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The Human-Nature Relationship in Environmental and Land Art

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Within the philosophical areas of environmental ethics and environmental aesthetics, discussions focus mainly on minimally modified environments or wild environments (national parks, nature reserves, ‘wilderness’ areas). Less attention has been paid to the mixed or more strongly humanly modified environments of gardens, parks, agriculture, canals and so on. Yet, if environmental philosophers are interested in understanding human attitudes toward the natural world, then it would seem prudent to consider environments in which human-nature relations most commonly occur. While the protection of wilder or more natural environments is essential to dealing with the environmental crisis, our relationship with such environments is on the whole more distant. That is indeed what makes them more natural—fewer people have access to them and fewer people live in those environments compared to rural areas, suburbs and cities. There has been a minor trend toward recognising the importance of human engagement with nature within less natural environments. For example, some recent environmental philosophers have discussed the value of urban nature and the kinds of relationships that may develop between people and nature in city parks and community gardens (Light 2001).

I shall explore here the nature of environmental and land art as objects and environments which evolve through a mix of human action and natural processes, and the kinds of relationships that emerge through the creation of these artworks. My first task is to investigate the category of environmental and land art and its ontology. Grasping this distinctive ontology is key to understanding the human-nature relationships that arise through the production and appreciation of these art forms. I then consider some objections to environmental and land art in terms of the treatment of nature by some artists. Finally, I examine sub-categories of the broader category to explore which art forms engender more harmonious relationships, and which involve more conflicting ones.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2006

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