Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens today. I suspect many if not most of you will go see it. Hence, I constructed this little guide to some important aspects of the Star Wars saga. Obviously, given both the prevalence of words like “Force” and “Jedi” in the title of this film and the (narrative-wise) previous one, and what we know of the story so far, it seems safe to assume that the nature of the Force, and clashes between different aspects or interpretations of the Force, will be front-and-center in the new film. Hence, I’ve concentrated on some Force-errific trivia tidbits that might be useful in navigating that aspect of the story:

  • Arguably, R2-D2 is the protagonist of the overall Star Wars story. In an interview conducted while filming Return of the Jedi, George Lucas stated that the Star Wars saga was being narrated by R2-D2 to the Keeper of the Journal of the Whills. The Whills are Force-sensitive beings who were revered by holy men known as Shamans of the Whills. For more detail on R2-D2’s role in the saga as a whole, see here.
  • The Whills (or, more specifically, their acolytes) are important too. It was a Shaman of the Whills who taught Qui-Gon Jinn the secret to returning from the dead as a “Force ghost”, and Qui-Gon then passed this knowledge on to Yoda and the surviving Jedi. Baze Malbus and Chirrut Imwe (from Rogue One) were Guardians of the Whills – a group of warrior-monks also connected to the Order of the Whills.
  • Jedi and Sith (and Whills) are not the only powerful Force-users in the Star Wars universe. For example, both the Nightsisters of Dathomir (who played an important role in the Clone Wars) and the Force Priestesses at the Wellspring of Life (who also apparently taught Yoda the secret to returning as a Force ghost) are powerful Force users.
  • Kyber crystals are deeply intertwined with much of the conflict in the Star Wars saga. Kyber crystals are critical components of lightsabers, but they are also used in the super-weapons constructed by the Sith and other dark-side Force users (e.g. Death Stars 1 and 2, and Starkiller Base). Kyber crystals are naturally attuned to the light side of the force. Hence a dark side user must bend a kyber crystal to his or her will, causing it to “bleed” (this explains the red color of Sith lightsaber blades).
  • In addition to the force being divided into the Dark Side and the Light Side (although it is not clear that even this division is exhaustive), the Force (both Light and Dark) is divided into four distinct aspects: The Living Force, the Unifying Force, the Cosmic Force, and the Physical Force. These four aspects are tied to different abilities (e.g., a connection to all living things, the ability to see the future, the ability to come back as a Force ghost, and the ability to move physical objects, respectively). Different Force users typically focus on different aspects of the Force, or even argue that one of these aspects is, in fact, the right way to understand the Force.

Enjoy the film, and may the Force be with you!

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Celine and julie.jpg

still from Céline and Julie Go Boating

There is wide chasm between the importance of Jacques Rivette’s work and the amount of attention it receives in the USA. My aim here is to promote Rivette awareness and provide information and guidance for those who are looking to get into his stuff but unsure of how to proceed.

1. Why Care About Rivette?
2. Chronological Survey
    The Sixties
    The Seventies
    The Eighties
    The Nineties
    The Aughts
3. The Viewing Guide
    Where to Start
    Recommended Viewing Itineraries, organized by degree of hardcore-ness
Appendix: PAL speedup and what to do about it
Continue reading

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Modern Art: A CIA plot?


Short answer: no, but a great clickbait title. Long answer: it’s possible that the CIA promoted abstract expressionism as an expression of soft power, meant to contrast the individualism of American artists with the realism of Soviet-approved art.

Either way, I’m thinking that those philosophers of art who attempt to define art really err when they failed to include “sponsored by the CIA” as one of their criteria…

Image credit: “Flag” (1955) by Jasper Johns at MoMA, photo by Nathan Laurell via Flickr



The following is a guest post by Charles Peterson (Oberlin College).
This is one of three companion pieces that reflect on the ASA’s 75th anniversary. Click here for the first, by A.W. Eaton, and the second, by Paul C. Taylor. See also the ASA Officers’ response letter here.


The age of 75 can signify multiple indicators. At 75 years old, an ant would be ancient. At 75 years old a mountain would be considered infantile in its span and at 75 years old a human being, has lived to a ripe and healthy age. For an academic organization, 75 years is a perfect time to celebrate its longevity and take stock of its future. The American Society for Aesthetics is at this point in regards to the inclusion of diverse scholars and discourses in its proceedings.  The ASA stands at the threshold where its present efforts to open up, encourage and support the presence of women and members from previously underrepresented backgrounds can either move forward, grow and expand or retreat  into exclusivity and marginality.

