AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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“OLD TOWN ROAD”: COUNTRY OR NOT?

Soon after Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” debuted in December 2018, it quickly rose to the top of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs. But in March of 2019, Billboard removed the song from the country chart, claiming that it had been wrongly classified as country. The track went on to top the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, staying there for a record 19 weeks. But a debate remained about whether Billboard’s claim was right. Is “Old Town Road” a country song or not? Continue reading


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GETTING PAST FORM: ON THE VALUE OF LITERARY IDEAS

 

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What follows is a guest post by Patrick Fessenbecker.

In a recent column in The New York Times, Ross Douthat contends that English professors aren’t having the right kind of arguments. Reflecting on the analysis of the decline of the humanities in a series of essays in the Chronicle of Higher Education over the last year, Douthat makes a familiar diagnosis: the problem is that we literature professors no longer believe in the real value of the objects we study. Engaging Simon During’s account of the decline of the humanities as a “second secularization” in particular, Douthat argues that secular attempts to defend the humanities will fail just as surely as secular attempts to defend religious ethics and norms did: it doesn’t work unless you really believe in the thing. Correspondingly, the debates literary scholars are having about how to expand the range of texts and subjects we teach are premised on a basic mistake about what such an expansion involves. As he puts it:

This should, by rights, be a moment of exciting curricular debates, over which global and rediscovered and post-colonial works belong on the syllabus with Shakespeare, over whether it’s possible to teach an American canon and a global canon all at once. Instead, humanists have often trapped themselves in a false choice between “dead white males” and “we don’t transmit value.”

In other words, we ought to be in the business of considering how our conceptions of value and their application should change as scholars recognize the incredible cultural wealth inherent in the diversity of the world. But instead we’re caught between reactionary conservatism and nihilistic critique. Continue reading


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CULTURE WARS AND NATIVE AMERICAN LITERATURE IN LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS

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Adrian L. Jawort, a Northern Cheyenne Two Spirit journalist and writer, has written a piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books in which they reflect on the critical reception of two young adult novels by Native American author Rebecca Roanhorse.

The controversy: Roanhorse is a member of the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo tribe, but her novels feature a Diné (Navajo) protagonist, and center on events in Dinétah, the traditional land of the Diné people. The problem came in the form of a 2018 letter, signed by 14 Navajo writers, that accused Roanhorse of appropriating another tribe: “Trail of Lightning is an appropriation of Diné cultural beliefs.” Continue reading


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KANYE WEST IS WRITING PHILOSOPHY

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Breaking news:

In an interview with interior designer Axel Vervoordt, Kanye West reveals that he is working on a philosophy book.

I’ve got this new concept that I’ve been diggin’ into. I’m writing a philosophy book right now called Break the Simulation. And I’ve got this philosophy — or let’s say it’s just a concept because sometimes philosophy sounds too heavy-handed. I’ve got a concept about photographs, and I’m on the fence about photographs — about human beings being obsessed with photographs — because it takes you out of the now and transports you into the past or transports you into the future. It can be used to document, but a lot of times it overtakes [people]. People dwell too much in the memories.

I mean, it’s not a ridiculous, uh, concept. But I hope it gets developed a little better than that paragraph suggests. I wonder if he’ll engage with other philosophers and their concepts about photography.

For those curious about his cred in writing something like this: he also drops a “secret weapon”.

This is kind of a little secret weapon that I’ve had on the world: I’ve actually got a Ph.D. from the Art Institute of Chicago.

Well, it’s an honorary degree. But hey, if it gets people thinking about philosophy of photography, that’s something.

Go to Hollywood Reporter for the full interview.


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BRO-COUNTRY, WALMART COUNTRY, AND AUTHENTICITY

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At her blog, L. M. Bernhardt has written a response to John Dyck’s recent post defending country music. In her post, “…but it’s all right.” she articulates something that worries her about Dyck’s presentation of country music as unsophisticated.

There is an important difference between the music born from the life of farmers and miners and the music that deploys that life as a sign of authenticity for consumers who don’t necessarily live there anymore.

She goes on to explain:

it’s a major feature of contemporary bro-country, which tends to be an assembly-line-produced mess of redneck identity signifiers masquerading as “authentic” country music. A pop-country performer like Brad Paisley (who is good at his job — don’t get me wrong!) bears little to no resemblance to someone like Ralph Stanley or Hazel Dickens. He and his usual co-writers produce songs about country as an identity. Hazel Dickens wrote and sang from it, and I think that makes a big difference — or should make a big difference — in how our aesthetic judgements handle these things. Country music like hers isn’t bad music or unsophisticated music that uses its messiness to signify authenticity — it’s representative of a distinct body of styles with its own natural history and quality markers, which is exactly what constitutes its authenticity.

Readers should check out the whole thing. Bernhardt writes from the perspective of both a performer and a philosopher, and her thoughts on the matter are really interesting.

We’ve given John Dyck the opportunity to respond. His response follows. Continue reading


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BLACK PANTHER AND CROSSPLAY: WHY COSPLAY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOU THINK

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In a post for the Oxford University Press Blog titled “Cosplay is Meaningless”, G.R.F. Ferrari, a professor of Classics at Berkeley, argues that cosplay is just about perfecting the art of dress-up. He writes:

Cosplayers … are not out to intimate something about themselves, or, for that matter, about anything else.

As an occasional cosplayer myself, I have to say that I couldn’t disagree more with what Ferrari says. Cosplay is much more aesthetically, socially, and personally important than he gives it credit for. Continue reading


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COLOR VISION AND ART

 

What are colors, really? If we see colors differently than bees do, does that mean that colors aren’t real? Should we take into account the fact that some painters are color blind?

Issues like this have occupied painters since at least the 20th century. Josef Albers wrote extensively about color theory and his paintings reflect that. Neil Harbisson, a British artist with a severe form of color blindness (achromatopsia, i.e., grayscale vision), thinks that being colorblind has made his art better, and now has implants that (debatably) allow him to hear color. And other stories like this abound. It’s even rumored that Van Gogh was color blind, though the Van Gogh museum disputes that.

A recent book, A Naive Realist Theory of Colour by Keith Allen, defends the existence of colors despite all of the worries we might have. In a blog post over at Oxford University Press, Allen writes:

One of the reasons why colours are philosophically interesting is that they provide an illustration of general problems that arise in thinking about the “manifest image” of the world, or the world as it appears to us as conscious subjects. It is not just colours that are under threat. Similar problems arise for aesthetic properties like beauty….

Those interested in the nitty gritty philosophy of color theory should check it out.

Image credit: Studies for Homage to the Square by Josef Albers, by Selena N.B.H. via Flickr


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Modern Art: A CIA plot?

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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


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“TO OPEN MY LEGS IS TO OPEN MY MOUTH”: SEXUALITY AND ART

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In September this year, French-Luxembourgian performance artist Deborah De Robertis exposed her vagina in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.

A few days ago, she was acquitted of charges of sexual exhibitionism by Paris’s High Court. Why? Because (a) her intent was not sexual in nature, and (b) the “material element of the crime” was missing (= you couldn’t *see* her genitalia because pubic hair obscured it). (Yes, you may giggle now.) Continue reading