AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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IS ALEX JONES REALLY A PERFORMANCE ARTIST? WHO CARES.

Performance art has always inhabited an ambiguous space between everyday behavior and marked-off ‘art’ behavior.

And now ultra-conservative Infowars’ Alex Jones says that his vitriolic on-air personality is performance art. He refers to a recent incident as “clearly tongue-in-cheek and basically art performance, as I do in my rants, which I admit I do, as a form of art.”

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screenshot from this video on Jones’ YouTube channel

Now everyone is talking about whether or not he’s a performance artist.

My first reaction is: Hell no. Performance art does not justify fake news or the awful stuff he says. (And really, “clearly tongue-in-cheek”? Is that the conspiracy theory stuff that’s tongue-in-cheek? Or is that the threat-laden, insult-ridden veneer that’s tongue-in-cheek? In either case it seems doubtful, given the clearly not tongue-in-cheek followers he’s amassed.)

But that’s actually not the direction of this inquiry. He’s engaged in a custody battle. He’s claiming that his aggressive Infowars persona doesn’t make him an unfit to parent his children.

So, wait, why does it matter if it’s performance art or not?

Attorney Randall Wilhite told state District Judge Orlinda Naranjo that using his client Alex Jones’ on-air Infowars persona to evaluate Alex Jones as a father would be like judging Jack Nicholson in a custody dispute based on his performance as the Joker in “Batman.” (link)

As far as I can tell the argument goes like this: If it’s performance art, then it’s all a show and deep down he doesn’t actually harbor these violent tendencies, so probably he doesn’t treat his kids the way he treats people on his show and stuff. But if it isn’t performance art, then he is awful and probably does threaten to break his kids’ necks and whatever.

Let’s all take a deep breath and do a little philosophy here.

Thesis: It doesn’t matter if it’s performance art.

Suppose it is performance art. That still doesn’t answer any of the questions one cares about. Maybe Marina Abramovic does stare in uncomfortable silence at people sitting across the table from her, even when she’s not in museums! So it’s still an open question whether, even if performance art, his behavior is any evidence of his personality outside his “art”.

But we can also raise the same questions even if the job in question isn’t some sort of performance art. Compare:

  • Someone who works at a slaughterhouse. Should we be concerned that they go home and slaughter their pets?
  • Someone who works as a social worker or therapist. Should we think they go home and constantly listen to their partner’s or children’s problems?

Does working at a slaughterhouse/being a therapist make these respective behaviors more likely? Maybe; maybe not. (I’m going to say not, at least in the former case…)

The point is: We don’t have to talk about performance art at all to think through those questions.

Is Jones’ Infowars persona evidence that he is a bad parent? This is where the real debate should be. And invoking performance art will simply not resolve that debate either way.

Conclusion: Maybe he is awful to his kids; maybe he isn’t. But the issue of performance art is neither here nor there, and is a ludicrous defense. But then again I’m no lawyer, just a philosopher. And maybe a performance artist, although I doubt it.

See more:


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THE METAPHYSICS AND LINGUISTICS OF EMOJI

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screenshot from the comic “Want A New Emoji?” by Andy Warner

Some Philosophical Questions about Emoji

First, let’s be clear about what we’re talking about. “Emoji(s)” are things like this: [😀🤔], not emoticons like : ) or (T_T) or ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ or ㅇㅅㅇ. (Note: in this post, emoji will be flagged by square brackets so that if you can’t see them, you’ll at least know roughly what you’re missing.)

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Thank you, Wikipedia

A Brief History of Emoji:

  • introduced in 1995 by Japanese telecom company Docomo
  • first emoji: ❤
  • then, another 175 followed
  • 2011: Apple introduced them…
  • soon after, everyone else did too

See the awesome comic “Want a New Emoji?” by Andy Warner and this Vice video for more.

Now, some philosophical questions about emoji and my unsupported hot take on the answers.

Metaphysics

Are the different Apple-Google-Samsung emoji different emoji instances or genuinely different emoji? What is an emoji?

I guess the different emoji in the first image are probably just instances of one emoji, since emoji are individuated by their Unicode numbers and coarse-grained descriptions (like “Smiling Cat Face with Heart-Shaped Eyes” or [😻]). But then, the emoji isn’t itself just the number or just the description. Emoji are pictographs and Unicode numbers are not pictographs, nor are descriptions. So emoji need a particular pictographic manifestation.

Maybe it’s a type-token relationship or a determinable-determinate relationship. I bet it’s like whatever we call the relationship between a piece of music and its score. … Maybe. I have no idea; I don’t really do metaphysics.

Whatever we say, this seems pretty important:

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from “Investigating the Potential for Miscommunication Using Emoji“, a computer science and engineering study by Hannah Miller

Also, is : – ) the same as : ) ? Are these the same as (^_^)? And are these the same as ☺ and [😊]?

Yes, no, no. Or maybe: yes, yes, yes. But definitely not: no, yes, yes.

Language

Do emoji have semantic content? Can a string of (only) emoji be propositional? Are emoji words? Do they constitute a bona fide language?

