Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

A total of thirty-six sepia-tone stills, organized in three rows show a woman walking in a sheer, white dress. While each row shows her from a different angle, the photos within a row look almost entirely identical but for the placement of her feet. In all photos she holds the tail of her dress in her left hand, and raises her other to her head, perhaps shielding her eyes from the sun, her elbow pointing out far to the right.

February 3, 2023
by Aesthetics for Birds
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How Should Literature Mean? A Conversation About Art and Ambiguity

A total of thirty-six sepia-tone stills, organized in three rows, show a woman walking in a sheer, white dress. While each row shows her from a different angle, the photos within a row look almost entirely identical but for the placement of her feet. They look like film stills of her walking. In all photos she holds the tail of her dress in her left hand, and raises her other to her head, perhaps shielding her eyes from the sun, her elbow pointing out far to the right.
Eadweard Muybridge, Plate Number 37. Walking; left hand holding dress, right hand at face, 1887

What follows is an interview by Samara Michaelson.

A few months ago, I asked scholars John Gibson, Magdalena Ostas, and Hannah Kim to have a conversation with me about art and literature. Each of us brought a different perspective to the conversation. We discussed the difference between artistic and philosophical or historical modes of knowledge production, how art engenders or generates meaning, and the relationship between meaning, sense, and “aboutness” in the experience of art.

After sending along a list of questions over email, the four of us met over video and spoke together for an hour and half – and could have talked even longer. Below is an edited version of this conversation, which contains some disagreement, some consensus, and above all, inevitably, more questions than answers.

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January 26, 2023
by Aesthetics for Birds
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Nine Scholars Discuss the Philosophy of Comics

What follows is a roundtable discussion of the new book Philosophy of Comics written by Sam Cowling and Wesley Cray.

To do philosophy of comics is to engage with everything from philosophical aesthetics to cognitive science, from moral philosophy to the history of mass art, and from complex debates in metaphysics to nuanced issues in the ethics of representation. It’s in this spirit that we wrote Philosophy of Comics: An Introduction (Bloomsbury, 2022), and it’s in that same spirit that we’ve looked forward to engaging with the range of philosophers, comics scholars, and artists who graciously agreed to collaboratively engage in this roundtable. (Enormous thanks are also due to Matt Strohl for pulling this roundtable together.)

First, a lightning quick overview of our book! Our goal is not to explore philosophy through comics—that is, using the medium as a lens through which to tackle perennial philosophical questions—but instead to explore, expand, and fortify the growing field of philosophy of comics: that is, philosophical examination of the medium itself, as well as its relations to other social and artistic phenomena. For that reason, the book covers a lot of ground, ranging from social questions (e.g., the ethics of comics pornography, the norms of re-coloring) to artistic questions (e.g., how to approach the relation between comics and literature or the aesthetic evaluation of comics adaptations) to ontological questions (e.g., what kinds of artifacts comics are, what kinds of entities fictional characters are) and more. Our hope is that philosophers will find interest in the investigations into comics, and that comics creators, scholars, and fans alike will find interest in the philosophical explorations.

Our contributors are:

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Five bright, peach-colored flamingos appear from the neck up against a dark green pond in the background.

January 19, 2023
by Aesthetics for Birds
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Top 5 Posts of 2022

A group of flamingos stand in a river, their heads pointed to the side.

Editor’s Note: It’s been a little quieter around here than usual, sorry about that! Let’s get back to it. Up first in 2023…

Thanks to our readers for another great year with us. As we’ve done before, we wanted to dedicate a post to 2022’s most-viewed pieces. Scroll through to make sure you haven’t missed something big. (And check out our Top 5 of previous years: 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020, and 2021.)

Note: As usual, our actual Top 5 by the numbers included some from previous years (including a pair of pieces about vinyl and digital music and a 2021 essay about digital blackface). Below are the most popular five posts that first appeared in 2022.

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Two images Monroe's dress. One before worn by Kardashian, the other after with some crystals missing and stretching around the zipper. An overlayed Tweet reads "Everyone's poling on Kim Kardashian for ruining the Marilyn Monroe dress, but no one said a word when Nic Cage stole the Declaration of Independence."

December 2, 2022
by Aesthetics for Birds
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Lizzo Playing Madison’s Flute and Kim Wearing Monroe’s Dress Are Not the Same

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Lizzo playing Madison’s crystal flute. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

What follows is a guest essay by Elizabeth Scarbrough.

The loudest voices on the internet have had the same response to Lizzo playing James Madison’s crystal flute and Kim Kardashian wearing Marilyn Monroe’s dress: unbridled outrage. How dare she (Lizzo/Kardashian) desecrate a piece of our country’s cultural heritage! Those are precious, irreplaceable items! How will we ever recover!

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A cutesy robot with large, globulous eyes stands proudly amongst its paint brushes.

November 2, 2022
by Aesthetics for Birds
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AI Art is Art

A cutesy robot with large, globulous eyes stands proudly amongst its paint brushes.
Midjourney Painting by G. M. Trujillo, Jr.

What follows is a guest post by G. M. Trujillo, Jr.

Jason Allen recently ignited a firestorm of controversy by winning first place in the Colorado State Fair’s digital art competition. His work, Théâtre D’opéra Spatial, is undeniably beautiful. Its color palette and composition evoke drama. Expressive brush strokes prove care for each element. And the subject—women staring out onto the countryside from a vaguely European but suggestively futuristic ballroom—invites interpretation. Maybe it is a comment on being “kept women”, the anonymous ladies secluded from nature and politics in their artificial home. Or maybe the painting is a comment on class, the wealthy women in the ballroom looking out at rustic people.  But Théâtre D’opéra Spatial is a digital painting generated by AI.

