AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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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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JURY IN 5POINTZ LAWSUIT AGREES WITH ARTISTS!

(AfB was way ahead of the game on the 5Pointz lawsuit.  Just saying.)

So the jury’s back with a recommendation, and the jury has decided that when Gerald Wolkoff whitewashed the graffiti mecca at 5Pointz, he broke the law; under VARA, he should have given the artists sufficient notice so that they could preserve or remove their artwork.  The judge gets the final say on the verdict and on any penalty, but the jury’s decision is still a big deal, as this marks the first time that VARA has been decided by a jury in court.

The artists argued, under VARA, that their work was of reasonable public stature, and so they needed to be given 90 days notice.  If the news reports are correct, the lawyers for the developer argued that VARA was irrelevant, because the case concerns property, and presumably they argued that street art didn’t qualify for VARA.

I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on the Internet, but I wonder if this was the wrong way to argue the case.   Because it seems that if the jury believed that the works at 5Pointz were artworks, then it looks like VARA has to apply; the artwork is well-recognized.  If they’re not artwork, then it’s just a question of property.

I suspect, however, to the average person, 5Pointz is art.    Maybe it’s not art they like, or art they understand, or art they respect, but art all the same. Better, perhaps, to concede that 5Pointz is artwork, but ephemeral artwork of a kind that has no claim on civic protection.  Street art must change with the city.

Image Credit: Aaron Harewood (5pointz graffiti) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


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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


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THE INTRIGUE OF ANONYMITY

 

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Banksy arrested!  Unmasked!  Exposed!

Breaking fake news, as it turns out, created by a guy who has developed an Andy-Kaufmanesque approach to creating hoaxes, delighting in particular when his hoaxes get picked up by mainstream news sites.  The hoax article by Jimmy Rustling (how did the Internet not catch this? Come on, Internet.) mixes fiction with fact, and probably would make an excellent example for those interested in knowledge, the propagation of fake news, echo chambers and the like, (cough, cough), but I wondered:

Why does Banksy bother with anonymity?  Banksy’s identity isn’t public, but the rough consensus is that Banksy is probably male, probably British, probably white, probably from Bristol, and probably in his forties.  Banksy has claimed that they’re anonymous because their work is illegal, but this seems not to capture the entirety of it.  Someone that worried about arrest wouldn’t publicize their work on Instagram, or show up at exhibits in a mask.  More to the point, while Banksy’s art continues to include illicitly-placed stencils, Banksy also exhibits work in more traditional installations, and given the notoriety of his work, it’s hard to imagine any city seriously prosecuting a case for vandalism.

(Indeed, given that some of Banksy’s stencil fetch millions at auction, it would make  for an interesting case.  Your Honor, this man illicitly gave me an artwork of great value!  Shades of Pratchett’s anti-crime here.  But I digress.)

Quick take: Pragmatic reasons aside, street art paradigmatically is anonymous or pseudonymous, historically because of its illegality.  But as the art form has matured, arguably anonymity has become an artistic convention.   To make street art require anonymity; one must wear a disguise because some of the aesthetic delight of street art lies in contemplating its creation by the faceless crowd.

Photographed by Richard CocksOwn work, Banksy Graffiti (Park Street) Close shot, CC BY 2.0, Link


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WHAT’S SO WRONG WITH FREE EXPRESSION, ABUSIVE ART, AND UNDERSTANDING?

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What follows is a guest post by John Rapko about the recent Guggenheim Museum controversy.

The controversy

On Friday, September 22, a friend sent me an e-mail alerting me to an on-line petition. This time the issue was that the Guggenheim Museum in New York City had released a list of the names of the artists and their works to be included in the upcoming show “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World.” Among the 150 works were three involving live animals, including a video of an installation by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu wherein dogs were strapped into opposing treadmills, where they ran in place, tugged, and snarled at each other to exhaustion. The two other pieces are by artists better-known outside China: a notorious piece by Huang Yong Ping, “Theater of the World”, which shows a large structure wherein many reptiles and insects have been placed, with the animals left to willy-nilly eat each other, fight for space, or make some kind of mutual accommodation; and a video by Xu Bing that shows a boar and a sow, each densely painted with nonsense–Chinese and –Roman characters, mating in a gallery. Thousands of people, including myself after a scanning, were signing the petition. The Guggenheim quickly released a statement urging people to consider the works as a document of their times, and to reflect upon the situation of the artists who were driven to make such works. The signing of the petition only quickened, and by Tuesday, September 26, when the Guggenheim announced that the works would not be shown, supposedly because of the threatening tone of many of the complaints about the show, the petition had garnered over half a million signatories. What had happened? Was it simply a matter of an internet mob hurling electronic threats of violence towards the museum’s employees that forced the otherwise unjustified withdrawal of the works, as the Guggenheim stated? Was the withdrawal further a cowardly capitulation to thugs with an impoverished understanding of animal rights and human rights, indeed “tragic for a modern society”, as the artist Ai Weiwei said? Is this an act of “censorship” violating the artists’ “right to free expression”, as Huang Yong Ping, the artist behind one of the allegedly objectionable works has urged? Or had an inexplicable category mistake been corrected, as implied by the countless objections that “animal torture is not art“?  Continue reading


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PEPE IS DEAD! LONG LIVE PEPE? (BY ANTHONY CROSS)

What follows is a guest post by Anthony Cross, following new developments in the Pepe meme story: Pepe’s death!

Faithful readers of AFB will be familiar with the saga of the internet meme Pepe the Frog. (For those of you who missed it, my guest post on Pepe and the nature and value of internet memes is here.) The latest update: Pepe’s death! But first, a bit of background: Continue reading


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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.

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MARY BETH WILLARD REVISITS “FEARLESS GIRL” STATUE

When I last wrote about Fearless Girl, I observed that the meaning of the little Bull-challenging statue will lie in its interaction with the public, who for the moment has claimed it as an icon of feminism, capturing the vivacity of little girls at that tender age where they still dare to dream.

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Fearless Girl reportedly now has a permit through 2018, and this has angered none other than the creator of Charging Bull, Arturo di Modica, who has asked for Fearless Girl to be relocated, because it’s making his Bull into a villain. Continue reading


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MARY BETH WILLARD ON “FEARLESS GIRL” STATUE

On a cold December night in 1989, artist Arturo di Modica installed Charging Bull, a three-and-a-half ton bronze bull, in New York’s Financial District. Di Modica had no official permission to install the statue, which he said symbolized the “strength and power of the American people” following the disastrous 1987 stock market crash.

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These days Charging Bull is a well-beloved tourist attraction, so you probably don’t remember, if you ever knew, that the immediate reaction to this guerilla Christmas gift was mixed. Crowds loved it, but the police were called by the securities exchanges, who then hired a contractor to remove the bull. Five days later, the city announced that it would have a temporary home two-and-a-half blocks south on Bowling Green, where it stands today. Continue reading