AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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BEAUTY IN STRANGE PLACES: ART FIRST

I met a critic, I made her shit her drawers
She said she thought hip-hop was only guns and alcohol
I said “Oh hell naw!” But yet it’s that too
You can’t discrimi-hate cause you done read a book or two
What if I looked at you in a microscope, saw all the dirty organisms
Living in your closet would I stop and would I pause it?
…Speeches only reaches those who already know about it
This is how we go about it

– André 3000, “Humble Mumble

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What follows is a guest post by Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò.

This blog recently hosted a post on country music which defended country music partly because of its interaction with the class dynamics between the working class people who listen to the style and the broader culture in which they do so. The author of this piece comes close to a trope I’ve noticed in many online discussions of art, which feature people “critiquing” the performative politics of the authors but not the aesthetics.

It seems to me like some people these days think their political judgments should lead their aesthetic judgments. In the last few years I’ve been in more conversations than I care to remember about why this or that music is good or bad based on the politics or political symbolism of the artist or their work – why we should like this music because it’s made by representatives of this or that identity group, or we should hate that music because it’s “cultural appropriation”. And, worse, I’ve gotten through many of these discussions without drums or melody or harmony so much as being mentioned, much less being the focus. Sometimes, I was myself guilty! Third and perhaps worst of all is something I think of as a predictable result of the social environment helped along by the first two things: A lot of people in various artistic mediums seem very interested in discussing and preening the social significance of their work but uninterested in developing the fundamental skills of their craft. So, in the spirit of self-criticism: I want to try to do all of these things less because I think these tendencies are bad for art. By the end of this piece I want to have explained why I think that. Continue reading


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#NOFILTER: PHILOSOPHICAL REFLECTIONS ON PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE AGE OF INSTAGRAM

What follows is a guest post by Daniel Star (Boston University). All photographs are the author’s own. (Readers are encouraged to follow the links in captions for full-size, full-resolution images.)

We’ve all seen it. Maybe we’ve done it. Maybe we’ve “liked” it. Someone takes a snapshot of a wonderful sunset with a smartphone and posts it on a social media site with the “#nofilter” hashtag. This is one of the most popular hashtags on Instagram, and it is now also used widely on Facebook and Twitter. The sunset was no doubt beautiful (sunsets tend to be beautiful), but it’s unlikely that the photograph itself was of a high quality – smartphone shots rarely are, and even a setting sun will tend to blow out highlights (bright regions in images, see below), leaving empty space in part of the photo. Perhaps this doesn’t matter, because the point of such a social media post may not be aesthetic, but rather to simply communicate that a person witnessed a beautiful sunset, and to relay to friends a substitute in the form of a snapshot. And it’s true that applying one of the filters supplied by Instagram is unlikely to have improved the snapshot from an aesthetic point of view (the original aim of using “#nofilter” may have simply been to indicate that one of these filters, in particular, has not been used, but its now much broader pattern of usage strongly suggests its meaning has expanded). Continue reading


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KANYE WEST IS WRITING PHILOSOPHY

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Breaking news:

In an interview with interior designer Axel Vervoordt, Kanye West reveals that he is working on a philosophy book.

I’ve got this new concept that I’ve been diggin’ into. I’m writing a philosophy book right now called Break the Simulation. And I’ve got this philosophy — or let’s say it’s just a concept because sometimes philosophy sounds too heavy-handed. I’ve got a concept about photographs, and I’m on the fence about photographs — about human beings being obsessed with photographs — because it takes you out of the now and transports you into the past or transports you into the future. It can be used to document, but a lot of times it overtakes [people]. People dwell too much in the memories.

I mean, it’s not a ridiculous, uh, concept. But I hope it gets developed a little better than that paragraph suggests. I wonder if he’ll engage with other philosophers and their concepts about photography.

For those curious about his cred in writing something like this: he also drops a “secret weapon”.

This is kind of a little secret weapon that I’ve had on the world: I’ve actually got a Ph.D. from the Art Institute of Chicago.

Well, it’s an honorary degree. But hey, if it gets people thinking about philosophy of photography, that’s something.

Go to Hollywood Reporter for the full interview.


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WHAT MAKES HEAVY METAL HEAVY?

What follows is a guest post by Jay Miller.

