Our Favorite Archetypal Landscape - Denis Dutton, TED

 Denis Dutton  is a philosopher... He is the head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Dutton is from Los Angeles, California and was educated at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He taught at several US universities before emigrating to New Zealand (like my dear friend, Louisa, did...)

 In his book The Art Instinct, Dutton suggests that humans are hard-wired to seek beauty.  He gave a talk at TED on THE DARWINIAN THEORY OF BEAUTY and referred to the Atavistic Archetypes of Beauty....Here is an excerpt from his talk where Dutton describes the archetypal landscape that we all seem to prefer over any other:

“Consider briefly... the magnetic pull of beautiful landscapes.

People in very different cultures all over the world tend to like a particular kind of landscape, a landscape that just happens to be similar to the Pleistocene savannas where we evolved.

Savanna, Uganda - Ruwenzori Mountains
This landscape shows up today on calendars, on postcards, in the design of golf courses and public parks and in gold-framed pictures that hang in living rooms from New York to New Zealand.

It's a kind of Hudson River school landscape (I love this - I live in the Hudson River Valley)  featuring open spaces of low grasses interspersed with copses of trees.

Oak Savanna

The trees, by the way, are often preferred if they fork near the ground, that is to say, if they're trees you could scramble up if you were in a tight fix.

The landscape shows the presence of water directly in view, or evidence of water in a bluish distance, indications of animal or bird life as well as diverse greenery

forest near Killarney, Ireland

and finally -- get this -- a path or a road, perhaps a riverbank or a shoreline, that extends into the distance, almost inviting you to follow it.

Kenyan Highlands - North of Nanyuki

This landscape type is regarded as beautiful, even by people in countries that don't have it.

San Francisco Park

The ideal savanna landscape is one of the clearest examples where human beings everywhere find beauty in similar visual experience.”

Rift Valley, Kenya near Kaptagat

Here is a wonderful animated version of his talk. Its a little long...but a lot of fun with the animated graphics:


  1. This has got to be one of the most exciting posts I have ever read. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. wow! Allan, thank you so much for that! TED is the best source for inspiring thoughts that I have found...

  3. Denis - how happy I am that you commented! Keep up the great work. My best friend emigrated to NZ ...all the great ones seem to do that...

  4. now that is totally inspiring. i love the analysis on what specific aspects of a vista are universal and considered beautiful. how wonderful that our sense of visual beauty crosses all borders. thank you for sharing that!
    i just started a blog on outdoor spaces, but have not ventured into exploring their metaphysical messages and meanings...something to consider!
    my blog: lagunadirt.blogspot.com.

  5. Hi, Interesting post. Other work in this area undertaken by landscape practitioners concerns prospects and refuges, where we seek safe sanctuary (perhaps a garden) but also prospect (views) over the landscape...Best Regards, Tim

  6. Jan - Just came across your wonderful blog looking for info. about this TED talk. The fact that you've quoted it, and the kind of things you post tell me we have a good deal in common. (I just followed one of your links, also from 2010, to a very well written post about seeing the small in the big and vice versa). So, just wanted to introduce myself and applaud what you're doing here. If you'd like to see what I'm doing, there should be a link to my blog, One Man's Wonder, from my name above. (Also emailed you.)

  7. Thank You Jeffrey!
    I will check out your blog right away! I vacillate from gardening 'how tos' to grand overarching thoughts...

    but, then again, doesn't everyone?


Post a Comment

Hi there! I would love to hear from you....

Popular Posts of all Time

Angelface Blue and Dark Violet Angelonia - a Flower that Keeps Giving

Planting Design for Dry Gardens by Olivier Filippi

'Purple Smoke' - The best Baptisia

No-Fail Tips for Turning Hydrangeas Blue!

Repurposed and Recycled - Creative Ideas for Garden Design

The Magnificent Purslane - Edible Landscaping at its best!

My one day Class Wednesday April 16 in NY - Jan Johnsen

The Tradition of Hanami - Cherry Blossom Viewing in Japan