginative seeing involved in this perception. Just as earlier I argued that there are no examples of pure thin appreciation, I argue here that there are no examples of purely unimaginative perception. Humans are naturally imaginative: they not only see, but "see as," and they often do so at the same time. It is difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between what is seen in the object perceived because it is felt actually to be there, and what is imaginatively projected onto the object. The distinction only works at the extreme, as in imaginatively projecting a camel shape onto a cloud, where the expressive quality of the cloud in this case has nothing to do with the cloud's actual nature. The word for imaginative projection in science is "hypothesis" which, as we know, is necessary for scientific knowledge. Seeing something as or under a scientific concept can involve an imaginative projection that goes contrary to conventional ways of seeing or understanding. Similarly, seeing expressive qualities in an object may well go contrary to what one feels is clearly a quality within the object itself. Imaginatively seeing something is seeing it in terms of its potentiality or in terms of its possibility, and these are the features of a thing that give it, phenomenologically speaking, life.

Carlson asks what life values are expressed through aesthetic appreciation of clutter and junk. I have no problem with this My problem arises when he argues that the values expressed by a junkyard must be "waste, disregard, carelessness, and exploitation." I suggest, rather, that the values affirmed in aesthetic appreciation of a junkyard are, or at least could be, those of non-conformity; recognition that messiness can sometimes be valuable; a belief that the margins of our world have their own unique interest; and perhaps nostalgia for things of another era that have achieved a certain patina through rust and decay. An important value affirmed is that old discarded things can come alive again visually if looked at or treated in the right way. In this way, the aesthetics of junk may be closely related to the aesthetics of antiques. In short, Carlson’s thick perception of junkyards is just one of many.

3. Do Life-Values Affect Aesthetic Appreciation?

The negative values Carlson mentions may seem to be the values expressed in junkyards to someone who does not appreciate junkyards aesthetically, or to someone who appreciates junkyards for formalist reasons but who feels bad about it ethically. The problem, perhaps, goes back to Sontag, who saw Camp as emphasizing texture and style as opposed to content. Sontag seems to have taken an overly formalist approach to appreciation of junk. Her neglect of content left a vacuum, and Carlson rushed in with his idea that the content is waste and disregard. Carlson admits that a junkyard could also express the value of hard work, but insists that this would not erase the other values expressed. Note that junkyard owners themselves would hardly see themselves as expressing the values Carlson attributes to them.

Still, even if the life-values of some of the people who produce roadside clutter are waste and disregard, these are not necessarily the life-values of those who appreciate it aesthetically. Moreover, the life-values of some who produce what others consider roadside clutter are not at all of this sort: I am thinking of people who live in the desert and who prefer to surround themselves with worn-out cars, appliances, and other junk, but arranged in an interesting way. Further, what something is expressive of, when that thing is not consciously produced as an expression (and a junkyard is seldom consciously produced as an expression of anything), is hardly a matter of fact. Carlson, himself, admits at the end of his essay that he cannot be certain what life values these objects express, [16] which seems inconsistent with his earlier claim that they must express values of waste, etc..

Another way to approach junk that is both thick and positive can be found in a blog by Andy Green: "A real study and use of Junk will recognize that bottles and burnt cars are testimonies to anonymous men; that rusted washing machines are monuments to domestic and economic struggles; that all derelict objects are imbued with particular resonance in particular locations that can bring new (sometimes troubled) meanings to life." [17] Green goes on: " These Junk-sites mark the intersections of our personal histories, underlying interests, conscious and unconscious desires. They may look dirty or offensive to some, but junk is really a slide show of our deep humanity, as well as our flaws." Green further writes: "It is possible that junk can allow us to confront the more dangerous 'wild' aspects of our social environments, as well [as] offering a more constructive way of approaching our connection to each other across a divided social landscape."

Green's approach to junk is socially engaged. Although aesthetic, it is not aestheticist or Camp. Perhaps moving beyond Rauschenberg, Green denies interest in "dumping a rusty washing machine on the floor of the Tate and calling it a clever critique of consumer based societies." As he puts it, " Those kinds of statements soon become far too general, lose their force of argument, their specific context, and lapse into aesthetic cliché all too easily: an 'aesthetics' of junk that has lost a meaningful relationship to a living landscape."

