AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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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 FANDOMS CAN TEACH US ABOUT THE VALUE OF PLOT HOLES AND THE BADNESS OF BAD ARTISTS

What follows is a guest post by James HaroldProfessor of Philosophy at Mount Holyoke College. Parts of this blog post draw from his article “The Value of Fictional Worlds (or, Why The Lord of the Rings is Worth Reading).”

Critics and fans approach certain works (like The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars) very differently. The critics evaluate these works on their own merits, considered as art objects in their own right, while fans consider in terms of their contribution to a larger world of play and creative exploration. While philosophers, like art critics, have spent a lot of time thinking about artworks, they have spent relatively little time thinking about this playful, participatory world, the world that is the focus of fan culture. Continue reading


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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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A SONG OF ICE AND ATMOSPHERE: JOHN MUIR AND THE AESTHETICS OF COLD ENVIRONMENTS

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“Muir Glacier” (Samuel Hall Young, c. 1915)

What follows is a post in our ongoing JAAC x AFB series, a collaboration between Aesthetics for Birds and the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Today, Emily Brady shares some insights from her recent paper, “John Muir’s Environmental Aesthetics: Interweaving the Aesthetic, Religious, and Scientific“, which you can find in the recent Special Issue of the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism on Environmentalism and Aesthetics.

I greatly enjoyed my walk up this majestic ice-river, charmed by the pale-blue, ineffably fine light in the crevasses, moulins, and wells, and the innumerable azure pools in basins of azure ice, and the network of surface streams, large and small, gliding, swirling with wonderful grace of motion in their frictionless channels, calling forth devout admiration at almost every step and filling the mind with a sense of Nature’s endless beauty and power. Looking ahead from the middle of the glacier, you see the broad white flood, though apparently rigid as iron, sweeping in graceful curves between its high mountain-like walls, small glaciers hanging in the hollows on either side, and snow in every form above them, and the great down-plunging granite buttresses and headlands of the walls marvelous in bold massive sculpture; forests in side cañons to within fifty feet of the glacier; avalanche pathways overgrown with alder and willow; innumerable cascades keeping up a solemn harmony of water sounds blending with those of the glacier moulins….

– John Muir, Travels in Alaska

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IS COMMANDER SHEPARD FEMALE? DETERMINING CANON IN VIDEO GAMES

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variations on Commander Shepard from Mass Effect 3

What follows is a post in our JAAC x AFB collaborative series, where we highlight articles from the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. This post features Marissa D. Willis’ recent paper, “Choose Your Own Adventure: Examining the Fictional Content of Video Games as Interactive Fictions“.

“Video games don’t tell stories,” he told me. “They’re just games.”

So said a friend of mine when I told him I was writing about video games as works of fiction. And despite his mansplaining my own topic to me, my friend was giving voice to the very problem which I hope to address. Despite the fact that more people are playing video games these days than ever before, and game makers continue to create more inventive and engaging narrative works every day, my friend is not alone in his opinion. Continue reading


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WAPO POP MUSIC CRITIC RESPONDS TO PHILOSOPHERS

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Last year, we did a series of five Artworld Roundtables in collaboration with Chris Richards, the pop music critic for the Washington Post. Richards posed the “five hardest questions in pop music”: “cultural appropriation, problematic lyricism, selling out, the ethics of posthumous listening, and … separating the art from the artist.” In response, we rounded up several thinkers working in these areas to see what they had to say about each question. Richards provided us with key examples to draw out the problems and complexities of each debate. The results are here: cultural appropriation, how to respect the wishes of dead artists, whether selling out is still possible, how to engage with objectionable lyrics, and separating the art from the artist who created it. And now Richards is back. Read on to see what he took away from it all.

What follows is a guest post by Chris Richards. You can find him at the Washington Post here and on Twitter as @Chris__Richards. Continue reading


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OWNING WHAT ISN’T: COPYRIGHT AND CONCEPTUAL ART

What follows is a guest post from Darren Hudson Hick.

