Aesthetics is trying something new! Welcome to our section for shorter, more targeted
pieces of current interest in aesthetics and philosophy of art. This section consists of submissions of 300-800 words that offer an opportunity for discussions that are more targeted and
focused than the regular articles. They might offer points of view on
topics such as modes of appreciation of environment or of a theater
performance, or an insight gained from an essay or book. Short Notes should be
of general interest and relevance to CA readers whose disciplinary and cultural
backgrounds are diverse. With
the exception of discussions of books or articles, Short Notes do not require
Notes should be submitted for blind review following the guidelines on submissions accessible from
our Home Page and will be refereed. Like
papers, Notes will be published in the order accepted with most recent Notes
appearing at the top. The Short Notes
section is being inaugurated as a trial in the current Volume 14 (2016). We invite your submissions.
On the Aesthetics of Water
Water. There is a lot of
it around. It may not always be in the form that we want, nor in the location
where we need it. But there is a lot of it, Three-quarters of the surface of
Earth is covered with water. Ninety-eight percent of our body is composed of
Water also features
largely in our appreciation of nature. Rivers and streams, seashores and
lakes…water. The aesthetic use of water plays a role in many cultures in Asia
and West Asia and less largely in Western cultures. Water occurs in spiritual
and religious rituals from the Mikva of Judaism to the Baptism of Christianity
and decorative water features are a frequent component of public and private
sites. It may be that the oldest
recorded water gardens, or perhaps ‘water features,’ were in what is called the
Cradle of Civilization in Mesopotamia millennia ago. The idea either spread
rapidly or occurred almost simultaneously involving Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia,
China, India, Japan, Rome, Persia and a number of other places among the
evolving cultures of Earth.
Other than the obvious
need that we have for water to sustain life, what is it that we look for in
these waters of Earth. Aesthetically, what do we see or hear, or feel in quiet
pools, tumbling streams, or crashing waves along a shore? I doubt that there is
anything in the environment that attracts me more quickly or engages my
attention and fixes me so raptly, than a pool of water. The context doesn’t
even seem to matter much. A pool alongside a path through the woods or bubbling
from sandy desert soil in the natural environment or a decorative water feature
in the built environment, are like magnets pulling me to them and through them
and into them.
Is it only water as a
liquid that claims our attention? Water in its many forms has a unique ability
to redefine its self and its aesthetic aspects. In winter, water oozing from
seeps and springs, that once dripped from rocky faces, becomes translucent
steps of icy stalagmites. Perhaps the most fascinating redefinition occurs when
the limbs and twigs of winter grey trees and shrubs become coated with shimmering
and often translucent crystal coatings.
Water has a special
tactile quality…an aesthetic of touch; the feel of water pouring through the
fingers or caressing some muscles at the end of a long, hard day. The various
sounds of water have a special quality. For example, the sounds of moving water
evoke a spiritual and a psychological sense. Recorded sounds of water are used
to induce relaxation, a deep sense of peace, and healing.
It is easy to take water
for granted unless, like me, you were raised in a very dry place where you
don’t take water for granted…not even a tiny trickle or a stagnant pool. Even in a place literally overflowing with
water some places are special. For
example, there is a small stream only a few miles from our home. Not much more than a trickle, this stream
wanders down a canyon beside a trail.
There is one place along the trial where I always stop to take a closer
look at the stream. At this spot the
stream flows into a quiet, shallow pool. The pool is surrounded by lush grass
and framed by a fallen long. I’m not sure what it is about this spot that grabs
my attention. I suspect it might be
something about the peace that I feel here and, possibly, the harmony with
which Nature has arranged the elements of the place. I think most of us seek these special places
in our lives, at least those of us who have some sense of the wild and the beauty
Chair, Environmental Aesthetics Study
Published on August 16, 2016.
