Expressive Qualities

“Emotion, Expressive
Qualities, and Nature.”
By Emily Brady
-Zack Bosshardt
Overview of the Paper
 How can we justify attributions of expressive qualities to the
natural environment?
 Conclusion: The similarity account along with the
embodiment account gives us an explanation of expressive
qualities in natural environments.
A distinction
 Felt emotion - Having some feeling or emotion as a
result of aesthetic influence. We discussed this on
Monday with Carroll’s article. Example: “We feel
exhilarated when taking a morning walk through a
 Expressive Quality - We do not feel any particular
emotion, but rather we just find expressive qualities in
what we experience. Brady’s examples: “a landscape
that is bleak and forbidding”, or a tree that is
 In short, felt emotion is an internal condition, while
expressive qualities are external to us. The focus of
the article is the latter.
Worries About Subjectivity,
Emotion, and Aesthetics
 Emotion viewed as too subjective- Emotions can be fickle,
differ among people, and be based on false beliefs; thus
emotion and expressive qualities derived from nature could
possibly be too subjective for appropriate aesthetic judgment.
Cognitive Theory of Emotion
 Brady agrees with Carroll: Emotions are “…not subjective
projections upon a landscape.” “Justifying the feeling of
excitement from the grandeur of a waterfall depends upon the
qualities of the waterfall and the beliefs and thoughts that
underlie the response.”
 Carroll’s Cognitive Theory of Emotion is a solution to the
subjectivity worry – We talked about this on Monday. Certain
beliefs about the world are appropriate or inappropriate
according to their corresponding truth or falsity. And further, an
emotion resulting from a belief can be appropriate or
inappropriate. People reasonably share the same emotional
response given a base level of knowledge and belief. In this
way, we can judge emotion resulting from nature as ‘objective.’
Some Clarification on the
Cognitive Theory from Brady
1. Brady emphasizes Carroll’s assertions that beliefs that
elicit an emotional response are not scientific or
specialized beliefs, but common sense beliefs.
2. Although beliefs are important and essential for emotion,
“they do not provide the fullest account of the grounds for
our emotions.” Imagination and thinking may affect our
emotional response as much as belief. Also, “that our
affective response reach beyond beliefs for their grounding
and context.” Brady gives the cloud example.
3. Overall Brady accepts Carroll's views on emotion and
aesthetic response.
Expressive Qualities
 Expressive qualities are emotional qualities that we perceive
in external objects or environments. There are various ways
we could fail to explain how environments and their objects
are expressive:
1. Attribute emotional states to inanimate objects.
2. Compare nature to art.
3. Utilize a causal account.
Ways Not to Think of Expressive
Attributing emotional states to inanimate objects - We could
say that when an environment or object has a particular
expressive quality, then the object or environment actually has the
corresponding psychological or emotional state. For example,
when we say a loch is somber, we are saying that the loch
possess the psychological or emotional state of somber. This fails
quickly because, “inanimate objects, objects without minds, do not
have emotional states.” She gives another example of the child
projecting emotions onto the teddy bear.
Comparing nature to art – In the case of art, the artist’s intention
of an expressive quality emerges in the painting. Like we’ve said
many times, this analogy cannot be applied to nature. Nature
does not have an artist, so the intent and corresponding
expressive quality do not exist like an art object.
Ways Not to Think of Expressive
3. Causal account – “When we ascribe an expressive quality
to something, it is because the thing causes one to feel a
particular emotion.” The loch can make a person feel a range
of emotions, calm, relaxed, satisfied, or even no emotion at all.
Despite this fact, the loch will retain its expressive quality of
somberness. So, the causal account cannot explain expressive
qualities either.
Example of Winning the Lottery – Even after winning the lottery
experiencing the emotion of happiness, one can still recognize
the loch as somber.
Expressive Qualities in Nature,
and how we ought to think of
them: Similarity Theory
 Similarity Theory - Identification of non-aesthetic qualities, the way
things are arranged or the way things “look or sound”, leads us to a
comparison between the identified object and emotions that we
experience. This comparison gives us the ability to identify an
expressive quality in the object that corresponds, or is similar to, human
 The weeping willow example – We can give the expressive quality of
sad to a weeping willow. By this we don’t mean that the tree possesses
the psychological state of sadness, but that it is sad looking. “Weeping
willow is sad or sad-looking because we recognize in it the posture of
someone feeling down.” The reference point to ascribe an expressive
quality is human emotion, “but it is possible that the resemblance works
both ways.” (The storm example)
Similarity Theory
 ‘Objective’ Approach – The approach relies on observation of nonaesthetic qualities, or the formalistic ways things appear to us. These
non-aesthetic qualities appear more or less the same to everyone, and
so I can communicate the corresponding expressive qualities to other
people with relative ease.