As has been mentioned by Anne Eaton and Paul Taylor, the steps taken by the ASA at the organizational level, to increase and encourage diversity must be commended. I will not reiterate the efforts described by Eaton and Taylor but will focus on the need for the self-awareness necessary for these efforts to reap real reward.  Too often in these efforts there lay a gap between the programmatic endeavors designed to invite and support diverse populations scholars into mainstream institutions and the response of members of these institutions. These programmatic and organizational efforts are aimed to provide support and access to new members. They show an agency on the part of the organization to be clear about its goals regarding diversity. These efforts also are focused on the recipients of the programming but do not attend to the majority population of the organization. The presence of diverse members and perspectives does not reveal its full import if there is not a true relationship between all members on these issues. The failure for the entirety of the organization to undertake this effort, to in good faith, take up the responsibility of opening up the ASA as a space for true inclusion and intellectual expansion. This failure could lead to the exact opposite of the aforementioned efforts, as members from underrepresented groups make the principled choice to not participate in ASA. This choice is one based on the need to preserve ones health, dignity and integrity. To open up the ASA as a space of inclusivity, a real struggle must be waged. This struggle cannot be thrust exclusively on the shoulders of marginalized members and their allies and must be waged by all members of the organization. This is a programmatic struggle, a discursive struggle and it is an internal struggle that necessarily must be waged by the majority members. To paraphrase Claudia Jones, a founder of the Notting Hill Carnival in London, UK, it means that a struggle for inclusion must be boldly fought in every sphere of organizational interactions so that the open door of institutional membership doesn’t become a revolving door because of the failure to conduct this struggle.

This work, this struggle, must be of the most transformative type, wherein old organizational assumptions, behaviours and privileges must be examined and interrogated. At heart what academic organizations provide are community; for scholars of same or differing minds, for scholars that work in similar or contrasting areas, and for scholars that understand or are ignorant of each other’s, literal or metaphoric, languages. Despite these inconsistencies and divergences, these communities must be steeped in respect for all participants and what they contribute.  This respect, the foundation of community, can only be maintained when all members become self critical of the limits of their experience, understanding and knowledge. To function in the full privilege of the unexamined life, thought and action will only maintain walls between members that seal off the ASA from the rich complexity of difference. If these walls remain unbroken, they become the walls of a self -imposed prison.

It has been my belief that philosophy is a living thing, proactive and reactive, active and mindful, at heart an experience that is fully engaged with the world from which it rises and that it informs. Aesthetics among the sub fields of philosophy may be the most reflective of this belief. Art has long been a reflection of social change, a signifier for the world as it is, could, can and will be. The consideration of art, its forms and practices can do no less than open up to the ways of life. The world we live in, the world in which the ASA finds itself, is one where the old hierarchies, orders and practices are going the way of the mad man. The ASA as organization and its majority members must decide in what direction it will go. Will it embrace the realities of inclusion and diversity, wherein its members embrace and understand the importance of scholars that bring new and different ways of seeing, speaking and being and extend to them the respect they deserve? Or will it become like an object of contemplation, hanging on the walls of a long closed museum, decaying in its chosen irrelevance, atrophying in its unacknowledged limits.

This then is the tipping point, at 75 years the ASA and its membership can engage in an intense self reflection and consciously decide what will the organization be going forward, who will be welcomed and embraced in that future and how room can be made for those fellow travelers. The organization can take seriously the work necessary amongst the membership to craft a real and true community, wherein all feel and are truly welcomed. Or not. Conversely the ASA can look askance at those practices, which offend and insult women and persons of color. The ASA can remain silent on various forms of diversity, as Anne Eaton has noted, disability and class.  It can continue to work at the organizational level and not consider the community itself. These are not small questions, and there are no simple solutions but if the ASA is to take the first steps of the next 75 years as an inclusive and supportive body, its growth and expansion depend on its real ability to create and embody the community it hopes to be.

This is one of three companion pieces that reflect on the ASA’s 75th anniversary. Click here for the first, by A.W. Eaton, and the second, by Paul C. Taylor. See also the ASA Officers’ response letter here.