Explication of Events and Dialogues in
Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot
Beckett’s once spurned existential tragicomedy Waiting for Godot has received its critical due some order of
magnitude over. Its dialogical prose withstands the regular prod and likely
occasions enough theses each semester to rival Andrew Marvell. However, the
play’s more mundane articles continue to elude the attention of commentators,
and I suspect this variety of neglect peculiar to Beckett alone. Much allusive
pleasantry abounds yet a missing watch is consigned to the jurisdiction of
metaphor (viz., lost time). But where did it go?—the question is simply not
literary critic Vivian Mercier’s well-known, in fact laudatory summation, “[H]e
has written a play in which nothing happens, twice,” of course concedes things happen. Rather, Mercier’s
contention is that nothing especially occurs and, unless one is willing to
drape grander tableaus of myth upon the text, I find myself in agreement. Indeed
the miracle is that stage direction, in conjunction with minute passages of
speech, too clearly spells out the humdrum goings-on contained between its
acts. Meanwhile, evidence planted before the reader is passed over and not
intending to keep an ironic eye out for the playwright’s mirth risks evading
dirty potholes of detail. Such an approach to texts seems to me entirely
suitable to fiction, which superficially delights in metaphysical themes of
damnation and self-knowledge, the building blocks of who, what, and where
almost without exception laid neatly before us and speedily traversed. In this
drama there is no purposeful obfuscation nor symbol where none intended.
Ultimately, it is all too loathsome an endorsement of l'esprit poétique to scratch one’s head in flattering ponder,
pleased at least for having taken part in the collective puzzlement.
is exactly because the reader is accustomed to declaring comprehension of a
tale upon breaching its metonymic stratum that he or she fails to address baser
articles, such as Estragon’s dreams and Vladimir’s bladder. Gaining the
symbolic high ground typically indicates one has finished with plot, having
climbed by aid of its sequence of broad rungs. Because Beckett's literature begins with the symbolic, readers are
enabled to browse as if allegory were a skin stretched over rough incident, on
which otherwise we snag and fight for understanding. Suffice it to say this
primacy of parable in Waiting for Godot
dissuades investigation, so you believe yourself underground when but kneeling
Who beats Estragon?
urinary incontinence necessitates sleepwalking to relieve himself. He tramples
Estragon in doing so and refuses knowledge of his dreams lest the tormentor be
ESTRAGON. Who am I to tell my private
nightmares to if I can't tell them to you?
VLADIMIR. Let them remain private. You
know I can't bear that.
ESTRAGON. And suppose we gave him a
good beating, the two of us.
VLADIMIR. You mean if we fell on him in
Who is Godot?
resultant neologism of the double misapprehension of “Pozzo.” Immigrant
farmers, Vladimir and Estragon seek employment with Pozzo. Unfortunately he has
forgotten their appointment.
POZZO. I present myself: Pozzo.
ESTRAGON. He said Godot.
VLADIMIR. (conciliating). I once
knew a family called Gozzo.
POZZO. Waiting? So you were waiting for
VLADIMIR. Well you see—
POZZO. Here? On my land?
Has time stopped?
immobile stage light is mistaken for the sun. Given the material luxury of
timekeeping a clock remains the source of Pozzo’s authority.
VLADIMIR. Time has stopped.
POZZO. (cuddling his watch to his ear). Don't you believe it, Sir, don't
you believe it.
Vladimir and Estragon scrutinize the sunset.
VLADIMIR. Anyway it hasn't moved.
What happens to Pozzo’s watch?
is concealed beneath Lucky’s hat inadvertently and destroyed. Beckett’s delight
of Vaudevillian irony is obvious here.
POZZO. Give me that! (He snatches the hat from Vladimir, throws it
on the ground, tramples on it.)
POZZO. [W]hat have I done with my
watch? . . . (He searches on the ground,
Vladimir and Estragon likewise. Pozzo turns over with
his foot the remains of Lucky's hat.) Well now isn't that just—
What about the boy?
the jumble of names and other conversation from off-stage this character’s
bogus account substantiates a Godot, tragically perpetuating the tramps’
ESTRAGON. How long have you been here?
