Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

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Mary-Beth Willard (Weber State) offers pseudo-live-blogging/recap/latergram of
the Art Rules Conference, Day 2

I’ve found (n = a few) that aesthetics conferences have some of the best philosophical audiences and discussions. I am not sure why this has been the case – the small size of the subfield? The somewhat more interdisciplinary nature of aesthetics? Whatever the reason, the participants at Art Rules were no exception. Discussion has been great.
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Mary Beth Willard (Weber State) offers pseudo-live-blogging/recap/latergram of
the Art Rules Conference, Day 1

Most people know Salt Lake City as “weren’t the Olympics there in 2002?” and some people after mine own heart know it as “Isn’t that the city where Scully was going to be banished in the first X-Files movie?”, but what they don’t know is that the art community in Salt Lake is so generous that the Art Rules: Aesthetic Reasons, Norms, and Standards (May 19-20) conference was held inside of the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art for free.


An aesthetics conference in an art museum! No one tell them this isn’t a thing.
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Street Art Conference Scrapbook

Thanks to Nick Riggle for a terrific Artists Panel featuring
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh
Leon Reid IV

Thursday’s Snow-pocalypse and Pratt officially closing two hours prior could not deter these brave folks from the appointed Artists Panel

The Super Sucklord & Roy “I don’t walk around proving math theorems” Cook.  

Winner of the Farthest Traveled Philosopher Award:
Ulrich Blanche
Even Nick Riggle’s Note-Taking is Stylish 

Keynote Speaker Allison Young politely demonstrates that she knows about Street Art than everyone else in the room combined 

The Risky, Dangerous, & Totally Audacious Tony Chackal (also pictured Shelby Moser, Mary-Beth Willard, Sondra Bacharach, Chris Nagel, Christiane Merritt)

Session Dictator Christy Mag Uidhir’s Authoritarian Arm of Efficient Q&A Doom
Early Bird Attendees Enjoying Chris Nagel’s Saturday Opener
Organizer Nick Riggle Haunted by the Image of the Already Paid-For Conference Poster with No Listed Talk Times
A satiated Christy Mag Uidhir with an enraged Henry Pratt at the studio of The Super Sucklord! Not Pictured: a significantly poorer Roy Cook.


Street Art Conference Wrap-Up: Pt. 2

One issue that kept coming up throughout the conference was the Illegality Condition for Street Art–whether or not works of street art require there to be (in fact if not also in belief) some (regularly enforced) law against the creation of such.

Here’s what I took away from the various debates about illegality.

1. If there is an illegality condition on Street Art, it will most plausibly be had by Street Art (Form) rather than Street Art (Content)–See previous post on Two Kinds of Street Art.

2. Any worthwhile illegality condition won’t be grounded in mere illegality per se. Instead, the illegality condition must be in terms of what the relevant illegality reflects, speaks to, stands for, or purports to track: i.e., the attitudes and beliefs of the lawmakers and law enforcers, especially those concerning the relationship and tensions between public and private spheres, community rights and the proprietary rights of those outside it, private ownership and public or communal reclamations thereof, etc.

3. Illegality in the above sense seems necessary not only to capture the transgressive nature of some Street Art but also to underwrite the way in which (the Chackal triumvirate of) risk, danger, and audacity (at least historically) figure in the critical appraisal thereof. Moreover, substantively grounded illegality as opposed to that of mere illicitness looks able to do this in a way that captures the important distinction between Street Art and that of Public Art, where the latter comes with an at least implicit assumption of being sanctioned, authorized, or otherwise permitted.

4. Illegality should likely play a substantial if not central role for most if not all relevant overlapping areas of cultural/social/political importance (e.g., race, gender, class, etc.).

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Street Art Conference Wrap-Up Pt. 1

The Street Art Conference was a rousing success. Despite the winter storm on Thursday, March 5th, seriously hampering audience attendance for the otherwise terrific Artists Panel, the conference had a high turn out overall, with a fantastic turn out for Allison Young’s Keynote Address on Friday at Pratt and for the presentations and closing reception on Saturday at NYU.

For this to mean much of anything, however, requires that along the way we learned as a result something philosophically interesting about either Street Art itself or the enquiry therein. I think we managed to do just that.

What I Learned at the Street Art Conference

Two Kinds of Street Art

When folks talk about “street art” they typically employ (often frustratingly moving between) one of the following two senses:

Street Art (Form)—Art in some Street Medium

Works having certain formal, compositional, material conditions mediated by certain contexts or relations (spatial, legal, social, cultural, communal, political, racial, proprietary, self-referential, etc.) necessary for the making and appreciation of works of that form: e.g., Performance Art, Conceptual Art, Installation Art, …Street Art

Street Art (Content)—Art about the Street

Works having certain contents, specifically those within the narrow class of contents identified by reference to, relevance for, comment on those issues, contexts, relations, and environments considered saliently Street: e.g., Political Art, Feminist Art, Religious Art, …Street Art

Once this becomes clear, we better understand claims like:

Yarn-Bombing is not Street Art

more precisely to be the claim that:

Yarn-Bombing is not Street Art (Form)

After all, the exclusion of Yarn-Bombing looks to be not so much to do with its content, but instead with its form: e.g., the unavailability of its materials within urban areas, the insufficiently destructive or permanent nature of its application, the identity of its practitioners (educated, upper middle class white women), the de facto legality of its practice (low risk of arrest and prosecution), etc.

None of this, however, precludes Yarn-Bombing from being Street Art (Content).

Similarly, consider the claim:

Graffiti (Tagging) is not Street Art

This I take ought be more precisely read as:

Graffiti (Tagging) is not Street Art (Content)

Presumably, those advancing the above do so not because of graffiti’s form but due to its lack of content: e.g., that tagging is a thoroughly destructive/disruptive, criminal, eminently prosecutable, and often quite personally dangerous game of name-recognition brinksmanship played by a few self-aggrandizing, fame-seeking, scofflaws unconcerned with saying anything, interesting or otherwise, about the nature of the Street.

None of this, however, precludes graffiti (tagging) from being Street Art (Form).

Of course, things can be both kinds of Street Art: e.g., a Revolt top-to-bottom that when pulling into the station seems less a signature than a call to arms or a Banksy meta-ironic stencil-fill meta-commenting on the cosmopolitan nature of the Street.

Those making it explicit as to which sense of Street Art will be their target of interest not only make resultant debates far more productive and informative but also help ensure the foundation for future enquiry do not wind up resting upon the fault line of mere verbal disagreement. 

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Live Blogging the Street Art Conference: Day Three

 Philosophy’s Street Cred:
Limits & Interest Rates

The conference goes multi-borough today moving from Brooklyn’s Pratt to Manhattan’s NYU. Accusations of selling-out no doubt to follow. 

“Signature Counterexamples to Institutional Theories of Art”
Christopher Nagel (Minnesota)

Chris will be discussing how certain works of graffiti, specifically those of the heavily stylized signatory sort (tags, throw-ups), constitute counterexamples to Institutional Theory of Art.

Chris discusses the primary/secondary presentation distinction and claims graffiti writing’s primary presentation is to graffiti subcultures and so not to an artworld public. 

“Saving the Writing on the Wall: Two Models for Street Art and its Preservation”

Alison Lanier, Angela Sun, & Erich Hatala Matthes (Wellesley College)

Alison, Angela, & Erich explore the various preservation models one might want to adopt for street art. 

Adopting the performance model would claim that the preservation of street is motivated by preservation of embodiments/evidence of the performance, which has long since gone out of existence. E.g., the preservation of Five Pointz concerns the preservation not of street art but of a site at which street art performances frequently occur. 

Alternatively, one might choose the ruin model–i.e., a preservation model driven by the standard sorts of considerations driving the preservation of historically or culturally significant ruins.

“Two Incongruities of Yarn-Bombing”
Mary Beth Willard (Weber State)

Mary Beth tackles the kind of street art known as yarn-bombing or (urban knitting, graffiti knitting), which involves relocating the materials and products and practices of knitting traditionally located in the domestic private space to the public space of the street.

The first incongruity Mary Beth discusses is that radically unlike most graffiti and street art, yarn-bombing not only involves (if not unabashedly so) is the comparatively less destructive and so far less legally risky practices but also tropes traditionally recognized as feminine (domestic, soft, cozy, safe, pretty, etc.). 

“Domesticating the Streets: Feminist Street Art”
Sondra Bacharach (Victoria)

Sondra provides a in-depth analysis of feminist street art, specifically the various contents and ways in which those might be communicated and how those might relate to the broader notion of the street. 

Frosting Sugar Bomb

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Live Blogging the Street Art Conference: Day Two

Day Two: Gleaming the Cube

“Political Art & Street Art Definitions”
Christiane Merritt (Washington University, St. Louis)

Merritt argues that adopting the exemplar approach to the conditions for being street art results in certain kinds of street art (political street art) being needlessly ruled out as such. She begins by discussing some prima facie plausible conditions for street art:

Site Publicity: the work must be located in a public area
Audience Publicity: the public must be the proper audience
Illegality: the work must not be authorized or sanctioned by the relevant authority with legal standing

Merritt uses the work of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh & Guerilla Girls to challenge both site and audience publicity conditions and the work of Gran Fury to call out the illegality condition. What these all have in common, of course, is their political content. 

“Street Art & Deception”
Shelby Moser (Kent)

Moser will be focusing on what it means for street art to be genuine. Before doing so she investigates the related or relevantly analogous notions of illegal/illicit, fakes/forgeries, replicas/reproductions, etc.

To help illustrate her view, Moser uses the case of Trappist Beer.

I’m sure that Shelby said several insightful things here but my laptop died so I had to search for an extension cord/outlet.

Also, scofflaw Gregg Horowitz brazenly brandished a follow-up despite Session Sheriff banishment of follow-ups to the Back of the Queue Badlands. High Noon Horowitz vs. Mad Dogma Mag Uidhir!

“The Lego Minifigure in Urban Art”
Roy T. Cook (Minnesota)

Roy will be examining the prevalence of the Lego minifigure in Urban/Street Art.

Question: What gives? Why the Lego minifigure?

Answer #1: Cuz it’s cool. The End.

Answer #2: Place of Lego in the history of designer art toys (Kid Robot, Dunny, Labbit, Kaiju for Grown Ups, etc.).

Roy points to the designer toys’ reliance on platforms (certain basic shapes all toys of that platform must share. LEGO minifigure and the street art prevalence thereof can be best explained by seeing it as representing the appropriate if not ideal (pseudo) platform.

Captain Roy Axiom Red Variant 1/150

“On the Illegality Condition in Street Art”
Tony Chackal (Georgia)

Tony aims to defend the illegality condition, arguing the crucial value aspects of street art require illegality for their preservation.

He begins by characterizing the world of street art as antithetical to the world of fine art (as an underground artworld set against its surface dwelling foil).

Tony argues that risk, danger, and audacity function as constitutive appreciable properties of works of street art. 

Keynote Address

“Mainstreaming the Street: The Cultural Value of Illicit Street Art”
Professor Alison Young (University of Melbourne)


Recent years have seen the practices conventionally described as ‘street art’ become increasingly familiar in the cultural mainstream. The work of street artists such as Banksy, Nick Walker, Swoon and D*Face have sold at auction for high prices, and are now regarded as highly collectable art. Museums and galleries in cities such as New York, LA, London, Paris and Melbourne have held exhibitions featuring works by street artists and many have purchased street artworks for their permanent collections. Street art, when placed on private property without permission is still illegal, and the very similar activities known as graffiti are still considered to be ‘vandalism’ or ‘anti-social’ and are seldom categorised as art. This lecture will think through some of the consequence of street art’s increasingly mainstream status in contemporary society, particularly for graffiti writers and artists who continue to work illicitly in the street.

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Live Blogging Street Art Conference: Day One

Shitty Winter Weather,
Awesome Artist Panel

Thursday, March 5th 5:45pm

The conference kicked off today with the Arists Panel featuring ELBOW-TOE, HOTTEA, Leon Reid IV, and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh with the discussion lead by fellow organizer Nick Riggle.

Reid’s work takes a clever, playful, and a touch fantastical perspective on the otherwise unremarkable ordinary objects one expects to encounter while walking on the street (street signs, lamp posts, newspaper dispensers, bus benches, etc.). Reid also discusses his transition from Street Artist to studio-based Commissioned Public Artist.

ELBOW-TOE’s work is more traditionally oriented (large wheatpasted linocuts and layered murals affixed to brick walls, text graffiti on industrial doors). 

HOTTEA works with geometric forms of block text suggestive of depth, most strikingly when placed onto a chain link fence. His text work is not restricted to tagging (the word often carries political weight) nor is his work with geometric forms and depth confined to texts (he has employed yarn-bombing to great effect in both his textual and non-textual work). 

Most importantly, HOTTEA totally rocked out with Grover from Sesame Street.

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh transitioned from the traditional visual arts (portraiture) into more publicly oriented work and eventually street art (she used kickstarter to help “kickstart” her street art career). Her work employs large mural portraiture of women that focuses on street harassment both in terms of content but also site placement as well, as the murals are deliberately placed along the very streets where women would likely experience such harassment. 

After the introductions, a super stylish Nick Riggle begins leading the discussion with the panelists (seen below hamming it up with fellow organizer Gregg Horowitz).

Nick directs the discussion to the issue of the destructive nature of works of street art. 

Reid & ELBOW-TOE talk about the role played by the internet in the rapid rise and awareness of street art (Reid also discusses proto-Flickr pre-internet Black Boxes).

HOTTEA discusses structure of graffiti culture…its rules, hierarchies, illegality conditions, location scouting, reactionary attitudes about perceived violations to these, etc.

Tatyana and HOTTEA talk about being stopped by police.

Discussion about community expectations and obligations to community. Tatyana mentions how much of her work is supposed to be hated by certain members of the community (street harassers).

Leon Reid IV talks about site specificity and the evolution of graffiti in New York. 

Graffiti vs. Street Art vs. Public Art vs. Fine Art (naturally, someone immediately provided a clear distinction that captured everyone’s intuitions and carved up the relevant areas in precisely the most productive and informative way).

**Audience Spotlight: Special Guest Artist The Sucklord**

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Philosophy of Street Art Conference (March 5th-7th)

Philosophy of Street Art: Art in and of the Street is a conference  sponsored by Pratt InstituteAmerican Society for Aesthetics, and New York Institute of Philosophy.
The three day conference will take place at Pratt Institute and NYU.
Alison Young (University of Melbourne) is the keynote and an artist panel and discussion will feature: ELBOW-TOE (Brian Adam Douglas), Leon Reid IVTatyana Fazlalizadeh, and HOTTEA.
The conference is free and open to the public. No registration is required.
View the full schedule and locations.
For general inquires contact
The conference is made possible by generous donations from:
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