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October 20, 2022
by Aesthetics for Birds
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When Can a Band Cover Their Own Song?

Protestor holds a sign saying "I am" with the word "ready" is pasted overtop the image in postproduction.
Image from Lotus Notes commercial (1999)

What follows is a guest post by P.D. Magnus.

The advent of sound recording has made audiences experience music differently than audiences did for all of history before that. This may sound like a grandiose overstatement, but it’s true. For the last 75 years, popular music listeners have tended to think of songs as belonging to particular recording artists and represented canonically by a particular recording. We think of that as the original recording, and every version after that by anyone else is a cover.

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A dark sky with a few scattered stars fades to a bright pink horizon over dark waters

October 13, 2022
by Aesthetics for Birds
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Sally Haslanger on “Under One Small Star”

A dark sky with a few scattered stars fades to a bright pink horizon over dark waters
“Venus, Jupiter & Aldebaran” by Luis Argerich [source]

My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity if I’m mistaken, after all.
Please, don’t be angry, happiness, that I take you as my due.
May my dead be patient with the way my memories fade.
My apologies to time for all the world I overlook each second.
My apologies to past loves for thinking that the latest is the first.
Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
I apologize for my record of minuets to those who cry from the depths.
I apologize to those who wait in railway stations for being asleep today at five a.m.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing from time to time.
Pardon me, deserts, that I don’t rush to you bearing a spoonful of water. 
And you, falcon, unchanging year after year, always in the same cage,
your gaze always fixed on the same point in space,
forgive me, even if it turns out you were stuffed.
My apologies to the felled tree for the table’s four legs.
My apologies to great questions for small answers.
Truth, please don’t pay me much attention.
Dignity, please be magnanimous.
Bear with me, O mystery of existence, as I pluck the occasional thread from your train.
Soul, don’t take offense that I’ve only got you now and then.
My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere at once.
My apologies to everyone that I can’t be each woman and each man.
I know I won’t be justified as long as I live,
since I myself stand in my own way.
Don’t bear me ill will, speech, that I borrow weighty words,
then labor heavily so that they may seem light. 

This is entry #88 in our ongoing 100 Philosophers, 100 Artworks, 100 Words Series.

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A black man with a crown of thorns and the handle of a gun in his waistband holds a complacent child in his arms while a woman breastfeeds on a bed.

September 22, 2022
by Aesthetics for Birds
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Five Scholars Discuss ‘Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers’

A black man in a crown of thorns and the handle of a gun in his waistband holds a complacent child in his arms while a woman breastfeeds on a bed.
Cover art of Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers

Warning: This interview contains explicit language, including a homophobic slur.

Kendrick Lamar has established himself as an artist of the highest degree. His work centers Black American experiences and life, presenting them in ways that are loving, sympathetic, harsh, shocking, and beautiful. His rap has been widely lauded for its perspective as well as for its musicality and spoken word artistry, and he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his 2017 album, Damn.

But his newest offering, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, has been met with mixed responses. Many listeners find it an impressive and fitting extension of his oeuvre, while others have criticized it for expressing problematic views about trans and queer individuals. Here, five scholars from a variety of disciplines examine the album through their own academic, art critical, and personal lenses.

Our contributors are:

  • E. M. Hernandez, President’s Post-Doctoral Fellow, UC Irvine (they/e)
  • Andrew P. Hoberek, Professor of English, University of Missouri (he/him/his)
  • Tamara Levitz, Professor for Comparative Literature and Musicology and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Comparative Literature, UCLA (she/her/hers)
  • Stephanie Shonekan, Professor of Ethnomusicology and Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, University of Maryland (she/her/hers)
  • Nicholas Whittaker, PhD Candidate in Philosophy, CUNY Graduate Center (they/them/theirs)
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Error message reads "Image not available"

September 15, 2022
by Aesthetics for Birds
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Accessibility and the Problem of Alt Text: Who Is It For and How Could It Be Better?

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What follows is an essay by Aaron Richardson (Simon Fraser University).

One part of the internet is invisible to the sighted, but keenly visible to the blind: alt text. Short for “alternative text,” alt text improves accessibility for blind readers by describing an image textually. That text appears in the code, which can then be read to visually impaired users through a piece of technology called a screen reader. But this text is likely to remain completely hidden to sighted users, except for the relative few involved in coding and composing.

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A man in a suit stares dejectedly at a slightly disheveled woman sitting on a bed.

September 8, 2022
by Aesthetics for Birds
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What Should We Do About Problematic Characters and Their Bad Fans?

A man in a suit stares dejectedly at a slightly disheveled woman sitting on a bed.
Don and Betty Draper in Madmen

What follows is a guest post by Gabriel Thomas Tugendstein (Florida State University).

In a recent episode of HBO’s Barry, Fuches’s caretaker Ana attempts to convince him to forgo his vengeful plans. She relays “the tale of the Bolam-Deela,” a fable about murdered souls who are offered the chance to forgive or haunt their murderer. All but one choose revenge, take on the form of a panther to attack their killer, and eventually find their souls stuck at the bottom of the ocean. The boy who chooses forgiveness is sent to heaven.

Fuches seems distracted. “The vengeance-army-panther thing. How long did it take him to put that together?” he asks. “It didn’t really happen,” Ana tells him, “It’s a morality story. It’s not real.” He looks off to the side, plotting. “But it could be.”

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