AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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100 PHILOSOPHERS 100 ARTWORKS 100 WORDS #66

Philosopher: Aaron Meskin, University of Leeds

Artwork: Oishinbo (1983-2014). Japanese manga series written by Tetsu Kariya and drawn by Akira Hanasaki. Seven thematically-organized anthologies published in English by Viz Media as Oishinbo: A la Carte.

Words: What does the aesthetic appreciation of food consist in? How do various values interact in the domain of food? How can food sustain cultural identity? Some of the most interesting explorations of these issues I know of are found in this gurume (gourmet) manga. The comic is structured around father-son conflict and a long-running menu competition. It is insightful and funny, sentimental and wise. As the artist and gourmet Kaibara Yūzan says in the first volume, ‘The most important thing in raising food to the level of an art form is to touch the hearts of those who eat it.’


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EMERGENT POETRY AND GOOGLE TRANSLATE

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Google Translate’s Emergent Poetry

Some of you will be familiar with computer poetry, poetic compositions generated by computers using algorithms. Some of you may even be familiar with computer prose, as the book The Policeman’s Beard is Half Constructed (text here). There are lots of things to say about this. Who’s the author? Is it really poetry? And what does it say if computer poetry passes the Turing test?

Last week, I stumbled upon something new in this neighborhood, care of Google Translate. You might think this would be generated by inputting something funny (but promising if you think about it) like assembly instructions or political speeches–or even something translated into a different language, then translated back. Instead, this Google Translate poetry takes as input a single, repeated Japanese hiragana character. As you can see above, the returns are surreal and delightful. (For all of these, I’ve used ‘ke’, け.)

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See here and here for more examples.

For a little background, hiragana is a syllabary, so it’s not like Chinese characters where, roughly speaking, each character is a word, and these are subsequently built up into other words. An individual hiragana character can be a word, but this is also true in English with ‘a’ and ‘i’. And, like English, the meaning of the characters are not somehow built into the meaning of any word containing them. (The meaning of ‘a’ is not built into the meaning of all words that contain that letter.)

This fact about hiragana makes the results all the more interesting. In fact, you don’t need to limit yourself to hiragana to get these outputs. At his blog Riddled, Smut Clyde uses all sorts of different repeated syllables and repeated letters to generate such poetry.

You can also get different results by switching up spacing, returns, hyphens, and so on. Here’s an example using spaces.

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The Philosophy

Philosophically speaking, it’s a little different from traditional computer-generated poetry, which often takes a mass of text as an input in order to generate something new and sometimes in a similar style. Here, the program (Google Translate) is not intended to really generate anything. It’s meant to convert some existing meanings into roughly synonymous existing meanings. (It would actually be contrary to the goal if new meanings were created.) But what we see in the above examples is meaning that just sort of emerges out of language goo. It’s as if we’d shaken a tree and its twigs and leaves fell into a meaningful pattern, or if we discovered a poem floating on the top of a bowl of Alpha-Bits cereal. We might end up shaking a lot of trees to find something good, but there is a sense in which we didn’t create the thing that comes out.

I don’t have any position on this stuff. Maybe it’s a collaborative, co-authored work. Maybe we who dub the final thing ‘poetry’ are the real authors. Or maybe it’s just not poetry at all. Maybe there’s nothing philosophically controversial here. But even that would be kind of surprising, I think. In any case it’s a fun example to think about. And so much fun to play around with, too.

I’ll say one thing, after having messed around with it a little bit: As the one who enters the characters, you have some control over what comes out. You can exercise this control to varying degrees, being more hands-on (inserting spaces and punctuation, cutting and pasting, determining which lines are more or less interesting/poetic/provocative) or more hands-off (entering virtually random-length strings punctuated by occasional line returns). The more hands-on it gets, the more it feels like a collaboration, as you get inspired by what excellent random things pop out (“Welcome to the place where you can sit down with your birthday daughter”??). The more hands-off it gets, the more it feels like you’re just stumbling upon some surprisingly meaningful twigs.

Here’s a final challenge (or concession?), in the form of a one-line poem, very poetically using ‘i’ (い):

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– Alex

(via Language Log)


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100 PHILOSOPHERS 100 ARTWORKS 100 WORDS #65

Philosopher: Erin Beeghly, University of Utah

Artwork: Las Hermanas Iglesias, Nude Suits, 2011 – present.  Salvaged acrylic/wool yarn, pre-purposed zippers and buttons, digital prints. In collaboration with the artists’ mother—Bohild Iglesias— who hand knit the nude suits, complete with armpit and pubic hair. The artists—Lisa and Janelle Iglesias—have added embroidered details including birthmarks, scars, and tattoos.

