Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

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Last week, we presented three new diversity curricula supported by the ASA.

Relatedly, here are a few bibliographies people might find useful in trying to assemble diverse course readings, or for those interested in exploring other areas:

Image credit: Nicolaes Maes, “An Old Woman Dozing over a Book” (1655), via NGA

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Follow these links for some great coverage on how artists are responding to the 2016 election results. Please feel free to share any information about how artists are responding to the election results in the comments below.

For your viewing pleasure, here is the cold open from Saturday Night Live this past weekend. A response to the 2016 election results and Leonard Cohen’s death from the obviously multi-talented artist and comedian, Kate McKinnon:

In conclusion, an Auden poem:

September 1, 1939 | W. H. Auden, 19071973

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright 
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can 
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return. 

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire 
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.


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Objects of Desire: The Modern Still Life, May 25-April 26 1997

New York City’s Museum of Modern Art is certainly one of the most important and influential art institutions in the USA and the world. MoMA curators throughout the decades have made decisions that have greatly affected the way the artworld and public understand the nature of art.

You can now view all materials from all of MoMA’s exhibitions, beginning with their opening in 1929. Check it out for yourself:

MoMA’s Entire Exhibition History


Machine Art, March 5-April 29 1934

After, or perhaps before, check out a recent article in The Atlantic by Robinson Meyer, “The Museum of Modern Art’s Miraculous New Online Archive”, discussing the aesthetic and functional changes in exhibition documentation throughout the years.


Robert Motherwell, October 1–November 28 1965



New in the “Is It Really Art?” category:

Okay apparently I’m a bit behind the curve on this one, but for those of you who didn’t catch it about a month ago, there was an art show for dogs in London, sponsored by MORE TH>N pet insurance, with artworks designed by Dominic Wilcox. Artnet News writes that “The exhibition is, of course, a marketing gimmick” – but it’s not like there’s no precedent for art that is a marketing gimmick. (*cough* BMW *cough*)

The press release from the RSA Insurance Group reads:

“They say art is for everyone, and while this may be true, the ‘everyone’ mentioned here traditionally refers only to humans. With pets assuming an ever more important role in our lives, isn’t it time that the art world catered to them as well?”

Well I don’t know who “they” are, or if they’re right… but everything about this is hilarious and also makes you wonder…

So for a little dose of philosophy: George Dickie, who defended the Institutional Theory of Art, defined a work of art as “(1) an artifact (2) a set of aspects of which has had conferred upon it the status of candidate for appreciation by some person or persons acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the artworld).”

Hmm. What do you guys think? Can the dogs actually appreciate the art? (Looks like they’re doing it!) Or do they have to appreciate it as art for it to count? Or are we the real audience for this dog art show? (Surely we’re at least the real audience for the marketing ploy.) Or is this a counterexample to Institutional Theories of Art?

image from RSA Insurance Group press release

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Bence Nanay guest vlog at Brains Blog

Bence Nanay has been guest vlogging at the Brains Blog. The topic this time: Mental imagery and aesthetics.

He discusses “aesthetically relevant properties”: properties that make an aesthetic difference when attended to.

Have a look. It’s the perfect length for watching over a short break from work!

Mental Imagery and Aesthetics


Jesse Prinz on Magritte (artbullion)

Over at artbouillon, Jesse Prinz has a nice piece Magritte’s place in the Surrealist narrative (prompted by the new exhibition at MoMA).
I have to say that I’m hugely sympathetic with Prinz’s call for Magritte’s excision from the Surrealist canon. For one, I’ve never fully understood the pull Surrealism has for so many, as I see the movement itself to be a lateral if not frustrating step backward in the history of 20th century visual art and most works of its “Masters” (especially Ernst, Tanguy, and Dali) little more than crude exercises in artistic juvenilia. Second, I find most of Magritte’s work to be intellectually playful and philosophically astute in ways few if any of his supposed Surrealist kin could hope to be and so, perhaps unsurprisingly, regard the less than impressive examples of Magritte’s work as invariably those commonly taken to exemplify the Surrealist spirit, the most notable of which being Le Viol (The Rape) (1935).