AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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What Really Went Wrong at ‘Reply All’: Norms for a New Medium

What follows is a guest post by Joshua Habgood-Coote, honorary research fellow at the University of Bristol.

Why are non-fiction podcasts so addictive? Why are their stories so persuasive? Part of the answer lies in the directness, intimacy, and richness of solely aural media. But even amongst purely aural media, podcasting seems to have a special grip on listeners. The seductive power of non-fiction podcasting means that when shows get things wrong, their mistakes tend to mislead a large part of their audience. However, because podcasting has yet to be institutionalized, exactly what journalistic norms podcast producers ought to be bound by is up for debate.

Two well-known podcasts—the New York Time’s Caliphate series and the Reply All mini-series on Bon Appétit—recently got into trouble for failures of reporting. The producers of both podcasts framed their responses by appeals to the norms of print journalism, chalking them up to “editorial failings“. But recycling journalistic norms from old media will not give us adequate standards for podcasting. To understand how Caliphate and Reply All have gone wrong, we need to understand how the conventions and function of podcasting have created distinctive forms of media.

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THE NFT: A WEALTH AND POVERTY OF IMAGINATION

Beeple, “Everydays: The First 5,000 Days”

What follows is a guest post by Jack Simpson, and it is one of two pieces we are running on NFTs. See another take on NFTs here.

In recent weeks we’ve seen an exponential rise in discussion around NFTs (non-fungible tokens, for those who’ve missed any of this). In industries ranging from sport to art to music, bets are being made on NFTs being the next big thing. Proponents suggest they can return value to art in digital form by creating an artificial level of scarcity. In music, it has been suggested that they could be transformative for rights, and who gets paid. Sceptics argue that there is no “real” value being created, that NFTs represent yet another piece of crypto hyperbole. First, let’s look at some basics and then at two key areas: One, how could NFTs have an impact on creative work? And two, what are the merits of creating artificially scarce art?

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BEEPLE AND NOTHINGNESS: PHILOSOPHY AND NFTS

artwork detail: Beeple

What follows is one of two pieces we are running on NFTs. See another take on NFTs here.

It was the Beeple heard round the world: on Thursday, March 11th, Christie’s sold a collage of digital art images for 69 million dollars. Beeple, real name Mike Winkelmann, is the artist responsible for the work; this makes him the third-highest selling living artist behind Jeff Koons and David Hockney. Prior to the sale, Beeple had made a modest artistic practice out of posting original 3D images online daily. Most of these “everydays” are technically competent but nondescript abstracts—the sort of thing that you might use as a desktop background. Recently they’ve grown more referential, including images of a breastfeeding Donald Trump, Tiger King dethroned, and the coronavirus as a scifi movie monster.  How, exactly, did Beeple’s work find itself in the rarefied air of a Christie’s auction, outselling the likes of Lucien Freud and Damien Hirst? The answer, I suspect, has a lot to do with his chosen format for sale: an ‘NFT’, or non-fungible token.

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INSTAGRAM FILTERS FOR THE SELF: AUTONOMY AND INTERNET “AESTHETICS”

Astute observers of life online may already be familiar with “Dark Academia”—a stylistic trend currently blowing up on TikTok that draws liberally from Donna Tartt novels, T. Hayashida’s Take Ivy, goth culture, and Dead Poets Society. One practitioner of the style sums up Dark Academia as “young people trying to dress like old people” and encourages initiates to immerse themselves in ancient Greek tragedies and stock up on tweed blazers. Others have compiled lists of guidelines and tips on adopting Dark Academia and visual guidelines for Dark Academia apparel.

If you’re scratching your head in puzzlement at this point, here’s a brief explainer: Dark Academia is just the latest of a number of different online styles or “aesthetics” that have spread largely through social media. Some of these—such as cottagecore, VSCO, and e-girls and e-boys—have attracted a decent amount of mainstream attention. But what’s notable is that these styles barely scratch the surface of a bewildering array of online aesthetics that includes goblincore, pastel goth, and yes, even Karencore.

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BURYING THE DEAD MONUMENTS

richmond

What follows is a guest post from Elizabeth Scarbrough.

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen people from various nations take to the street and graffiti, topple, and otherwise demand the removal of racist monuments. Among the more notable ousted statues in the United States is Confederate President Jefferson Davis on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, and slave-owning Founding Father Thomas Jefferson in Portland, Oregon. Christopher Columbus has fared no better, his statue beheaded in Boston and graffitied with blood on his hands in Miami. In the UK, slave-trader Edward Colson’s statue was toppled and thrown into Bristol harbor. And in Belgium a 150-year-old statue of King Leopold II was officially removed following mass protest.