BOY. A good while, Sir.
BOY. (in a rush). Mr. Godot
told me to tell you he won't come this evening but surely tomorrow.
LUCKY. Given the existence as uttered
forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua
VLADIMIR. (softly). Has he a beard,
BOY. Yes Sir.
VLADIMIR. Fair or . . . (he hesitates) . . . or black?
BOY. I think it's white, Sir.
Erick Verran is a freelance copywriter and poet. He lives in Boston.
Published July 14, 2016.
 Samuel Beckett, Waiting for
Godot (New York: Grove Press, 1982), pp. 10-11;  p. 90;  pp.
19-20;  p. 37; 
p. 98;  pp. 48-49;  pp.
53-55;  p. 45;  p. 106.
The following group of Short Notes on environmental aesthetics was guest-edited by Tom Baugh.
Thoughts on a Holographic Aesthetics
change and what was once considered suitable material for aesthetic
appreciation now has a lot of company. Changes in subject matter have been
accompanied by new models and even new methods for assessing that subject
matter. Over the past century Aesthetics has been subject of studies in
sensation and perception and, more recently cognition and consciousness. And
over the past several decades, the development of science and technology has
presented a number of challenges to Aesthetics. For example, did the displays
at the Lumiere London Light Festival represent art, artifice, both or do we or
should we care?
the mid-part of the last century Environmental Aesthetics has evolved as a subdiscipline
of Philosophy facing the same challenges of inclusiveness and exclusiveness as
the broader discipline. The rapid development of the live sciences and
environmental studies enhanced by technology present beauty in new and different
ways. In this regard, I have suggested that the science of Ecology allows for the
development of a multidimensional perception of the aesthetics of living
systems. Increasing experience with living systems thus helps develop a more
holographic perception of the beauty of ‘nature’ subjects. (The term
holographic as used here does not refer to a laser generated three dimensional
image but rather is adapted and adopted to refer to a condition of perception (and
cognition) that views nature as multidimensional). In this same regard,
consider the beauty of W.L. Kubiena's soil profile illustrations (http://blogs.agu.org/terracentral/2015/06/14/art-in-science-kubienas-soil-profiles-in-watercolors/) where the roots of a plant penetrate
the substrate and its leaves reach for the sky.
color renderings are beautiful but two-dimensional. Think for a moment how the
view would change if you could see ‘into’ the prints, into the third dimension
of space where a holographic image emerges…the roots become round, the grains
of soil are increasingly granular. We come closer to holographic perceptions with
the Cosmic Spider Web sculptures of Tomas Saraceno
(http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/blog/enter-the-cosmic-spiderweb-sculptures-of-tomas-saraceno). In these sculptures, living spiders create
three dimensional webs in transparent cubes. These webs are not static
creations but develop over time thus adding a fourth dimension to the hologram.
The evolving tools of virtual reality may also provide a possible vehicle for
similar immersion in and appreciation of the beauty of living systems.
about this as if you were looking into a round, clear plastic cylinder, perhaps
a cylindrical aquarium or terrarium stretching floor to ceiling a crystal tube
without distortion. The cylinder descends into the sand of a pond or lagoon.
Your eyes move upward passing the roots of aquatic vegetation such as seagrasses
or rushes and then up the stalks, through the water into the air above where a
mollusk or a damselfly rests near the top of one of the stalks. All of this in
three dimensions with small fish darting about and among the stalks, snails
crawling along the stalks and small insects or crustaceans buried in the muck
we see all of these things at a glance? No. But those of us who have worked
with these living habitats and systems can see them in our mind’s eye. We’re immersed
in them. They surround and envelop us. Ecologists who work in a watery
environment, with snorkel and mask or SCUBA, may experience the beauty of these
living holograms, more than others, just as those trained in art appreciation or
architecture are aesthetically involved with a painting or building.