 Stephen Davies elaborating on Carroll – Another explanation of
similarity and expressive qualities is in music. Take the example of a
sad song. Although I may not feel the emotion of sadness currently, I
can nonetheless identify sadness as a quality of a sad song. “The
similarity exists structurally, and he describes a piece of music as a
sound map of particular emotional expression.” When we hear a song
with an expressive quality of sadness, we are recognizing “in music a
resemblance to human emotional behavior through speech, gestures,
and bodily movement.”
Potential Problems
with Similarity
 Similar, though not an exact translation or comparison –
Given our particular human vocabulary of emotion, there may be
some instances in which we cannot accurately describe an
expressive quality in nature. “A particular emotional quality can
be roughly analogous to some nameable human emotion,
desolation for instance; but the precise quality of desolation
revealed in some waste or desert in nature may be quite
distinctive in timbre and intensity.”
 Humans are quite different from nature - Nature can have
certain expressive qualities that do not equate to a familiar
human emotion. By attempting to equate human emotion with
some expressive quality in nature, we can “overly humanize
nature” which “overlooks nature’s own distinctive otherness.”
Solution to this Problem?
 Problem - We can attempt to describe nature in terms of its expressive
qualities according to our human emotions and fail to encompass these
qualities accurately.
 Solution: Reciprocal Relationships - Reciprocally, nature can determine
certain new categories for human emotion? (p.179) “…natural expression
will influence our moods or determine them altogether, so that we reflect
nature's qualities rather than the other way around.”
 Example: We can experience in nature an expressive quality x, which will
elicit a corresponding emotional response x in the appreciator. This does
not appear to be different from the causal theory we’ve already dismissed. If
there is something ‘distinctively other’ about nature, why are we trying to
describe it in terms of human emotion?
 Another Problem – Expressive qualities in nature whether they are caused
or causal, can be ultimately reduced to human origins. The example of the
stormy person.
A Second Problem for
Similarity Theory
 Complexity of the Real World - The similarity theory focuses upon the
non-aesthetic properties of an examined object, and thus does not
“account for complex chains of association and belief.”
 The quarry example – An outsider of the community would view the
quarry as ugly in terms of its arrangement, but a community member
knowing the appropriate cultural history would regard the quarry as a
source of pride. Aesthetic judgments involve complex associations
beyond the appearance of non-aesthetic properties which similarity
theory does not account for.
 Customs and social practices – Cultures can begin to associate
particular non-aesthetic qualities (the appearance) of an object or
landscape with a particular emotion and thus expressive quality. The
quarry example is dependent upon customary associations. The other
example is of the falling cherry blossoms in Japanese literature
associated with sorrow.
Embodiment Theories Used to
Supplement Similarity Theory.
 Embodiment account – suggests that environments
embody history, emotions, memories and so on. An
environment is not simply the configuration or arrangement of
objects, but is within a larger context of associations.
 The two-term account of expression – “Many instances of
our aesthetic appreciation of nature are based upon this
fusion between the object's sensuous surface and various
associated facts such as scientific facts, historical or literary
associations , or practical values.”
 “For example, we may appreciate the way in which the
fierceness of a battle is reflected in a disfigured landscape
with poor vegetation.”
More on embodiment
 Subjectivity and Individual vs. Community Associations – This is
mentioned briefly and potentially is a worry. If an expressive quality in
an environment is tied to associations, and since my associations may
differ from someone else’s, then an expressive quality may be
dependent upon the individual appreciator’s particular associations.
 Carlson on embodiment – “For an object to express a quality or life
value, the latter must not simply be suggested by it. Rather the quality
must be associated with the object itself; that is, what Santayana meant
by saying that the object must seem to embody that which it expresses.
Clarified in this way, expression is not typically due to the unique
associations resulting from an individual's own personal history.”
 In short, associations are not found in the individual but are embodied in
the object. The object of appreciation has factual associations that an
individual may or may not be aware of.
Criticism of Embodiment
 My Criticism – which associations are appropriate, or most
important in aesthetic appreciation? The environmentalist
viewing the quarry vs. a community member viewing the
 Brady’s Criticism - Although the embodiment account helps
us address problems with similarity theory, like the quarry
example, Brady says it may be too vague.
 “What exactly does it mean to say that environments or
objects are ‘drenched’ with emotions or images?” Brady
concludes that although drenched and embodiment are
metaphorical concepts, they give us a better way to
understand expressive qualities in nature.
Conclusion and Implications
 Conclusion: “I have argued that the similarity account
provides part of the answer to the problem of expressive
qualities in nature but that it needs to be supplemented by
the embodiment account.”
 Practical Implications in Environmental Planning – Brady
explains that her blending of similarity and embodiment
theory to explain expressive qualities, combined with other
aesthetic qualities that we’ve mentioned of imagination,
emotion, and perception, give us a good vocabulary in
discussions regarding conservation. (p. 182)

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