Monuments are objects designed and created intentionally to remind us of something worth honoring. According to J.B. Jackson, “A traditional monument, as the origin of the word indicates, is an object which is supposed to remind us of something important. That is to say, it exists to put people in mind of some obligation they have incurred: a great public figure, a great public event, a great public declaration which the group had pledged itself to honor.” The aesthetic pleasure it might facilitate, Jackson believes, is secondary. In this way monuments have value as they remind their audience “of something important,” – some group commitment. While we might approach them as solitary individuals, their meaning is derived from some collective experience. As C. Thi Nguyen argues in “Monuments as Commitments: How Art Speaks to Groups and How Groups Think in Art” monuments are not only backward-looking. They ask us to commit to protect values, then act according to those values. In this sense, we rightfully decide to jettison values that no longer serve us – and consequently monuments of racist figures must too be jettisoned. And if it is time for these racist monuments to die, the question is – what should we do with their bodies? Continue reading


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HOLDING OUR BREATH: MAKING SOCIALLY DISTANCED MUSIC TOGETHER

church

What follows is a guest post by John Dyck.

Singing is a potent way to spread the virus. I learned this in a Zoom call with my parents, getting the update from back home in Canada. Singing together in worship, they said, has been banned in my home province. I looked it up: Congregational singing is a high-risk activity and is not allowed. The provincial government’s guideline for places of worship explains: Infected people can transmit the virus through their saliva or respiratory droplets while singing. Even singing in a small live-streaming group is not allowed. Soloists and instrumentals are encouraged instead. Some groups, I’m told, are reading their hymns.

It must be strange to worship over a screen. If you are used to singing in worship, it must feel even stranger to worship without song. For some faithful Christian souls, I imagine, worship without song must be as jarring as worship without communion, the saliva and droplets gusting up out of your throat as sure a sign as the bread and wine rushing down into it. Continue reading


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AESTHETICS BY DECREE: TRUMP’S PROPOSAL ON “MAKING FEDERAL BUILDINGS BEAUTIFUL AGAIN”

What follows is a guest post by Jay Miller.

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The neoclassical Lincoln Memorial, designed by Henry Bacon (1922) [source]

Recently, a draft proposal of a presidential executive order was obtained and printed by the Chicago Sun-Times. Under the banner of “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” the leaked document effectively mandates the classical style of architecture for all federal buildings in the U.S. It seeks to right the wrongs of modernist architecture by officially proclaiming the classical style of architecture “the preferred and default style” for federal buildings. The proposal proceeds by first identifying the culprits: It blames the federal government for “largely abandon[ing] traditional, classical designs” in the 1950s; it accuses the General Services Administration (GSA) of overseeing “aesthetic failures”; even more specifically, it takes aim at the “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture,” drafted in 1962 by an aide of the Kennedy administration, for having “implicitly discouraged” classical and other designs “known for their beauty.” Yet, the real target of the proposal (henceforth MFFBA) are the Brutalist and Deconstructivist styles of modernist architecture, which it explicitly equates with the loss of beauty in American federal architecture over the past seventy years or so. In practical terms, this amounts to a federal mandate for classical architecture and a de facto moratorium on modernist architecture for any federal building costing more than $50 million. This includes any renovations or design upgrades to buildings of equal value. And any proposed deviations from classical and traditional designs must be vetted by the “President’s Committee for the Re-Beautification of Federal Architecture,” and must ultimately be submitted to the President for review prior to final approval.

I’ll go ahead and dispense with any pretense to political neutrality here. Because, really, the first step in taking MFBBA seriously is to acknowledge the veritable feast of ironies and absurdities offered up in the space of its mere seven pages. Continue reading


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FIVE PHILOSOPHERS DISCUSS “JOKER” [SPOILERS]

joker-poster.jpg

This month saw the US release of the newest installment in the DC Comics film franchise, Joker. The film has been the subject of heated debate, with some having enormously positive responses, and others having enormously negative ones. Some see it as just a well-done villain origin story. Others see it as bringing more light to mental health and social support systems. And yet others see it as humanizing and even valorizing white male violence and the mass killings that have become too common in the contemporary US landscape.

We thought we would gather up some philosophers working on ethics and the philosophy of art to give their takes on the movie. Below, you’ll see what they have to say about how Joker treats villainy and evil, race, and moral responsibility, as well as what we should learn from all of the debate and disagreement that surrounds it.

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