Landscape Foundations 1

The following themes are drawn from my book, The Science of Scenery, and cover a range of subjects which are foundational to understanding landscape aesthetics. Click on the following:

Western cultural influence and landscape
Aesthetics of traditional societies
Philosophy of aesthetics
Visual perception
Gestalt psychology and aesthetics
The perception of color
Psychoanalysis and aesthetics

The following summarises these themes. The reader is encouraged to click on the above links for the full description of the theme.


What are the origins of Western culture’s interest and love of landscapes? Is it a recent phenomenon or has it always been with us?

The Western approach to the aesthetic qualities of landscape has been fashioned by various strands of influence. Classical Hellenistic and Roman influences emerged again during the Renaissance and later periods. And from Christian theology developed the teleological view or natural theology of nature and landscape that together with the classical influence, dominated until the 17th and 18th centuries.

The 18th century saw intense speculation about aesthetics in Europe, with major changes resulting in cultural attitudes to aesthetic objects. The 19th century was the great age of aesthetic theory, when German philosophy dominated on the Continent and in England. Darwinian evolutionary theory created a new perspective of nature and landscape, virtually extinguishing the teleological influence and greatly expanding the search for understanding physical phenomena in every field of science. And finally, the 20th century saw these many strands combining in a synthesis of influences, added to by various strands of its own including the appreciation of wilderness and of the environment in a non-utilitarian sense.


The Western view of landscapes that predominates is not the only way by which to view landscapes. For countless generations, traditional societies have developed very sophisticated and complex interpretations of the landscapes around them. Four such interpretations are examined from the Australian Aborigine, New Zealand Māori, the traditional Chinese, and the Tibetan. These are examples of traditional societies in which landscapes are viewed in symbolic terms, their physical features being taken to represent other entities such as ancestral beings and deities or philosophical concepts. The examples exhibit a little of the richness of human interaction and interpretation of landscapes of which the Western view is but one view.


Humans have long asked the questions like “what is beauty?”, ” why is a scene beautiful?”, “what is the nature of the aesthetic experience?” Questions of aesthetics have occupied many philosophers, although less so today than in the past. Landscape is but one of many aesthetic objects.These include music, art, sculpture, human faces, architecture, poetry and natural objects. Philosophers seek to identify the common principles operating on and determining the nature of the aesthetic experience.

This theme traces through the treatment of aesthetics by philosophers, from the time of the Greeks, through the early Christian fathers to the Renaissance to modern philosophers in Britain, Germany and other nations. There are close parallels of Kant’s philosophy of aesthetics with landscape theory, in particular that many of Kant’s concepts identified, nearly a century before Darwin, are principles which can make sense through their survival-enhancing qualities. The universality of Kant’s aesthetics is reinforced by its parallels with contemporary theories of landscape aesthetics.


Here we examine approaches to the way humans view the world through their eyes, the basis of perception. It commences with an historical briefing followed by a review of visual perception mechanism and models and then summarizes environmental psychological approaches to perception. The contemporary contributions of environmental psychology to perception are reviewed.


Gestalt psychology – “the whole is more than the sum of its parts” – developed from the realization in the late 19h century that the atomistic approach to psychology failed to explain characteristics that could derive from the combination of the individual parts. The theme describes the development of the Gestalt approach, defines Gestalt perceptual laws, provides a contemporary perspective of the Gestalt contribution and its relevance to landscape.


The theme provides a brief discussion of the physics of color and it perception. Its examines preferences for color and the explanations for these.


Psychoanalysis may seem an odd subject to include in a website on landscape quality assessment but it actually offers profound insights into how we humans regard aesthetic objects, landscapes included. It penetrates the inner motivations which are often hidden, and identifies drives and influences of which we are unlikely to be even conscious.

There has been much interesting material written in psychoanalysis about artists who create aesthetic objects but that is not the focus of this theme. Rather it reviews the various approaches that psychoanalysts have formed about aesthetics and their relevance to landscape.

To understand these approaches, a brief description of psychoanalytical concepts is provided and the theme then reviews various psychoanalytical approaches to aesthetics and their relevance to landscape.  Finally, a psychoanalytical model of landscape aesthetic response is presented.