Environmental Aesthetics

Course content

A sense of urgency attends present environmental crises, from climate change to pollution and biodiversity loss, inspiring a rich array of philosophical, literary, artistic and architectural responses. Aesthetic theory and practice emerge as central means of noticing, comprehending, and responding to conceptual changes in our ideas of nature and ecological changes in the world itself. In order to understand the reason for this, one must take account of a double meaning of aesthetics; first, as a theory of perception, awareness and experience, and second, as a branch of value theory, which offers norms for judgment and action. This course examines the primacy of aesthetics in comprehending and responding to environmental crises by considering: What is the role of the arts in addressing environmental disasters? Should the aesthetic appreciation of nature be grounded in scientific understanding? What are the aesthetic dimensions of climate change? Of wastelands, wetlands, and wilderness? 


Attending the connection between historical conditions and philosophical notions, the course explores the emergence of environmental aesthetics within the European philosophical tradition of the mid-eighteenth century, concurrent with the first industrial revolution and rise of capitalism. We will thus read classical and contemporary texts, (from Immanuel Kant and Alexander Baumgarten to Peter Sloterdijk, Sianne Ngai, and Yuriko Saito), and familiarize ourselves with key categories: the beautiful, sublime and picturesque; landscape, scenery, environment; atmosphere, climate; Nature, the Anthropocene–and its critical alternatives. Deploying these concepts, we will analyse contemporary works of art and literature grounded in awareness of ecological conditions quite different from older traditions (e.g. of landscape painting and nature poetry), examining the work of artists such as Olafur Eliasson and his former students, and science fiction writers from Mary Shelley to Kim Stanley Robinson. 


Finally, this course derives an important lesson from the history of aesthetics and its engagement with the environs: the aesthetic pertains as much to the background as to foreground of attention; to ambient conditions of everyday life as to works of art and unique sites. Thus our course moves in the direction of a revaluation of our modes of life, with particular attention to our homely environmental aesthetics: the banal, quotidian, routine and habitual aspects of our lives, homes and streets. This is the arena in which the impact of environmental crises–and efforts to remediate them–will be felt most acutely: in our patterns of consumption of energy and materials, how we dress, do chores, feed ourselves, transport and communicate. Through these intimate investigations, we will consider how contemporary ideas of the environment call for a rethinking of aesthetics, as well as aesthetic approaches to environmental remediation. 

The teaching will consist of a mix of lectures, group work, student presentations, collective case studies, and a few excursions

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
Type of assessment
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 279
  • Guidance
  • 1
  • Exam
  • 84
  • English
  • 420


Course number
Programme level
Full Degree Master
Bachelor choice
Full Degree Master choice

1 semester

Spring 2024
The course has a capacity of max. 40 students. Out of these 40, 10 seats are allocated to international students in the first registration round.
Priority is given to students at the MA level
Study board of Arts and Cultural Studies
Contracting department
  • Department of Arts and Cultural Studies
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Humanities
Course Coordinator
  • Mikkel Krause Frantzen   (14-6f6b6d6d676e68746370767c6770426a776f306d7730666d)

Mikkel Krause Frantzen and Dehlia Hannah

Saved on the 08-11-2023

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