Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

Art and Cultural Heritage (ASA Diversity Syllabus #1)


hendersonThe American Society for Aesthetics has sponsored the development of new, annotated reading lists, with an eye to increasing diversity. These are intended for use in teaching, but would make a great reading list for curious minds!

These are publicly available at the ASA website, but Aesthetics for Birds has asked the designers of these reading lists to provide us with brief overviews of what we can find in the documents. That way you, our readers, have a better idea of what you are looking at and what you might want to look for.

First up is “Art and Cultural Heritage” [link to pdf] by Erich Hatala Matthes.

What do Michael Kors, Hobby Lobby, the Whitney Museum, Urban Outfitters, Iggy Azalea, and the Islamic State have in common? They have all been involved in moral controversies concerning art and cultural heritage. The rights and wrongs of the use, control, and preservation of cultural heritage in the arts receive substantial attention in both popular and arts-focused media. Yet, as a string of op-eds about cultural appropriation in the New York Times and Washington Post makes manifest, public debate about these topics is often uninformed and ideological. It is an arena ripe for philosophical intervention.

The majority of the students who I have the pleasure of teaching in my philosophy of art courses at Wellesley are not philosophy majors. They hail from all areas of campus, and include economists, geoscientists, mathematicians, and, of course, a healthy dose of artists and art historians. So one of my primary goals in teaching courses about philosophy and the arts is to equip these students with skills and perspectives that will allow them to construct informed, thoughtful, and rigorous arguments about the many public controversies surrounding the arts. The curriculum on Art and Cultural Heritage (generously supported by a Curriculum Diversification Grant from the American Society for Aesthetics) is designed to aid others in that task as well.

In it, you will find four modules: 1) Cultural Property and Repatriation; 2) Cultural Appropriation; 3) Preservation, Restoration, and Authenticity; and 4) Representation and Display. While there is significant overlap among the topics, my hope is that carving up the readings in this way offers a number of different access points to the literature on these themes. You will find readings by philosophers, but also philosophically rich pieces by legal scholars, cultural theorists, art historians, and artists. The readings represent a broad range of positions and angles on the topics, but they are united in their careful and thoughtful approach. My hope is that the readings in this curriculum will provide a philosophical grounding for interested faculty, students, artists, museum staff, and (dare I dream?) op-ed columnists, so that we can raise the level of debate surrounding the moral and political dimensions of art and cultural heritage.

Stay tuned for more in this series.

Image credit: “Horse and Rider (Henderson Ledger Artist A),” Frank Henderson (Hinono’eiteen (Arapaho)), 1862, via The Met

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