Notes on the Contributor
Charles Peterson is Associate Professor of Africana Studies at Oberlin College and writes on film, political theory and fronts a cover band for spiritual nourishment. He is a co-editor of De-Colonizing the Academy: African Diaspora Studies (Africa World Press, 2003) and author of DuBois, Fanon, Cabral: The Margins of Elite Anti-Colonial Leadership (Lexington Books, 2007).

Image credit: Untitled Arch at Benbrack summit by Andy Goldsworthy, original photo by summonedbyfells via Flickr.



What follows is a guest post by Paul C. Taylor (Penn State).
[Updated:] This is the first of three companion pieces that reflect on the ASA’s 75th anniversary. Click here for the first, by A.W. Eaton, and the third, by Charles Peterson. See also the ASA Officers’ response letter here.

By the time my father turned 75, he was freely exercising the wide-ranging license to offend that family elders often enjoy. He could say or do pretty much anything, and we would chalk it up to him being set in his ways. We would weigh the costs and benefits of contesting his frequently insensitive and sometimes just rude behavior, or of reminding him of all the considerations that militate against talking about women or Jews or whatever like that anymore. And we would usually decide that discretion was the better part of valour, and we would let him alone.

So on he lumbered, cluelessly, sometimes willfully, out of step with evolving social mores. The good news is that he was mostly harmless, having tucked himself away into a quiet retirement where he neither had nor wanted influence or authority over anyone other than himself.

The American Society for Aesthetics (ASA), 75 years old this year, reminds me of my father. It has an at best uneven relationship to shifting social mores, especially as these bear on behaviours that should be as distant and grating to us as the world of Mad Men. And much as my father assumed he could say whatever he wanted and continue to enjoy the respect and love of his children, some members of the ASA seem to think the organization can both live in the 1950s and win the loyalty of people today. Continue reading



The following is a guest post by A.W. Eaton (University of Illinois-Chicago).
[Updated:] This is the first of three companion pieces that reflect on the ASA’s 75th anniversary. Click here for the second, by Paul C. Taylor, and the third, by Charles Peterson. See also the ASA Officers’ response letter here.


The 75th anniversary of the American Society of Aesthetics is an opportunity to reflect upon both our progress regarding inclusion and diversity and also upon the remaining work to be done. I discuss them here in turn. Continue reading

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The following is a post that appeared originally on the philosophy website Daily Nous as part of their “Philosophers On” series. Thanks to Justin Weinberg for permission to repost it here.

The news over the past several months has been full of revelations of sexual harassment and assault by men involved in arts and entertainment and other fields (for lists of recently revealed cases, see here and here). The cases have brought to the public’s attention a variety of questions concerning power, justice, gender relations, privacy, business practices, and the responsibilities of perpetrators, victims, and bystanders. When it comes to those involved in the arts, most of us come into contact with them largely as consumers, and so it is no surprise that one of the questions many people are discussing is this: How, if at all, should the moral transgressions of those involved in making art change what we think about, and how we act in regard to, their art? Continue reading

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(AfB was way ahead of the game on the 5Pointz lawsuit.  Just saying.)

So the jury’s back with a recommendation, and the jury has decided that when Gerald Wolkoff whitewashed the graffiti mecca at 5Pointz, he broke the law; under VARA, he should have given the artists sufficient notice so that they could preserve or remove their artwork.  The judge gets the final say on the verdict and on any penalty, but the jury’s decision is still a big deal, as this marks the first time that VARA has been decided by a jury in court.

The artists argued, under VARA, that their work was of reasonable public stature, and so they needed to be given 90 days notice.  If the news reports are correct, the lawyers for the developer argued that VARA was irrelevant, because the case concerns property, and presumably they argued that street art didn’t qualify for VARA.

I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on the Internet, but I wonder if this was the wrong way to argue the case.   Because it seems that if the jury believed that the works at 5Pointz were artworks, then it looks like VARA has to apply; the artwork is well-recognized.  If they’re not artwork, then it’s just a question of property.

I suspect, however, to the average person, 5Pointz is art.    Maybe it’s not art they like, or art they understand, or art they respect, but art all the same. Better, perhaps, to concede that 5Pointz is artwork, but ephemeral artwork of a kind that has no claim on civic protection.  Street art must change with the city.

Image Credit: Aaron Harewood (5pointz graffiti) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons