AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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“TRAUMA-FEEDING”: WHY IT’S NOT OKAY TO EXPLOIT TRAUMA IN ART

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Room, Cité Universitaire, Paris, with Al Ghazali quotation:
“I follow love’s caravan wherever it goes. For love is my religion and my faith.” (2006)

What follows is a guest post by Jeremy Bendik-Keymer & Misty Morrison. It also appears cross-posted at the Cleveland Review of Books.

We want to draw attention to a practice inside contemporary artistic practices and to suggest a set of considerations that could gradually change it, for we take it to be morally dishonest and aesthetically compromised. We call this practice “trauma-feeding.” The expression is our invention. We think trauma-feeding is enmeshed in corrupt conditions in the economy of contemporary art so that to talk about it is to talk inevitably about the institutional framing of artistic practice in an art economy that cultivates practices, habits, and sensibilities that allow artists to hustle their way to success in a neoliberal economy structured by gross inequality of wealth and of capabilities. With trauma-feeding, their mode of hustle is parasitic (from para – alongside – sitos – food) on everyday people’s moral sensibilities. The hinge in our discussion is the relation between trauma-feeding, consumable spectacle, and viability in a neoliberal art economy, predicated off of everyday people’s moral sympathy. After explaining what we mean by “trauma-feeding” and relating it to the social-economic conditions to which we’ve alluded, we will argue that artists and institutions have a moral responsibility to deal with trauma differently, particularly by following through in responding to it. They should stop being morally dishonest and parasitic.

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PLAYING GAMES WITH HISTORY: PHILOSOPHERS ON THE ETHICS OF HISTORICAL BOARD GAMES

In a recent New York Times article, journalist Kevin Draper brings us up to date on some recent controversies in the world of historical board games. The article centers on the cancellation of Scramble for Africa, a historical board game which was to let players take the role of European powers exploring and exploiting Africa, trying to get the most resources.

Joe Chacon, the designer of Scramble for Africa, was accused of not treating this situation with appropriate seriousness. In his game, the savagery that was part and parcel of that exploration seems to be dealt with in minor and trivializing ways. The players must put down rebellions, and can slow their opponents by inciting native revolts. Random events include “penalties for atrocities” and rewards for ending slavery. Butchery is gameified.

The article raises a number of fascinating questions. What are the ethics of gaming history? Can we ever gameify our troubled past, and if so, how should we do it sensitively and thoughtfully? And is there something distinctive about games that make them a thornier venue for exploring history than, say, novels?

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Puerto Rico, a board game about colonizing Puerto Rico. Image credit: Jesse Michael Nix

To take on these questions, we asked some philosophers who specialize in thinking about games, ethics, and art.

Our contributors are:

  • Stephanie Patridge, Professor and Department Chair, Religion & Philosophy, Otterbein University
  • Chris Bartel, Professor of Philosophy, Appalachian State University
  • C. Thi Nguyen, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Utah Valley University

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GAME OF THRONES’ FINAL SEASON: WHEN OUR GREAT EXPECTATIONS ARE ILLEGITIMATE [SPOILERS]

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What follows is a guest post by Sean T. Murphy. Those who haven’t finished the series should beware of spoilers below!

Legitimate Artistic Expectations

“Almost nothing [showrunners David] Benioff and [D.B.] Weiss do will be enough to please (or appease) everyone.” So says critic Tim Goodman in a recent article in the Hollywood Reporter. It became clearer by the week just how great everyone’s expectations were for the final season of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Anyone taking a quick peak at Twitter following any episode this season could see fans breathing more fiery criticism, and wreaking more havoc on the show than Drogon did on King’s Landing. On the one hand, this is not surprising. After waiting two years for the series finale, there was no stopping the heights to which our expectations were ascending (although you would have thought that the lackluster seventh season would have tempered them a bit). And yet, after it became clear that episodes were not meeting those expectations, I found myself less angry at the show, and more intrigued by the viewers’ responses. And so I started to think about what was going on, and whether or not these great expectations were legitimate. I had to ask: What is, in fact, legitimate to expect of art? And where lies the flaw when a work of art fails to meet expectations? Is it in us, or the work?

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WHAT IS ‘CAMP’? FIVE SCHOLARS DISCUSS SONTAG, THE MET GALA, AND CAMP’S QUEER ORIGINS

Every year, the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City selects a theme around which to base its annual exhibition. And each year, that exhibition is kicked off with a huge fundraiser, the Met Gala. It has been called fashion’s biggest party of the year, drawing A-list celebrities and fashion personalities. Everyone attends, dressed for the exhibition’s theme. This year, that theme is camp.

A lot has been written about what camp is, and how we should understand it. But we thought it would be good to hear from scholars with interests in aesthetics and camp. Keep reading to learn more about the history of camp – including Susan Sontag’s important but perhaps overstated role, Old Hollywood, and queer and DIY cultures – as well as camp’s alternating seriousness and playfulness, and even a reading of Donald Trump as camp.

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UNE AUTRE DAME: WHY NOTRE-DAME DIDN’T REALLY BURN

What follows is a guest post by philosopher Saul Fisher, on the recent tragedy of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

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Alan Mozes, Seine/sibility #2, 2013, reproduced with permission of the artist

The burning of the roof and spire of the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris on April 15 was a moving and dramatic event, variously interpreted as architectural disaster, economic loss, flashpoint for myriad heritage issues, and moment of French national unity. The cathedral has endured since medieval times: construction began in 1163 CE, the towers were completed in 1250, and figurative elements were added in the mid-14th century. From this endurance alone, it is little wonder that the cathedral captures the imagination of the French, the devout, the appreciators of architectural history, and the every Parisian visitor. Little wonder, too, then, that the fire consuming the cathedral prompted strong emotional response.

While lamenting the event’s tragic dimensions and symbolism, I find consolation, or perhaps refuge, in formalist and abstractist ways that I think about architectural objects. Continue reading


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ASA APOLOGIZES AND ANNOUNCES OMBUDSPERSON

On Saturday, October 13, the American Society for Aesthetics (ASA) issued an apology to Dr. Shelby Moser for their handling of her sexual harassment complaint. This went out via email to all members registered for the recent ASA Annual Meeting. Below is an excerpt from the apology:

“This summer, several individuals in the ASA Board made misleading public comments about the incident and its reporting. As a result, the member making the complaint felt obliged to make a public statement, identifying  herself, to set the record straight.

The Board of Trustees of the ASA hereby apologizes to Dr. Shelby Moser for misleading communications to the effect that she had not made an official complaint in 2017. We deeply regret that she felt compelled by the  remarks to  publicly identify herself, needlessly causing her stress and disrupting her life. We salute her grace and courage in speaking out.

We recognize that failure to respond appropriately to reports of sexual harassment contributes to a culture of  gender discrimination. We undertake to act collectively, as members of the Society, to ensure that in the future the  Society speaks clearly and unequivocally on matters of discrimination and harassment.”

(For more background, see our previous post on this issue.)

In related news, the ASA has named Dr. Jeanette Bicknell the new ombudsperson for the ASA. The basic role of the ombudsperson is to “receive complaints of discrimination and harassment and, where possible, serve as a resource to members regarding such complaints.” The ombudsperson’s full duties are detailed at this post on the ASA website.

They also invite nominations (including self-nominations) for a five-person standing committee on Discrimination, Harassment, and Respectful Behavior.

For the announcement and more information about the invitation, see the ASA’s post here.

This post has been updated. An earlier version incorrectly stated that the email went out to all ASA members.


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PHILOSOPHY AND POLITICS IN “SORRY TO BOTHER YOU”

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The following post appears as part of a partnership with the APA Blog. The original appears here.

Steven Manicastri is a political theorist and labor organizer.  Having recently viewed Sorry to Bother You and seeing its clear relevance to his own research he posed the following questions to Lewis Gordon because of his theoretical work on race, class, and politics in film. Continue reading


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CAN NICKI MINAJ’S “CHUN-LI” BE CULTURAL APPROPRIATION?

What follows is a guest post from Erich Hatala Matthes (Wellesley College).

Last month, Nicki Minaj released the video for her new song “Chun-Li” (along with an accompanying performance on SNL). Replete with chopsticks, conical hats, and other unimaginative Asian stereotypes, the performance quickly led to charges of cultural appropriation. I’m late to the party as far as the Internet commentary cycle is concerned, but I think this case highlights an important aspect of the debate about cultural appropriation that doesn’t always get enough attention. So here’s my ice-cold take: the fact that Minaj is herself a member of an oppressed group does not mean that those calling “Chun-Li” cultural appropriation are misguided. Continue reading


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STANLEY CAVELL (1926-2018)

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Stanley Cavell died on Tuesday, June 19, at the age of 91. Obituaries and memorial notices can be found here, here, and here (a more complete list, including foreign-language sources, is here.) He was a prolific writer—the author of 17 books and countless essays—and  a famously stimulating teacher, but it would be impossible to convey in a short piece like this what made Cavell’s writing and teaching inimitable. Instead, I will limit myself to trying to explain a bit of what I think is so important about Cavell’s work in aesthetics. Continue reading


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JUST DESSERTS? CAKES, COURT CASES, AND CREATIVITY

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What follows is a co-authored post by AFB staff writers Matthew Strohl and Mary Beth Willard.

John Corvino writes, of the narrowly decided Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, that the Supreme Court punted on many of the substantive issues:

What counts as protected speech, and why? Does it matter if the cake is custom? If it has words on it? How do we distinguish messages that are integral to one’s identity as a member of a protected class and those that are incidental to it?

We suspect it does matter if the cake is custom, but that the focus on messaging is a red velvet herring. To our minds, this isn’t primarily an issue of protected speech, at least in the sense being widely discussed in connection with the recent SCOTUS decision. Sherif Girgis and Robert P. George argue that custom wedding cakes bear expressive content, in particular, the recognition that the event the cake figures in is a wedding. We are skeptical about the prospects for this argument. As Chief Justice Roberts observed during oral argument, it’s hard to see why whether a cake is custom or not would make an expressive difference with respect to acknowledging the wedding as such. But the notion that a cake carries such expressive content strikes us as highly dubious in the first place. Setting aside any text or wedding imagery (which we assume would be a little too déclassé to be on offer in the first place from a cakeshop with ‘Masterpiece’ in its name), a wedding cake is just a really awesome cake. There is no systematic way to distinguish wedding cakes from other cakes on the basis of their intrinsic features. Wedding cakes are typically multi-tiered, but many high-end wedding cakes are one-tiered and there are plenty of other show-stopping alternatives to the multi-tiered cake. And, of course, multi-tiered cakes are often used to celebrate other occasions (including mermaid parties!). Continue reading