Environmental Aesthetics in the Postwar University will outline the Cambridge, Massachusetts, scene in the 1960s as a hotbed for environmental aesthetics. Specifically, it will comprise a case study on the significance of the Visual and Environmental Studies (VES) program at Harvard, founded in 1968 by the architectural historian Eduard Sekler and the designer Albert Szabo. In concert with the nearby Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the VES took the mutual influence of man and environment as its primary concern. These two programs not only helped legitimize the arts within the contemporary research university, but placed art psychology at the center of their theoretical programs. Despite their championing of the new artistic practices, their passion for order and creativity placed them in direct conflict with a younger generation of environmental artists such as Robert Smithson, who took a skeptical approach to the social ethos of the VES.
Melissa Ragain is assistant professor of art history at Montana State University. Her research interests include modern and contemporary art, criticism, and the history of science, especially psychology and ecology. Her edited collection of Jack Burnham’s writing, Dissolve into Comprehension: Writing and Interviews, 1964–2004, is forthcoming from MIT Press in August of 2015. Her book project Viewers, and Other Animals: Art Psychology and Formalism after WWII, describes the curious development of contemporary environmental aesthetics out of formalist theories of perception. She has written for Art Journal, X-TRA, ARTLIES, Criticism, and Inform magazine. She was a Core Critical Studies Fellow at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston in 2010–2011.