Yep, I’m going to say they definitely have semantic content, although they are also used as a kind of prosody (e.g., to indicate sarcasm or other emotional punctuation). And sure, a string can be propositional. Here are two easy one-emoji string examples: [👍] or [🤝] = Sounds good, Okay, Deal. That said, it’s probably underdetermined in most cases, and most strings are, like all emoji, going to be highly subject to context, as well as idiolect or dialect variation.

Emoji can function as nouns (I want [🍕]) or verbs (I [❤] you) or interjections ([😲])… etc. Are they words? Well, I don’t know really what a word is, but Oxford Dictionaries* seems to think so, so let’s say yes.

The poverty of dedicated – or even roughly standardized syntax (e.g., I bet word order emoji order varies between SVO and SOV languages) is going to make calling it a language – at least a standalone one – pretty difficult, though. And can a system be a language if it has to be parasitic on another, standalone language? I would have thought no, but I don’t know. Maybe this is a counterexample?

*[😂], “Face with Tears of Joy”, was named Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year in 2015.

Now what?

Philosophers: really, NO results??

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We need to get on this. I guess that, for now, I will have to content myself with Language Log archives and other random amusing things online. [😂😂😂]

– Alex


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ARTISTIC REPRESENTATIONS OF PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT

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There’s a post over at the general interest philosophy blog Daily Nous that might be of interest to our readers. Susanna Berger, assistant professor of art history at the University of Southern California, has posted an excerpt adapted from her book, The Art of Philosophy: Visual Thinking in Europe from the Late Renaissance to the Early Enlightenment (Princeton University Press, 2017).

From Berger:

I show how their inventive iconography inspired new visualizations of thought in a range of drawn and printed sources, including student lecture notebooks, printed books, and alba amicorum (friendship albums). The book culminates with a new study of the celebrated frontispiece to Hobbes’s Leviathan. I argue that previous accounts of the print have failed to capture the full complexity of this etching and offer a new, if complex, account of this famous image—one which emphasizes the process of the state’s generation. Artists and philosophers invested significant amounts of time and money in the creation of philosophical visual representations and we must take these contributions to their thought seriously if we wish to understand their ideas in all their complexity and richness.

Check it out!

Image credit: 15th c. Italian engraving “Geometria XXIIII” from MET Collection


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VAPORWAVE AND MUSIC THEORY

Are music recordings their own type of musical instrument?

How does timbre (vs. pitch, harmony, etc.) affect musical experience?

What, really, is the point of music theory?

And is vaporwave really dead? (Do you, Dear Reader, not yet know what vaporwave is – or was?)

All these questions and more are addressed in this excellent video (from 2016 that I just discovered…) by YouTuber and musician Adam Neely.

 


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CAN #SELFIES BE ART? SAATCHI SAYS YES

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I’m going to go ahead and say Saatchi isn’t really that cutting edge on this one. People have been doing self-portraits for a long-ass time. Maybe those don’t count as “selfies” though?

In any event, the famous Saatchi Gallery will host a show this spring called “From Selfie to Self-Expression”. This is funded together with the enormous Chinese telecom company Huawei. (Hm, I wonder why they’d be interested in selfies.)

Maybe most exciting is for those artistic sorts who read the blog: You can enter your own selfie for a chance to be shown at Saatchi!

They’re currently holding a selfie competition (entry rules here), open until March 12, 2017. You have to submit images via their website interface. For whatever reason, you can’t just post an Instagram with the #SaatchiSelfie hashtag and be entered. Although they do want you to use that hashtag on Twitter, Instagram, etc.

Or you can just scope out the current entries.

From the website: “Winners will receive Huawei’s latest smartphone and have their selfies showcased at the Saatchi Gallery as part of Selfie to Self-Expression.” Even if you weren’t jonesing for the newest line of Huawei phones, being part of a Saatchi show would be pretty cool.

The show will run from March 31, 2017 – May 30, 2017.

Image: Rembrandt, Self-Portrait (1660), courtesy of The Met Collection


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YouGov SURVEY ANSWERS PERENNIAL QUESTION: CAN VIDEO GAMES BE ART?

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Survey says… No. 😥

But tattoos can be, and many other things.

Internet-based market research company YouGov asked over 1500 Brits whether they thought various mediums could be art.

Their results:

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Unsurprisingly, results varied a lot across age groups, and some across class. Take a look at YouGov’s write-up of these surveys, and their detailed survey results. This updates some older results they got in 2014.

Well, I guess we can shut things down around here. Thanks to everyone for playing!

p.s. But seriously, stay tuned for the next JAAC x AFB Discussion on this beloved non-art-form. We’ll be discussing Grant Tavinor’s JAAC paper “What’s My Motivation? Video Games and Interpretive Performance”.

Photo credit: Ryan Quick, The Art of Video Games via Flickr


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MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN: GOVERNMENT EMPLOYED ARTISTS!

1936 or 1937 poster. Image via Library of Congress on Flickr.

