Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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Aesthetics for Distant Birds:
An Online Workshop Series
Second Meeting – “High, Low, and Middle”

Co-organizers: Aaron Meskin, Jonathan Neufeld, Thi Nguyen, and Alex King (that’s me)

Thanks to everyone who submitted! We had a bunch of great submissions – and just because a paper hasn’t been selected for this round doesn’t mean that you won’t be selected for the next.

We’ve put together a theme for the second workshop: “High, Low, and Middle.” This workshop will be held at 1:30 pm Eastern Daylight Time on June 25, i.e., next Thursday.


As a reminder, each session will consist of a (strict) 10-minute presentation and a (strict) 10-minute Q&A.

1:30 – start

1:35 – “The Middlebrow: An Articulation and Defense”
Jonathan Weinberg (University of Arizona)

Abstract: I articulate a notion of the middlebrow in art, and defend both the utility of the category as a term of criticism, as well as the legitimacy of much of the art that will fall under it. The core idea is that middlebrow art lies at the troubled intersection of accessibility and aspiration. It is designed to be consumable by at least a moderately broad swath of the public, and thus includes many instances of what Carroll has theorized as “mass art”. Yet a middlebrow work will also be designed to aim for higher terms of success than popular art on the whole.

1:55 – Show and Tell Session: “Problems for a Philosophy of Curating”
Klaus Speidel (Lab for Cognitive Research in Art History, Vienna University/University of Applied Arts Vienna)

Abstract: What constitutes an exhibition? In this illustrated talk, I will argue that an exhibition is not constituted solely of objects in a space, but of objects in a space associated to a curatorial narrative. This has important consequences, namely that the same exact ensemble of objects in the same spatial disposition can be a multiplicity of exhibitions. As a philosopher and curator I experimented with the consequences of this idea in three instances, curating a second exhibition within an existing one, simultaneously curating three exhibitions myself and curating three exhibitions with multiple authors. Each work was contextualized differently three times on each occasion.

2:15 – “Clowning and Satire: What’s the Difference?”
Allie Richards (Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy)

Abstract: There is a close connection between clowning and satire. According to Declercq (2018), critique and entertainment are jointly necessary and sufficient conditions for satire. I argue that while many instances of clowning rely on critique and entertainment, these are not sufficient for clowning. There is an additional property that clowns must share that is not required for the satirist, namely the notion of ‘flopping’. In order to highlight this, I compare John Oliver to Sacha Baron Cohen as a test case. I aim to show that while both are satirist, only Cohen is a clown.

2:35 – “For Voyeur Gaming: Why It’s OK to Just Watch, Rather Than Play”
Nathan Wildman (Tilburg University)

Abstract: The phenomenon of voyeur gaming, in the form of watching Let’s Plays and Twitch streams, is often dismissed as silly. Why, say objectors, do you want to just watch somebody else play video games, instead of simply playing yourself? My aim here is to sketch a response to this objection. Specifically, I argue that different forms of LPs have different aesthetic focal points, which support distinct explanations for wanting to watch them. The upshot is that voyeur gaming is (or can be) as aesthetically valuable as watching sport, listening to stand-up, going to a museum, or engaging with a new work of art.

2:55 – “Crossover Culture: The End of Middlebrow”
Bence Nanay (University of Antwerp)

Abstract: What do the following works have in common? The musical Hamilton, Christopher Nolan’s Batman flicks, Lady Gaga’s music, Cirque du Soleil, the novel Gone Girl, Quentin Tarantino’s films, and sitcoms like Seinfeld, Arrested Development or Community. This is a very diverse list, but they all share one important feature: They are trying to appeal to both the most discerning highbrow audiences and the broadest possible lowbrow audiences. This is what I call crossover culture and I argue that it is the most important cultural trend of our times. It is a very different way of combining highbrow and lowbrow than the widely analysed and universally disdained middlebrow. And we can understand a lot about our culture (and society) if we understand crossover culture.

3:15 – wrap-up
3:20 – end

Submissions & Attendance

To submit, follow instructions at our full Call for Abstracts. It’s a rolling deadline, since we’ll be holding a few of these. So whenever you want, submit something! You can also do so directly here.

NOTE: We’ll be doing a special session in July that will be at 9:00 pm Eastern time, to allow for different time zones! That way those of you in Asia and Australasia can join us too!

If you’d like to attend: go here and give us your name and email. Please join us – the more the better! If you’ve already registered for a previous workshop, don’t worry. You’re still on our list.

Zoom links will be sent out via these lists. Please note that, for security reasons, you will have to register additionally through the Zoom link (let’s avoid the icky Zoombombs – we have a schedule to keep!). Looking forward to it!

Previous Workshop: “Aesthetics, Ethics, and Politics”

If you missed the previous workshop, you’re in luck! We recorded it, and it’s available here.



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