One of the great legends of heavy metal music history goes like this:  In the early 1990s, a little known three-piece band from San Jose, California named Sleep worked out a deal with London Records to produce their third album, Jerusalem, which included the rare luxury of maintaining full creative control. Instead, they blew most of the $75,000 advance on custom guitars, high-end amplifiers, and lots of marijuana. During two month-long recording sessions, they recorded a single, hour-long song filled with slow, churning guitars and monotonic chants having something to do with a new race of “Weedians.” Throughout the recording process, the song (which in various forms the band had played live for several years) evolved: it got longer; and, in the words of bassist Matt Pike “It got weird.” Continue reading


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FREEDOM, OPPRESSION, AND BLACK CONSCIOUSNESS IN “GET OUT”

The following post appears as part of a partnership with the APA Blog. The original appears here.

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Having recently viewed Jordan Peele’s award-winning Get Out (2017), political theorist Derefe Kimarley Chevannes was prompted to discuss the film with philosopher Lewis Gordon, whose writings include discussions of race in horror films and literature. Continue reading


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HARD DECISIONS OF A BOOK RESTORER, BY STEVEN HALES

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My parents are antique dealers, and if there is one thing that I have learned from them, it is that people will collect anything: coins, stamps, Tiffany lamps, Victorian salt shakers, gasoline pumps, barbed wire, automobiles, rocks, fossils, Coca-Cola advertising, airline barf bags. I collect rare books. When I was in philosophy grad school at Brown I met Dan Knowlton, the university’s on-staff hand bookbinder, and wound up taking private bookbinding lessons from him for two years. I’ve been a serious hobbyist binder ever since. So I have first-hand knowledge of the kinds of interventions bookbinders do, and what they hope to achieve as a result. Here are a few thoughts about the types of value that collectors are interested in and how restorers (especially bookbinders) maximize or minimize those values. Continue reading


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MORE THAN SKIN DEEP WITH FRANK BOARDMAN

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Frank Boardman interviewed by Roy Cook for AFB

Frank Boardman is is a visiting assistant professor at Worcester State University. Most of his work has been in philosophy, art and rhetoric. He has a completely unwarranted belief that he could also write about parenting, technology or basketball. Continue reading


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NETFLIX AND WILL

Aesthetic weakness of will is usually thought of as an incongruity between one’s judgment about the quality of an artwork and one’s liking for it. If I think the Twilight movies are really bad but I can’t help but like them, that’s supposed to be aesthetic weakness of will. But is liking really a matter of the will? I might be able to take actions meant to diminish my liking for Twilight: carry around a picture of Bella and Edward and look at it every time I feel nauseous, tell everyone I meet that I like Twilight to give them the opportunity to shame me, or deliberately watch the movies more often than I want to so that I become sick of them. If I judge that I should take these actions but then fail to follow through on them, that sounds like weakness of the will. But the liking itself? I don’t think so. In any case, what if my all-things-considered judgment is that I should just go ahead and like whatever artworks I find myself liking, quality be damned? Surely subsequent incongruity between my judgments about a work’s quality and my liking for it would not constitute weakness of the will.

I want to suggest an alternative way of thinking about aesthetic weakness of the will: it’s basically the current business model of Netflix. Continue reading


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BRO-COUNTRY, WALMART COUNTRY, AND AUTHENTICITY

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At her blog, L. M. Bernhardt has written a response to John Dyck’s recent post defending country music. In her post, “…but it’s all right.” she articulates something that worries her about Dyck’s presentation of country music as unsophisticated.

There is an important difference between the music born from the life of farmers and miners and the music that deploys that life as a sign of authenticity for consumers who don’t necessarily live there anymore.

She goes on to explain:

it’s a major feature of contemporary bro-country, which tends to be an assembly-line-produced mess of redneck identity signifiers masquerading as “authentic” country music. A pop-country performer like Brad Paisley (who is good at his job — don’t get me wrong!) bears little to no resemblance to someone like Ralph Stanley or Hazel Dickens. He and his usual co-writers produce songs about country as an identity. Hazel Dickens wrote and sang from it, and I think that makes a big difference — or should make a big difference — in how our aesthetic judgements handle these things. Country music like hers isn’t bad music or unsophisticated music that uses its messiness to signify authenticity — it’s representative of a distinct body of styles with its own natural history and quality markers, which is exactly what constitutes its authenticity.

Readers should check out the whole thing. Bernhardt writes from the perspective of both a performer and a philosopher, and her thoughts on the matter are really interesting.

We’ve given John Dyck the opportunity to respond. His response follows. Continue reading