Carlson thinks it is empirically uncontroversial that we cannot appreciate a junkyard in the thick sense. But the claim would only be uncontroversial if the expressed qualities must be the ones that Carlson describes. We could appreciate junk in a thick sense if we took it to have the expressive properties I or Green have mentioned.

Carlson further believes that appreciation of the effect means condoning the cause. Thus, on his view, if I appreciate a junkyard I must be condoning values of waste and exploitation. And yet this is not the case in our appreciation of Versailles. As Kant once observed, in appreciating Versailles we are not condoning all the values that went into its making, for example absolute monarchism.[18] One could say that from a moral perspective the palace of Versailles is expressive of waste and exploitation. (Rousseau certainly thought so.) But I think we can still experience it as beautiful. Moreover, even if we do not accept Kant's notion of disinterested perception we can see that a thick appreciation does not require taking on all of the moral baggage of origins.

It has been suggested by an anonymous reader of an earlier version of this paper that our ability to appreciate Versailles is a function of historical distance and that we could not as easily appreciate a more recent palace built on a foundation of injustice. This may be true to some extent, but note that Kant himself was not significantly temporally distant from the creation of whatever palaces or representations of palaces he may have seen. There is nothing to keep us from aesthetically appreciating recent products with questionable ethical histories, nor is it clear that forbidding appreciation of morally questionable buildings produces any ethical good that can counterbalance the aesthetic loss.

At the end of his essay Carlson turns to the issue of artist appropriation of junkyard materials. He first makes the dubious suggestion that Duchamp was expressing the negative values of waste, etc., when he displayed Fountain. He then suggests, more plausibly, that when an artist is successful in using junk in his or her art, as Picasso was in his Bull's Head, the result is only made possible when the junk is recycled in such a way that the expressive properties of the junkyard are erased. This may work for some uses of junk in art. But consider Robert Venturi, Steve Izenour, and Denise Scott Brown's influential idea that we can learn from Las Vegas. In 1964 Peter Blake wrote a book called God's Own Junkyard: The Planned Deterioration of America's Landscape, in which he spoke of neon signs as roadside clutter.[19] In 1977 Venturi, Izenour, and Brown transformed our understanding of neon signs and "the strip" through their postmodernist redefinition of architecture inspired by the time they spent in Las Vegas.

4. The Ethics of Aesthetic Appreciation

In response to Carlson, Yuriko Saito takes a somewhat different approach to roadside litter, junkyards and clutter.[20] She holds that Carlson's argument against roadside clutter is not aesthetic but ethical. She writes that "As an aesthetic argument, the reference to the ethically undesirable expressive qualities of littering, power lines, and strip-mining does not make a good justification against them."[21] For example, the aesthetic qualities of the natural environment and the expressive qualities of the strip mine might both be reinforced by their mutual contrast.

At this point in her article Saito takes a different tack, arguing that although contrast is important in a painting or a play, with respect to environments, we normally appreciate unity and consider contrast to be a demerit. We appreciate both natural and man-made environments in terms of their overall ambience or character, which can be spoiled if mixed. She admits that this argument would fail to show that a unified environment such as a Las Vegas-like city would aesthetically fail as a replacement of natural scenery, but suggests that the ambiance of Las Vegas is one of vulgar, loud commercialism that is not really enjoyable. This seems the wrong approach as, although it is not enjoyable to her and to me, it is clearly enjoyable to the thousands who choose to visit. Her solution is to affirm Carlson's argument against roadside clutter not as aesthetic but as ethical, but with aesthetic implications. Abusive treatment of the natural environment would always, on this view, destroy its aesthetic value.

However, Saito's argument could be equally directed against Las Vegas itself and towards my favorite junkyard simply because she does not find them enjoyable or thinks they are examples of abusive treatment. And this same argument could equally be directed against Fallingwater or any humanly constructed environment since they all involved replacing natural scenes with human ones, and there is always someone who doesn't enjoy them.