holographic appreciation of the beauty of nature helps develop an aesthetic
appreciation that includes an understanding of nature in depth, as living
systems, and in process with the dimensions of time and motion. In these
holograms beauty is, indeed, more than surficial. As Adorno (1997) tells us “It
is self-evident that nothing concerning art is self-evident anymore." As we shall see in the following Notes,
Environmental Aesthetics Study Group
Published on May 24, 2016
T.W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (London: Athlone
Press, 1997), p. 1
Using Soundscape Ecology in Design and
broadly defined, environmental aesthetics tends to focus on the aesthetic value
of human and human-influenced systems in addition to that of natural systems.
It places strong emphasis on physical manifestations, often analyzing the
design and function of structures. Sound, however, is rarely identified as a
critical component of an aesthetic analysis. This short note examines
soundscape ecology—an emerging discipline in ecology—and its strong ties and
potential contributions to environmental aesthetics.
ecology, as put forth by Pijanowski et al. in 2011, broadens the field of
bioacoustics to include not only the study of biophony (sounds created by
organisms), but also geophony (nonbiological, ambient sounds such as wind,
storms, rain, and rivers) and anthrophony (sounds caused by humans and
human-related activity)—collectively referred to as the “soundscape” of a given
landscape. Pijanowski suggests that “processes occurring within landscapes can
be tightly linked to and reflected in patterns of sounds in landscapes.” Thus,
the soundscape provides a wealth of information about a particular landscape.
In addition, its acoustic patterns over various spatial and temporal scales can
be used to evaluate its state or processes that transpire therein. For
instance, Bernie Krause used sound as a proxy to determine ecosystem health
through his underwater recordings of coral reef ecosystems in Fiji before and
after bleaching events. Sound recordings can also serve as a (rough) index of
biological diversity, in which a species’ presence is determined by its
interactions between the soundscape and the organisms that inhabit a landscape
can be quite complex and unexpected. For example, if a threat is perceived, an
individual organism may sound an alarm to alert its kin and mate. Such calls
can also be eavesdropped upon and shared by other species so they can take
appropriate action. In human influenced systems with “noisy” soundscapes,
anthrophony may mask such alarm calls and inhibit them from being communicated
to specific audiences. This, too, is the focus of soundscape ecology: how
anthropogenic sounds affect soundscape function and composition, how
soundscapes differ with land-use patterns, and how species coordinate
communication and vocalizations across different landscapes. The results of
this research complements other ecological information and helps to create more
effective and holistic approaches to conservation.
“natural” systems, sound is an important component of our day-to-day lives and
has an explicit aesthetic value. Moreover, sounds influence our perception of
our environment and direct—to some extent–our behavior. For example, relaxing
music in airports and hospitals induces feelings of calmness and comfort, yet
upbeat music can make consumers buy more products in a grocery store. On the
other hand, white noise pumped into office settings shields office workers from
unwanted distractions. Just as in more natural settings, the soundscape
provides us with much information about a certain location.
structures are specifically designed around sound. For instance, theaters and
concert halls are constructed in such a way that sound emanating from the stage
is amplified and reflected back to the audience. Other structures inhibit
sound, as seen (or heard) through sound walls along busy motorways that reduce
(unpleasant) noise. This then begs the question—what message should sound
the construction of transportation networks, office buildings, neighborhoods,
and more, we ought to evaluate these collective effects on the soundscape.