(This project is documented in an on-going series of photographs in different landscapes. The first installment in the series (selected photos included below) was made while on a residency in Tasmania in 2011. Here is an interview with the artists about their work.)

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Words: When I met the Iglesias sisters, they told me: “our mother irons her bed sheets.” It struck me as old-fashioned, charming. As Nude Suits attests, their mother also knits anatomically correct bodysuits for performance art. Look at these photos, and one sees only the daughters. They exude wit; they are off on adventures. Where is their mother? I imagine her creating those second skins—an armor that renders her daughters invincible yet vulnerable. Absent though present, she is complicit in these absurd Eden-esque visions, complicit too in making her daughters’ bodies the site of joyous feminist resistance.


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A BRIEF HISTORY OF BEAUTY

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“Beauty has become a taboo topic among many practitioners of art and design,” writes Michael Spicher (Boston University) in an article for Architecture Boston. “Yet it’s clear we still need beauty in our lives. … People may disagree about which objects are beautiful (or their degree of beauty), but no one seems to disagree that beautiful, pleasurable things exist. We should strive for beauty, so that we may create or experience it.”

Spicher traces the history of thinking about beauty in the West, from its more objective beginnings in Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, to its current status as subjective (at best). Pop on over for a primer!

Image credit: Met Museum, detail from “Maria Louisa of Parma” by Laurent Pécheux (1765)


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PERSONAL AESTHETIC CATEGORIES, THERAPIST EDITION

One of the things I collect is people’s odd little invented aesthetic categories. They’re usually personal, often work-related, and usually arise from a human soul being endlessly confronted with the same set of relationships and experiences, in the work-grind, and trying to cope. I, for example, have a very private list of the most tragicomically overreaching introductory sentences from student papers. (“Since the time of the dinosaurs, man has yearned to define the Quest for Truth.” Etc.)

Here’s a particularly satisfying one I just collected, from a therapist friend who asked to remain anonymous.

6637485987_2e44d66545_z(Photo credit: Peter Barker)

Top ten facial tissue handling patterns by patients engaging in psychotherapy:

1. The relieved post-sobbing messy scrunch ball.
2. The careful triangle; unused.
3. The careful triangle, folded before crying; used for gentle dabbing at gentle tears.
4. The careful triangle, folded after crying to hide the snot.
5. Messy, self-conscious, post-sobbing squares.
6. The anxious rending.
7. The anxious and methodical balling-up into equally-sized tissue balls.
8. The careful pyramid of many tissue scrunch balls.
10. The anxious refraining from using any tissues at all; tears and snot akimbo.

Bonus:

11. The twisting into elegant, anxious tissue rods.”

 

I think I delight in these lists because they’re a place where people get to mess around with their own made-up aesthetic categories. They’re where we get to actually invent our categories for ourself.

They’re in this odd in-between space, for aesthetics. On the one hand, with Official Art Stuff, we tend to appreciate things in terms of historically established and very public categories, like “Grecian architecture” and “Impressionist art”. As Kendall Walton ultra-famously argued, aesthetic appreciation of an artwork crucially depends on which category you perceive it in. The category tells you which features to pay attention to, and which to ignore; it also tells you which features are standard for that category, and which stick out. Total flatness is unremarkable for a painting, but quite bold for a sculpture. On the other hand, for Totally Not Official Art Stuff, we can just ignore any standard and established categories. This is Yuriko Saito’s line, in Everyday Aesthetics – nobody tells us how to aesthetically appreciate housework, we just pay attention to whatever we please, and notice whatever we like.

These little personal categories are something halfway in-between, where we get to play around with the categories themselves, and try on for different ones for size. They’re aesthetic categories that we can tune to our own private interests, cut free from the requirements of art history. And a good one can be weirdly effective for interrogating other people’s aesthetic souls. For example: asking people to list the “best restaurants in the world” tends to yield dullness. But “favorite places to eat when depressed” yields, not only a deep insight into other people’s particular emotional relationship with food, but, when deployed regularly, the beginnings of an understanding of the differences between fine dining, and, say, comfort eating. And the list of “favorite things and places to eat alone” yields something even more interesting: an awareness of how place, eating habits, and socializing interact; an awareness of what kinds of food are convivial and which ones are deeply private pleasures, and what about them makes it so.

 

 


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KENNETH WALDEN WINS THE INAUGURAL DANTO/ASA PRIZE!