In contrast to Carlson and Saito, and in line with the position I have presented here, Paul Ziff argues that "anything that can be viewed is a fit object of aesthetic attention."[22] The only limits are one's power to create the appropriate frame or context for what one sees. Ziff describes what he oddly calls an antiaesthetic approach to litter. As he puts it, "The antiaesthetic approach is to alter one's view to see the original litter not as litter but as an object for aesthetic attention…One can look upon the disorder of litter as a form of order a beautiful randomness a precise display of imprecision."[23] By 'antiaesthetic' he seems to mean not non-aesthetic but "contrary to traditional aesthetics." He then suggests that looking at the work of abstract expressionist painters Jackson Pollock and Mark Tobey might help one to appreciate litter. Perhaps Monet and Braque would be helpful too, as he says: "Garbage strewn about is apt to be as delicately variegated in hue and value as the subtlest Monet. Discarded beer cans create striking cubist patterns."[24]

There are, of course, distinctions between junkyards, roadside clutter, garbage dumps, and oil spills.[25] Junkyards, for example, are often intended to contain items for re-use. It might be argued that, because of this, Carlson was wrong in his thick description of junkyards. It might further be argued that he would have been right if he had given a similar thick description of roadside litter, garbage dumps, or oil spills. I admit that some things are more difficult to appreciate aesthetically than junkyards; a major oil spill would be an excellent example. Nor should we be in any way required to try to appreciate such things. At the same time, nothing says that they cannot be appreciated. There have been artworks that have focused on the aesthetic properties of similar phenomena: Robert Smithson's Asphalt Rundown (1969) would be one example. My main point is that there is no one right thick description of a junkyard, roadside clutter, a garbage dump, or even an oil spill.

5. Conclusion

It might be argued that my approach relies on artworks and not on immediate experience of the environments described. My view of this is that artists are particularly sensitive observers of our world and that they capture aesthetic features in their works that we might not normally notice. For example, a photographer may typically think, "wow, that looks interesting" before photographing a junkyard. (I take "interesting" here to be an aesthetic property. ) Photographer Robert Adams, recently featured in the television series, Art 21, photographs clear-cut forests. Although he disapproves of the aesthetic devastation caused by clear-cutting, he still finds beauty in certain aspects of what he photographs.

Some would argue that aesthetic appreciation of junkyards or any other sites that would entail harming the environment would be no different from aesthetically appreciating representations of the horrors of Auschwitz, and that both are blameworthy. But as Ziff helpfully observes, there are some things that disgust us so much that we cannot aesthetically appreciate them, although it may be that others can. I do not deny that there could be a case for moral censure for aesthetic appreciation of representations of the horrors of the holocaust that focused on qualities of, for example, grace and charm. Still, there is no problem with aesthetically appreciating something that one also considers to be horrifying or inhuman. If there were, then the Greek tragedies would have been impossible. Finding something tragic is a kind of aesthetic appreciation. Consider also that we can appreciate a forest that has been devastated by fire or mud-slide. There is something sublime in such instances of natural destruction. Appreciation of the results of human devastation, for example an oil spill, may not be so different.

Nor do I think that it is required that we be aesthetically disgusted by whatever disgusts us ethically.[26] I suspect that those who would require this believe, like Plato, that aesthetic appreciation of representations of evil will lead to carrying out acts of evil, but it has never been clear that this is the case. I have heard that sunsets are more beautiful in smoggy conditions. However, we should not be required to stop appreciating their beauty because of that. After all, aesthetic appreciation of something does not require a commitment to its continued existence. I would be willing to sacrifice some measure of beauty in sunsets so that fewer people would suffer from debilitating lung disease. I would not be willing to sacrifice my appreciation of the beauty of current smog-related sunsets simply because someone thinks it immoral for me to do so, as my appreciation is not hurting anyone. Of course, once I learn that the sunset has been enhanced by smog conditions, my appreciation of it might change…I might see it as a sad beauty, and so too with my junkyard if I found it was a major source of pollution. What may be taken as a sign of uncaring on the part of the person who created the pollution or the roadside trash is not thereby required to be seen, in a thick way, as an expression of uncaringness.

It might finally be argued that the roadside is a commons and that different aesthetic standards are applicable to a commons than to private home or public art gallery. The average citizen, so the argument goes, should not have to put up with whatever the avant-garde aesthete might happen to appreciate. For example, people have been known to discard plastic bottles filled with urine onto the roadside in Oregon.[27] Most people find this disgusting, and although a photograph of such a thing may be pleasing to a contemporary art-lover, depending on how the photograph is taken, this would be no reason to condone the continued presence of such bottles. The idea of different aesthetic standards for the commons hearkens back to the debate over Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc, in which it was sometimes argued that the public should not be made the victim of avant-garde aesthetic standards that they do not share. The argument had some merit, and in the end it did not seem unreasonable that the work was removed because it was displeasing for many who lived and worked in the area. Of course the plastic bottle of urine that I have seen in a photograph was presumably not placed on the roadside as an aesthetic statement, avant-garde or otherwise, and no artist claims responsibility for it. So the case may seem more open and shut than the Richard Serra case.

