Positive Aesthetics: The Limits of the Beautiful


Although there were limits to the realm of natural beauty, it included the sublime or the terrifying in nature, the picturesquely beautiful, and the scientifically interesting.

Such scenes as this one with its scrub trees and bushes on indifferent mud banks seem on first glance to go beyond the limits of beauty. Ultimately, however, it turned out that aesthetic experience became possible in almost any place if the observer was willing to attend to the aesthetic and scientific aspects through close observation and attention to detail.

Is all of nature beautiful? Emerson once wrote that "there is no object so foul that intense light will not make beautiful. . . . Even the corpse has its own beauty."

William Trost Richards, Trees along the Stream in Fall, 1861, National Collection of Fine Arts