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I think there is a particular kind of aesthetic beauty in the simple repetition of forms over large expanses of contrasting landscape. Even more so when those repeated forms provide sustainable energy.  The just-approved off-shore wind farm is one such example, solar “farms” are another.

Artists’ rendering of Cape Wind, via NY Times 

The well-heeled opposition to the mentioned wind farm has only posed the aesthetic argument that this visual intrusion into the seascape must by definition be negative.  I disagree.  I think it’s quite attractive, calming, and interesting.  I think the connotations only increase our appreciation of the natural environment that serves as the backdrop (or, more appropriately, the visual context/physical participant).  My interpretation is built on the “purely artistic” cues from the vocabulary of the landscape artworks of Smithson, Goldsworthy,  or – the best exemplar to illustrate my perspective – Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field.  Too bad we have more hot air than wind around here….

Walter De Maria, The Lightning Field, 1977. Long-term installation in Western New Mexico. Photo: John Cliett. Copyright Dia Art Foundation.

3 Responses to “energy and beauty in symmetry and repetition”

  1. Paul Grenier

    I can imagine liking the idea of alternative energy, and the idea of the future it will bring, but I find it impossible to believe that anyone can look at the cape cod seashore and find that it has been improved by the addition of these ghastly industrial screws.

    For my part, I don’t even like the idea behind them. They point to a future of continued centralized control over energy, only this time based on wind. An economy with a future, however, should have a widely dispersed and varied approach to energy capture, one in harmony with the specifics of place, and on a smaller scale.

    The populist argument I also find irritating. Do these windmills become nicer looking because rich people object to them? You write that the “well-heeled opposition” has “only” an aesthetic argument. This “only” suggests that beauty, after all, is a trivial sort of thing. And what is more (you add), as long as we are talking about the trivial, I find the aesthetics pretty good! But why should your reader trust the judgment of someone who has just announced that beauty is a triviality? I agree that the lightning field is not destroyed by the sticks in the landscape, but the cases are hardly similar.

    I am a middle class (barely) guy with no property on the cape. Last saw the place maybe 15 years ago.

  2. joshua sloan

    Just to be clear – I’m not arguing for or against centralized energy. I think it’s a worthwhile debate regardless of the energy source. I do think that – in our present distribution system – wind energy is a better alternative than fossil fuels.

    Also, I did not say the only argument against these windmills is the aesthetic one, but that the only aesthetic argument raised has been that they must be viewed negatively. And “only” is not used to qualify “beauty” in any way. Quite the opposite, it is very important – my view (which you disagree with) relies on a different context to define beauty, which is the foundation of my aesthetic argument.

    Last, I stand by the populist argument – if this were an incursion into a place only visible by people on the lower economic rungs, there never would have been such a protracted battle. I would still have disagreed with the aesthetic argument against the windmills, but most of us don’t have the time or resources to even wage such a battle.

  3. Grenier

    Thanks for the clarification. “People always say, ‘there’s no arguing tastes’,” my good old college professor Nicholas Ozerov used to admonish us. “But that’s not true! It’s precisely taste that one does argue about! Why would one argue about facts?”

    Can we agree that humans as such, rich and poor, appreciate beauty, and even that there is a fundamental human need for beauty? I have argued elsewhere for making beauty accessible to all by emphasizing in our economic life the public instead of the privatized realms–i.e. build great streets instead of great McMansions. Still, it is the defining of beauty that seems to evade us.