Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

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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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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.)




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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Philosopher: Kọ́lá Abímbọ́lá, (Howard University)

Artwork(s): Ostrich Ethics (i) painting by OrisaWorld Foundation (May 5th, 2017), (II) Odù Ifá poem by the Yorùbá of West Africa (date unknown), (iii) Òrìṣà Music recording by Kọ́lá Abímbọ́lá (May 5th, 2017).

Painting by OrisaWorld Foundation (May 5th, 2017)

Odù Ifá poem

Kọ́lá Abímbọ́lá performs Ifá Kíkí:


Words: “Artistic expression” is often erroneously taken to mean individualist visual forms that are created by the skill and imagination of nameable and identifiable persons. Ostrich Ethics, however, is multifaceted, it is: individualistic and communal; holistic and piecemeal; intellectual and emotional; oral and written; art for art sake as well as heuristics for living; and it is still very much an art form. Or rather, since there are various facets to the work, they are still very much art forms.

Details/Further Information Regarding Ostrich Ethics:

  1. The painting Ostrich Ethics is a rendition of an elegant big bird. It is pleasing to the eye.
  2. Ostrich Ethics is also a poem from Odù Ifá, which is the sacred scriptures of Òriṣà Religion. The denominations of Òrìṣà Religion include: Ìṣẹ̀ṣe, Candomblé, Santería, Lukumi, Ṣàngó Baptists, and many others. There about 500 million practitioners of Òrìṣà Religion all over the world.
  3. Ifá poems are used in Ifá divination as exemplars of ìwà (positive virtues to emulate and negative character traits to avoid).
  4. Odù Ifá has 256 Odù (“Books”) and each Odù has 800 poems, making a grand total of 204,800 poems. Each poem has eight parts: four parts are compulsory in the sense that they must always be rendered exactly in Yorùbá word for word; the optional parts need not be included and, when rendered, they can be performed in various ways.
  5. I have captured the beauty of the compulsory parts of this poem in written form above; and both compulsory and optional parts as Òrìṣà Music, which is a mixture of indigenous Yorùbá music with jazz, hip-hop, and funk—accompanied by percussion and vocal styles.
  6. Each poem is, therefore, an art form that can be appreciated primarily for its beauty or emotional power.

In 2005 UNESCO proclaimed the Ifá Divination System of West Africa as one the sixteen Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritages of Humanity.

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Philosopher: Íngrid Vendrell Ferran, (Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena)

Artwork: Dieter Roth, 1974, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s Work in 20 Volumes


Words: This provocative “neo-dadaist” work is one of the “literature sausages” (Literaturwurst) elaborated by Roth between 1961 and 1974, using traditional sausages recipes but replacing the meat with paper.  In this case, the 20 sausages in question have been fabricated using Hegel´s collected works. How would you feel about seeing the philosophical work of an admired philosopher transformed in sausages?  What is the sense of such a metamorphosis? In my view, the work suggests that some of our deepest philosophical thoughts start as “gut feelings” and have to be somehow “digested” in order to be understood.

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Philosopher: Dr. Martha C. Beck, Lyon College

Artwork: Fences, 2016, American drama directed by Denzel Washington and written by August Wilson, based on Wilson’s 1983 play, Fences

Words: This play exposes the long-term impacts of the deep-seated racism in American society. Its release at the end of 2016, soon after the presidential election, provided an opportunity for Americans to think more deeply about pervasive racism. The movie Loving, written and directed by Jeff Nichols, was released simultaneously. Both movies describe pervasive patterns, the artist by creating archetypes and the docudramatist through a historical event. Audiences should recognize these patterns and try to change. Both artists present citizens with stories that expose the dark side of their societies, hoping to bring about a higher level of civilization.

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Philosopher: Rossen Ventzislavov, Woodbury University

Artwork: Last Year at Marienbad, 1961, directed by Alain Resnais

Words: Last Year at Marienbad” is a cinematic argument for the inscrutability of thought. In the radical absence of plot, actions barely animate the succession of mysterious dioramas. The film’s cold aesthetic appeal—its rhythm of architectural and sartorial chiaroscuro—suggests relationships beyond the visible. But what does it all amount to? If this were merely an elaborate exercise in style, why would it leave the impression that it hides so much? And if it had a deeper meaning, why would it remain so persistently unavailable? What if logic could completely dissolve in the seduction of a cognitive impasse? 

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Philosopher: Anne PollokUniversity of South Carolina

Artwork: Caravaggio, Saint Matthew and the Angel, 1602


Words: Caravaggio’s daring interpretation of St. Matthew captivated me instantaneously. A dynamic mixture of saintly helplessness and angelic sensuality – I longed to experience the original. That hope was squished immediately when I read the description – a lost work of art. Have we really lost the work, or could we save what is essential of it? Its main “idea” is still there in a sensible form, not as a concept, but once removed. It has been over 15 years now that I first felt Caravaggio’s greatness, and that I learned about the loss, and never have I ceased thinking about it.

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Philosopher: Robert Gooding-Williams, Columbia University

Artwork: The Garden, Louise Glück, 1976



Words: The dramatic speaker, a tragic chorus of one, can barely bear to observe a naïve young couple, wanting in awareness of the difficulties that await them, wanting in perspective, and doomed to sadness —a sadness occasioned by departures and separations, even fleeting ones, “even here, even at the beginning of love;” a sadness we may feel free to disregard, falsely thinking that we can secure our relationships against it.  The poem, through its rhythm and tone, conveys the ineluctability of that sadness, thus exemplifying poetry’s power to affect and affectively to form our understanding of the faults that fall between us.

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Philosopher: Maria Brincker, University of Massachusetts-Boston

Artwork: William Kentridge, The Refusal of Time, 2012, 30-minute multimedia installation; Kentridge worked with science historian Peter Galison researching the piece, and collaborators Philip Galison, who composed the score and designed its soundscape, and Catherine Meyburgh, who edited the video.

Words: This installation is a multidimensional reminder of our temporality, yet struggle for permanence. Our being in time as changing organisms, yet agents of lasting effects. Our created contexts of artifacts and cultural domination take center stage – as intricate tools of attempted control and record keeping. Metronomes and breathing sounds make our visceral rhythms loudly present while the power structures of technology and racist colonialism envelop us through a chorus of video clips, shadows, and sketches. “The refusal of time” speaks simultaneously to and about the funk and the intellect, and left me with a gasp and an enduring memory.


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Philosopher: Joshua M. Hall, CUNY, Queenesborough

Artwork: Mark Strand, “Keeping Things Whole,” 1964, poem


Words: This is one of the first poems that taught me that a poem can have the compressed power of an entire philosophical treatise—and that dedicating one’s life to poetry and to philosophy could thus be a single dedication.  The speaker’s main point here suggests Beauvoir’s claim, in The Ethics of Ambiguity, that to be free and to let the rest of the world shine are the same movement.  If absence can beautify, and everyday movement can save, then there will always be much left for us to hope, and much to love in the generous wake of Strand’s absence.