Military Symbols 1, Marsden Hartley, ca. 1913–14, Charcoal on paper, 24 1/4 x 18 1/4 in., The MET

The American Philosophical Association and the American Society for Aesthetics are pleased to announce that Professor Kenneth Walden (Dartmouth College) has been selected as the winner of the inaugural Arthur Danto/American Society for Aesthetics Prize for his paper, “Art and Moral Revolution.”

The Danto/ASA Prize, in the amount of $1,000, is awarded to a member of the APA and the ASA for the best paper in the field of aesthetics, broadly understood. In addition, a symposium in honor of the recipient of the prize is held at the APA Eastern Division meeting, normally the next such meeting following the selection of the prize winner. This prize is in honor of the late Arthur Danto, a past president of the APA Eastern Division.

Walden is assistant professor of philosophy at Dartmouth College. His areas of expertise are ethics, epistemology, Kant, and aesthetics. He received his Ph.D. from MIT. Walden has published in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Ethics, Philosophical Studies, and Oxford Studies in Metaethics, with two articles forthcoming at other journals.

The chair of the selection committee said, “Works of art can effect incremental tweaks to our moral concepts or patterns of moral response. Kenneth Walden’s “Art and Moral Revolution” contends that art sometimes goes further, transforming frameworks of moral thought. In the spirit of Arthur Danto, in whose memory this prize is given, Walden advances an ambitious and far-reaching argument through insightful redescriptions of Wagnerian opera and the provocative street performances of the Cynics.”

Original post: http://blog.apaonline.org/2017/06/21/kenneth-walden-wins-the-inaugural-dantoasa-prize/


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ASA 75TH ANNUAL MEETING PRELIMINARY PROGRAM NOW AVAILABLE

The 75th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Aesthetics will be held in New Orleans November 15-18, 2017.

Check out the preliminary program PDF: ASA Preliminary Meeting Program

George Overbury “Pop” Hart, Springtime, New Orleans, 1925, Lithograph;
The MET

REGISTRATION:

  • Early-bird registration is available on-line through October 15.
  • To register on-line (with a credit card), click the red REGISTER button on this page.
  • To receive the discounted ASA member rates, please log into the ASA site FIRST.
  • To mail in registration (with a check), use this form.
  • Early-bird deadline for mail-in registration: postmark by October 10

Everyone on the  program (as a presenter, panelist, commentator, or chair) MUST register for the meeting and MUST be a member of the ASA.

The Wollheim Lecturer at this meeting will be Professor Derek Matravers, Open University, UK.

The ASA will provide:

Highlights:


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CONGRATS TO THE WINNERS OF THE 2017 APA CURRICULUM DIVERSIFICATION GRANTS

ca. 1885, Made in New York, United States, Silk, satin, velvet, and cotton, credit: The Met

The American Society for Aesthetics is pleased to announce the winners of the 2017 Curriculum Diversification Grant competition:

Chris Jenkins, Associate Dean for Academic Support, Oberlin Conservatory
Project:  The Aesthetics of African-American Classical Music
Erich Hatala Matthes, Assistant Professor, Wellesley College
Project: Art and Cultural Heritage
Rossen Ventzislavov, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Woodbury University
Project: The Aesthetics of Performance Art
CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL OF THE WINNERS!!!

Each will receive a grant of $5,000 to prepare the proposed diversity curriculum. These will be posted on the ASA web site in September 2017. This is a project of the ASA Diversity Committee, chaired by Thi Nguyen.

To see the final curricula of the 2015 and 2016 winners, click here.


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ART RULES: CONFERENCE RECAP, DAY 2

Mary-Beth Willard (Weber State) offers pseudo-live-blogging/recap/latergram of
the Art Rules Conference, Day 2

I’ve found (n = a few) that aesthetics conferences have some of the best philosophical audiences and discussions. I am not sure why this has been the case – the small size of the subfield? The somewhat more interdisciplinary nature of aesthetics? Whatever the reason, the participants at Art Rules were no exception. Discussion has been great.
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ART RULES: CONFERENCE RECAP, DAY 1

Mary-Beth Willard (Weber State) offers pseudo-live-blogging/recap/latergram of
the Art Rules Conference, Day 1

Most people know Salt Lake City as “weren’t the Olympics there in 2002?” and some people after mine own heart know it as “Isn’t that the city where Scully was going to be banished in the first X-Files movie?”, but what they don’t know is that the art community in Salt Lake is so generous that the Art Rules: Aesthetic Reasons, Norms, and Standards (May 19-20) conference was held inside of the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art for free.

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An aesthetics conference in an art museum! No one tell them this isn’t a thing.
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