While this is done to a certain extent by federal and state agencies, sound is
considered only within basic and limited measures such as frequency (pitch) and
amplitude (loudness). For example, strict regulations by the Federal Aviation
Administration that ban all supersonic flight by aircraft over the United
States represent an intersection between soundscape ecology and environmental
aesthetics. After all, we may not want sonic booms going off overhead in our
neighborhoods. But this does make the question of sound’s aesthetic nature
salient—and what constitutes the difference between sound and noise (likely
non-aesthetic)? And why?
must think of sound as part of the structure or environment in question and
also as a product. Just as we analyze the visual aesthetic nature and value of
a structure and its function, we must consider sound as an equal factor. For
instance, we might ask what sounds (or noise) a structure will produce. Will
the sounds produced (before, during, and after construction) mask the
surrounding soundscape? Will we need to mitigate for potential negative
impacts? How will we do that?
so, soundscape ecology invites us to take sound into consideration and broaden
the field of environmental aesthetics. After all, our environment is one of
interaction and complexity. In turn, a greater awareness of soundscapes in
human systems may ultimately lead to more acoustically aesthetic and sound
designs of structures and environments.
University of Idaho
Published on May 24, 2016
B.C. Pijanowski, et al., "Soundscape Ecology: The Science of Sound in the Landscape,"
BioScience, 61(3), (2011), 203-216. DOI: 10.1525/bio.2011.61.3.6.
From Things to Relationships:
Architecture of the Ecological Mind
as a matter of aesthetic appreciation, has a very long history. For as long as
we know, through writing and symbols humans have expressed aesthetic concepts.
Since prehistoric times, ‘secret’ geometries have been embedded in the writing
and symbols... geometries that established proportions to enhance visual
harmony. Over the millennia, humans built structures with aesthetic intention
guided by these geometries. Coming to relatively recent times, empathy theory
introduced the concept of form-feeling, emphasizing the direct connection
between what is seen and what we feel….between the objective and the embedded geometries.
what is beyond the seen: “imaginative vision” or “new vision/visibility” has
not always been discussed as part of the larger perceptual field since it
required admitting or recognizing the existence a scale that is beyond
immediately accessible to the humans. More
than a decade ago, architectural theorist Anthony Vidler (2004) asked for an expanded field of ecological
aesthetics that would show new process-oriented spatial formations and new inter-disciplinarity.
Vidler maintained that some of the most important notions of ecological
aesthetics are not in the sphere of “vision,” or the seen, thus calling for a careful
“reorganization” of the world as we perceive it.
consciousness and “new vision” as the artist, writer, and educator Gyorgy
Kepes described it, are therefore
the starting points for the aesthetics
of relationships rather than aesthetics of objects. Ecological consciousness
requires seeing things below and above the mezzo-scale of nature. It teaches us
that as our understanding of the relationships between “things” grows, so will
the spaces that we will build have an additional ethical dimension.
are two ways in architecture and related fields today in which this aesthetics
of connectedness instead of aesthetics of separation shows itself: on one hand are
projects that insist on visualizing the invisible – such are those visualizing climate
change. It also includes metaphorical use of patterns, what Kepes thought to be
a primary visual source of interconnectedness, in the urban and landscape
design as well as on façade design. Being able to understand things on micro
and macro scale are part of necessary knowledge. On the other hand, and probably
more substantial, is a level of complexity involved in human life that is being
introduced into architecture.
will have to learn to think in terms of relationships rather than objects on
all levels of architectural effort; and that is where ecology is invaluable to
architecture. Ecology teaches us to appreciate the visible in a new way, but it
also teaches us to assume, until the moment we understand the invisible
relationships, that there is more that what we can see. This concept needs to
be included in ecological aesthetics, at least when one discusses architecture.
As a field, architecture has an unlimited potential of creating environments
that propagate beauty as we know it but, at the same time, it has ethical
dimension of creating environments that include a myriad of life functions that
are part of the architectural program. It just seems that beautification of an
architectural object will not be enough anymore; every architectural effort
carries the potential to include life processes and organizational thinking
particular to relational world that ecology offers.
University Nikola Tesla Union
Published on May 24, 2016
G. Kepes, Language of vision (Chicago: P. Theobald, 1967).
A. Vidler, "Architecture's Expanded Field. Finding Inspiration in Jellyfish
and Geopolitics, Architects Today Are Working within Radically New Frames of
Reference," Artforum International 42, no. 8 (2004).