AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


Leave a comment

PHILOSOPHY AND POLITICS IN “SORRY TO BOTHER YOU”

sorrytobotheryou_poster.png

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


1 Comment

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


2 Comments

STANLEY CAVELL (1926-2018)

cavell.jpg

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


3 Comments

JUST DESSERTS? CAKES, COURT CASES, AND CREATIVITY

cake_topper.jpg

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


2 Comments

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

SanDiegoComicCon2017Cosplay.jpg

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


1 Comment

BOTTOM RAIL ON TOP THIS TIME: BLACK PANTHER, BY CHARLES PETERSON

Bottom Rail On Top This Time:
Politics, Myth, Culture, and Afro-Fantacism
in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther

I.

As Walter Mosley observes in his essay “Black to the Future,” the genre(s) of science fiction/fantasy neé Afro-futurism speak clearly to the dissatisfied through their power to imagine the first step in changing the world:

Black people have been cut off from their African ancestry by the scythe of slavery and from an American heritage by being excluded from history. For us, science fiction offers an alternative where that which deviates from the norm is the norm.

As such, African-descended people have long understood and utilized the power of narrative to generate the images and ideas that will spark the liberatory imaginings of the sufferers. Particularly in the realms of the fantastic have characters, scenarios, and worlds been constructed to expose the truths of the world as it is and reveal the possibilities of worlds that could be. The figures of Anansi, Brer Rabbit, Nanny of the Maroons (who, though a historical figure, has risen to mythic proportions), John Henry, Shine, and many other figures casting spells thru the genres of proverbs, folklore, folk tales, song, short story, novel, graphic literature and movies have served as prompts to address the spoken and unspoken realities of their respective times and communities.  The Ryan Coogler-directed addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther steps momentously into this tradition. Continue reading


1 Comment

FIVE USEFUL FACTS ABOUT THE FORCE AND RELATED MATTERS (OR, WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU SEE THE LAST JEDI)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens today. I suspect many if not most of you will go see it. Hence, I constructed this little guide to some important aspects of the Star Wars saga. Obviously, given both the prevalence of words like “Force” and “Jedi” in the title of this film and the (narrative-wise) previous one, and what we know of the story so far, it seems safe to assume that the nature of the Force, and clashes between different aspects or interpretations of the Force, will be front-and-center in the new film. Hence, I’ve concentrated on some Force-errific trivia tidbits that might be useful in navigating that aspect of the story:

  • Arguably, R2-D2 is the protagonist of the overall Star Wars story. In an interview conducted while filming Return of the Jedi, George Lucas stated that the Star Wars saga was being narrated by R2-D2 to the Keeper of the Journal of the Whills. The Whills are Force-sensitive beings who were revered by holy men known as Shamans of the Whills. For more detail on R2-D2’s role in the saga as a whole, see here.
  • The Whills (or, more specifically, their acolytes) are important too. It was a Shaman of the Whills who taught Qui-Gon Jinn the secret to returning from the dead as a “Force ghost”, and Qui-Gon then passed this knowledge on to Yoda and the surviving Jedi. Baze Malbus and Chirrut Imwe (from Rogue One) were Guardians of the Whills – a group of warrior-monks also connected to the Order of the Whills.
  • Jedi and Sith (and Whills) are not the only powerful Force-users in the Star Wars universe. For example, both the Nightsisters of Dathomir (who played an important role in the Clone Wars) and the Force Priestesses at the Wellspring of Life (who also apparently taught Yoda the secret to returning as a Force ghost) are powerful Force users.
  • Kyber crystals are deeply intertwined with much of the conflict in the Star Wars saga. Kyber crystals are critical components of lightsabers, but they are also used in the super-weapons constructed by the Sith and other dark-side Force users (e.g. Death Stars 1 and 2, and Starkiller Base). Kyber crystals are naturally attuned to the light side of the force. Hence a dark side user must bend a kyber crystal to his or her will, causing it to “bleed” (this explains the red color of Sith lightsaber blades).
  • In addition to the force being divided into the Dark Side and the Light Side (although it is not clear that even this division is exhaustive), the Force (both Light and Dark) is divided into four distinct aspects: The Living Force, the Unifying Force, the Cosmic Force, and the Physical Force. These four aspects are tied to different abilities (e.g., a connection to all living things, the ability to see the future, the ability to come back as a Force ghost, and the ability to move physical objects, respectively). Different Force users typically focus on different aspects of the Force, or even argue that one of these aspects is, in fact, the right way to understand the Force.

Enjoy the film, and may the Force be with you!


1 Comment

Modern Art: A CIA plot?

johns.jpg

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


Leave a comment

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