New York's Central Park is one of the world's iconic works of landscape architecture. The park has achieved global recognition through its representations in film and photography, it is visited by millions every year and every sunny day sees a procession of engaged or newly married couples having their official photographs taken against the background of its picturesque scenery and monumental structures.
In the twenty-first century it may sound slightly odd to consider Central Park as a form of gardening, but the eighteenth-century founders of modern aesthetics and the philosophy of art would have called it a garden or park. Horace Walpole spoke for the age in saying that "poetry, painting & gardening, or the science of landscape, will forever by men of taste be deemed three sisters, or the Three New Graces who dress and adorn nature.” Walpole was thinking of the great English landscape gardens or parks constructed on private estates. Poets like Alexander Pope and critics like Joseph Addison were enthusiastic designers whose poetry and prose explored the meanings of the art. In Immanuel Kant's Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790), generally taken to be the founding text of modern aesthetics, landscape gardening is classified as a form of painting, which differs from the two-dimensional canvases we respectfully visit in museums only in its use of the medium of actual plants, land, water, and sky.
Copyright © 2011 Wiley-Blackwell. This book chapter first appeared in Gardening - Philosophy for Everyone: Cultivating Wisdom.
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Shapiro, Gary. "The Pragmatic Picturesque: The Philosophy of Central Park." In Gardening - Philosophy for Everyone: Cultivating Wisdom, edited by Dan O'Brien, 148-160. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.