I will concede that different aesthetic standards might be appropriate for the commons; something like "majority rules" may be more appropriate than the rule of the Humean good judge in the commons, at least some of the time. This is tricky since we do not want to say that the public can never be educated. The majority opposed Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial at first but eventually came to embrace it. On the other hand, it doesn’t make much sense to talk of educating people into appreciating plastic bottles filled with urine. Rules like "no trash on the roadside, especially no plastic bottles filled with urine" are perfectly acceptable, even to those who might find such things sometimes aesthetically interesting. Nor is it unreasonable for people to find these objects displeasing. After all, we have deeply ingrained attitudes against aesthetic display of human waste, attitudes that although they might be challenged in an art gallery, probably should not be challenged publicly. On that other hand, I do not think anyone is morally required to find a photograph of a plastic bottle of urine disgusting, or required not to find it aesthetically pleasing. This is true even though most of us would find it disgusting that someone should impose their urine on us in this way. It is also true that even though a photograph might evoke that disgust, it is still possible for such a photograph to be good and even beautiful. The same goes for the actual scene photographed, i.e. that it makes a photographically interesting scene. In fact, I think the photograph I have seen is in fact a good and interesting photograph largely because of its expressive as well as its formal properties. It might then be asked what does it mean for me to say the photograph is good. Unlike Kant, I do not demand or even expect that everyone find it good. What the phrase means is simply that I would be surprised if people with similar training in the contemporary visual arts would not be able to see the photograph, or the scene photographed, as I do.

Where the commons end and the private realm begins is another matter, and it is often hotly contested. City ordinances often make demands about how one ought to decorate one’s front yard. For instance, there is a rule in my city against parking a car on the lawn. On the other hand, some people in my neighborhood value the aesthetic appearance of their cars and would prefer to display them in this half private/half public place. I tend to support more freedom for self-expression in such cases. I also tend to value graffiti art (but not mere graffiti tagging) over many manifestations of conventional but boring "good taste" that dominate our urban and suburban landscapes.

In conclusion, Carlson's distinction between thick and thin concepts fails to resolve Beardsley's dilemma of aesthetic education. It would only do so if there was only one possible, quite negative, thick description of aesthetic experience of junkyards, and I have shown this to be implausible. Beardsley himself believes the dilemma is irresolvable, and I basically agree. The best we can do is attempt to balance the competing interests of those who wish to beautify road scenes through eliminating what they consider to be unsightly, and those who value quite different aesthetic effects. The debate, in the end, is really quite similar to that between architectural conservatives in San Francisco who wish to limit building design to pre-modernist styles and those who believe the city can find a place for modernist architecture. I have not sought to defend all junkyards and roadside clutter, but simply to clear a space for a form of aesthetic appreciation that is freer, more imaginative, and more in tune with important discoveries of modernist art than is allowed by current morality-centered views in aesthetics.


[1] Carlson, Allen, "Environmental Aesthetics and the Dilemma of Aesthetic Education," The Journal of Aesthetic Education 10 (1976): 69-82. Carlson speaks here of the movement to clean up the environment, eliminating clutter because it is an eyesore. Carlson continues to use the distinction between thin and thick concepts central to this paper in his more recent "On Aesthetically Appreciating Human Environments," Philosophy and Geography 4:1 (2001) 9-24.

[2] "Everyday Surface Aesthetic Qualities: 'Neat,' 'Messy,' 'Clean,' 'Dirty'," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 53:3 (1995) 259-268. Reprinted in The Aesthetics of Human Environments, eds. Allen Carlson and Arnold Berleant (Ontario: Broadview Press, 2007).

[3], accessed Aug. 15, 2007. On this site Sudhu Tewari says that all of his artworks and musical instruments are made from recycled garbage.

[4] See John Scanlan, On Garbage (London: Reaktion Books, 2005.) especially his Chapter 3, "Garbage Aesthetics."