1936 or 1937 poster. Image via Library of Congress on Flickr

 

Check out one way we could make America great again by reading a new article up on Artsy, written by Tess Thackara: “What We Can Learn from the Brief Period When the Government Employed Artists”. Learn about how the Works Progress Administration (WPA) supported artists and diversity in the arts for a brief time in American history…


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CITIZEN TRUMP: AN INAUGURATION DAY SPECIAL FROM AFB

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Did you know that Donald Trump’s favorite movie is Citizen Kane?

Did you know that the famed film director (and one-time Berkeley philosophy PhD candidate) Errol Morris interviewed him about it?

And did you know that LitHub’s Anthony Audi interviewed Errol Morris about that?

On Rosebud, Morris recalls:

It’s fun to hear Trump talk about how Rosebud somehow works, the metaphor works, “I don’t know why it works, but it works. After all, Steven Spielberg paid a lot of money for it, so it must work. Paid a lot of money, maybe seven figures, six figures.”

This comment is in reference to Spielberg’s having purchased the sled used in the film for $60,500 in 1982. (In fairness, that is six figures in 2008 dollars – about $135k.)

Humor aside, Trump seems to be suggesting an aesthetic theory on which money is evidence of – or perhaps constitutive of – quality. (Surprising, I know.)

Check out the video of Morris’ 2008 interview with Trump below:

The interview contains some intriguingly vulnerable moments. (“Wealth does in fact isolate you from other people. It’s a protective mechanism.”) But also some classic Trump.

Morris: “If you could give Charles Foster Kane advice, what would you say to him?”

Trump: “Get yourself a different woman.”

One last gem of Morris’ from the LitHub interview:

I have this concept based on possible revisions to the DSM V, the diagnostic manual for American psychiatry, and I was going to call it Irony Deficit Disorder: the absolute inability to appreciate irony on any level whatsoever, particularly when the irony involves oneself.

To find out more, follow the above links or check out these articles:

Excellent meme via @laurenweinstein on Twitter


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POET ANSWERS STANDARDIZED TEST QUESTIONS ABOUT HER POETRY – INCORRECTLY.

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I must alert you to an awesome piece by poet Sara Holbrook on HuffPo, where she explains that Texas used two of her poems for middle school standardized tests.

Holbrook:

  • receives an email from a distressed teacher who doesn’t understand the answers
  • discovers poor formatting that adds to the confusion
  • finds the questions in question
  • cannot, ultimately, answer them

The narration of her thought process going through the questions is also delightful.

At one point, she writes:

Parents, educators, legislators, readers of news reports: STOP TAKING THESE TEST RESULTS SERIOUSLY

Idiotic, hair-splitting questions pertaining to nothing, insufficient training, profit-driven motives on the part of the testing companies, and test results that simply reveal the income and education level of the parents.

All very fair. But then a bit of intentionalism to finish it all off!

My final reflection is this: any test that questions the motivations of the author without asking the author is a big baloney sandwich. Mostly test makers do this to dead people who can’t protest. But I’m not dead.

I protest.

Whoa – okay. Now the little dose of philosophy:

She definitely thinks she has the final word on how her poetry is interpreted! But like, does she really? Maybe she’s a good poet but a bad interpreter. (I’ll admit that the questions and answers do in fact seem a little silly. And I’ll be the first to throw down about how terrible standardized testing is.) But in principle, there’s no reason to think that just because she can’t answer the questions, they’re bad questions. Right? What do you guys think?

Go read the whole thing on Huffington Post.

Image credit: t-shirt design via Fashionably Geek – sorry little birdies, it looks like it’s sold out! 😥


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VENGEANCE IN BRIGHT PINK

You might think that you can’t, like, own a color, man.

But you’d be wrong. (And actually you’d have been wrong for a while. See Yves Klein Blue.)

Context: Maybe you remember the dustup earlier this year when superstar artist Anish Kapoor acquired the exclusive rights to (artistic) use of Vantablack, the blackest black in the world. Check it out:

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you can totally see through your screen that it’s the blackest black in existence, right?

Snarky remarks aside, it seems to make the aluminum look downright velvety. Artists were (reasonably) pissed about not being able to use this.

One such artist took revenge. Stuart Semple has developed the pinkest pink in existence. Check it out:

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it’s definitely pinker than this image can depict

And he’s making it available to everybody except Kapoor. Even you* can go grab a jar for £3.99.

*Unless you’re Anish, in which case, wow! We’re super flattered. Click-like-share this blog with your friends!

He’s also developed the glitteriest glitter, which is about twice the price of the pinkest pink, and also available to anybody except Kapoor.

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so why is everybody just talking about the pink?

Real questions: Are these really the pinkest pink and glitteriest glitter? On what sort of scale? Is this just a publicity stunt? Was what Kapoor did just a publicity stunt? Does any of that matter? And is it a problem for the future of art, now that you can actually own certain colors? Or is it no big deal?

Read more:

Images credits: (1) via Wikimedia Commons; (2) and (3) via CultureHustle, Stuart Semple’s website