A few weeks back, as my aesthetics undergrads were taking their final exam, I was sitting in the back of the room, reading Susan M. Bielstein’s 2006 book, Permissions, A Survival Guide: Blunt Talk about Art as Intellectual Property. It’s a book about the history, legality, and pragmatics of art permissions, and it’s a page-turner. Seriously: it’s easily one of the best books about copyright that I’ve read in years (and, by God, that’s saying a lot). Bielstein is the executive editor for art, architecture, classical studies and film at the University of Chicago Press, so she knows what she’s talking about, and she’s an enviably good writer. Accompanying each image in the book is a note about how much Bielstein paid to use the image, and to whom. On page 58 is a reproduction of Robert Rauschenberg’s famous 1953 work, Erased de Kooning Drawing, accompanied by the note: “Fees paid: copyright for the drawing to Rauschenberg/VAGA, $130; use to SFMoMA, $40.”

“Wait,” I probably said out loud, “what?” Continue reading


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SEDUCTIVE ARTWORKS

What follows is a guest post by Nils-Hennes Stear. Note: This post is more or less a précis of part of the author’s ‘Meriting a Response: The Paradox of Seductive Artworks’, forthcoming in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy.

During a recent flight, I watched Ridley Scott’s The Martian. It’s a Robinsonade tale about Mark Watney (Matt Damon), an astronaut stranded on Mars and engineering his own survival. The film was watchable enough—well produced, acted, and visually arresting. Yet it suffered an irritating flaw: Watney is too damn buoyant. Stuck, literally millions of miles from home, with too little food, no company, and bleak prospects for safe return, he tackles each new existential challenge with a can-do optimism totally out of keeping with his existential emergency. So, when Watney tells his video diary that…

‘In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option: I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.’

Or…

‘I’m going to be taking a craft over in [technically] international waters without permission, which by definition… makes me a pirate. Mark Watney: Space Pirate.’ Continue reading


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IS THIS REALLY ART? AESTHETIC DISAGREEMENT AND CONCEPTUAL NEGOTIATION

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What follows is a guest post from Elizabeth Cantalamessa.

Think about the endless debates over what, really, is art. We get it over the latest Star Wars movie, or over Richard Prince’s series of Instagram screenshots titled New Portraits, or the recent Banksy “art-world prank” where a print of Girl With a Balloon “self-shredded” upon its auction. Articles are written, exhibitions are curated, theories are proposed – but, if there’s no fact out there in the world that can settle the debates, why do people waste their time trying to get others to agree with them? It seems that we face a dilemma: either people are wasting their time trying to figure out what “really” makes something art – or there is some deep fact about these objects that would settle the debates if aestheticians and the like just do enough analysis and theory. Continue reading


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WHAT MAKES KAFKA PHILOSOPHICAL?

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What follows is a guest post by Espen Hammer on his recent edited volume Kafka’s The Trial: Philosophical Perspectives.

When reading works of literature, philosophers often look for very general assertions of a quasi-theoretical nature. Thus, Camus’s The Stranger – to pick an obvious example  ̶  is supposed to demonstrate the absurdity of human existence. Or, if that doesn’t satisfy them, they typically start discussing entirely abstract questions of meaning, representation, and reference – of interest to academics steeped in Frege, Russell, and Davidson yet devoid of any concrete relation to actual texts of literary significance.

Kafka, however, on which a recent edited volume of mine entitled Kafka’s The Trial: Philosophical Perspectives (OUP, 2018) focuses, is peculiar in that his texts so vigorously seem to resist such general accounts. To be sure, many philosophers have tried to see in Kafka a kind of visionary thinker either of human existence as such or under specific circumstances, in particular those of modernity. Classical accounts of The Trial have focused on theology (“this is what the human condition looks like without God”), psychoanalysis (“this is what guilt and paranoia looks like”), and sociology (“this is the fate of the individual in a society integrated through anonymous, bureaucratic measures”). The list, of course, could be made very long. Note, though, that all the suggested interpretive keys stand in danger of violating our sense of Kafka’s mystery and ineffability. They all do what philosophers too often do: they reduce the text to a unified set of graspable, general meanings. Continue reading