[5] Carlson, Allen, "Environmental Aesthetics and the Dilemma of Aesthetic Education," 72.

[6] Beardsley, Monroe , "The Aesthetic Point of View," (1970) in his The Aesthetic Point of View (Cornell University Press, 1982).

[7] Ibid., p. 32.

[8] Ibid., p. 34.

[9] Sontag, Susan , "Notes on 'Camp,'" in Against Interpretation (New York: Dell Publications, 1969).

[10] Perhaps he associates Camp with the extremes of aestheticization because Sontag spoke of incarnating "aesthetics over morality," Against Interpretation, p. 32.

[11] In the 1950s he would collect discarded commonplace objects on his street in New York City and attach them to his works, calling the results "combines."

[12] accessed Aug. 23, 2007.

[13] accessed Aug. 23, 2007. When he arrived in New York City, he met Marcel Duchamp with whom he played chess. The Villager, 75:23, Oct. 26 - Nov. 01, 2005, Obituary, "Arman, 76, Tribeca artist whose medium was garbage."

[14] Jerome Stolnitz defended the aesthetic attitude in his Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art Criticism (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1960), pp. 40-42.
[15] Carlson, Allen, "Environmental Aesthetics and the Dilemma of Aesthetic Education," The Journal of Aesthetic Education 10 (1976): 75.

[16] Carlson, Allen, "Environmental Aesthetics and the Dilemma of Aesthetic Education," 81.

[17] Taken from Pete Ashton's Blog at written Aug. 24, 2005, accessed Aug. 15, 2007. By writing Pete Ashton I have since discovered that Andy Zoop is a pseudonym for a friend of Ashton's named Andy Green.

[18] Kant, Immanuel, Critique of Judgement tr. James Creed Meredith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952). Kant does not mention Versailles directly, but he mentions a palace and in the same paragraph he also mentions Rousseau's criticism of "the vanity of the great who spend the sweat of the people on such superfluous things." P. 43.

[19] Venturi, Robert, Steven Izenour, and Denise Scott Brown, Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form. (Cambridge: The MIT Press, rev. ed., 1977; originally published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964).

[20] Yuriko Saito, "Is There a Correct Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature?" Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 18, No. 4. (Winter, 1984), pp. 35-46.

[21] Ibid., p 42.

[22] Ziff, Paul, "Anything Viewed," in Aesthetics, eds. Susan L. Feagin and Patrick Maynard (Oxford University Press, 1997) orig. 1984.

[23] The grammatical oddness of Ziff's sentence is intentional on his part.

[24] Ibid., p. 28.

[25] It might be interesting to develop a general theory about such aesthetic phenomena, although I am suspicious of any theory that would posit some sort of continuum in which the various items have a fixed place, e.g. junkyards on one side because they contain useful items, and Auschwitz on the extreme other side because images of it could never be aesthetically appreciated without moral harm. Such a view would seem simplistic and would be contrary to the case-by-case approach recommended by Beardsley and myself.

[26] In a very interesting article Marcia Muelder Eaton argues otherwise. "Kantian and Contextual Beauty," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 57, No. 1. (Winter, 1999), pp. 11-15. Eaton's line is like that of Carlson, her take on Kant being similar to Carlson's "thin" concept: it is just a matter of pleasure in surface qualities vs. ethical evaluation of something in terms of its deep ecological meaning. My argument has been that this is a false dichotomy and that there are other thick concepts under which such things as purple loose strife (the invasive plant species Eaton's friend forbids her and us to appreciate) can be appreciated aesthetically. She does think the purple loose strife could be called "beautiful" but only in a special "Kantian" formalist sense of the term, one that is rarely used and that ultimately does not matter. One advantage that much-maligned formalism has is that it is not committed to the idea of "one true contextualist story" but allows for seeing things in different ways, for re-contextualization. I agree with Eaton that beliefs and moral values do make a difference in aesthetic perception sometimes to some people, but I do not think this supports the idea that we ought not to appreciate purple loose strife.

[27] I owe this example as well as the connection to Tilted Arc to Flo Liebowitz, who commented on an earlier version of this paper at the Pacific Division meeting of the American Society for Aesthetics. Flo's husband took the photograph of the bottle with urine which she showed during the session.

Thomas Leddy
San Jose State University
Published May 17, 2008

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