AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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#NOFILTER: PHILOSOPHICAL REFLECTIONS ON PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE AGE OF INSTAGRAM

What follows is a guest post by Daniel Star (Boston University). All photographs are the author’s own. (Readers are encouraged to follow the links in captions for full-size, full-resolution images.)

We’ve all seen it. Maybe we’ve done it. Maybe we’ve “liked” it. Someone takes a snapshot of a wonderful sunset with a smartphone and posts it on a social media site with the “#nofilter” hashtag. This is one of the most popular hashtags on Instagram, and it is now also used widely on Facebook and Twitter. The sunset was no doubt beautiful (sunsets tend to be beautiful), but it’s unlikely that the photograph itself was of a high quality – smartphone shots rarely are, and even a setting sun will tend to blow out highlights (bright regions in images, see below), leaving empty space in part of the photo. Perhaps this doesn’t matter, because the point of such a social media post may not be aesthetic, but rather to simply communicate that a person witnessed a beautiful sunset, and to relay to friends a substitute in the form of a snapshot. And it’s true that applying one of the filters supplied by Instagram is unlikely to have improved the snapshot from an aesthetic point of view (the original aim of using “#nofilter” may have simply been to indicate that one of these filters, in particular, has not been used, but its now much broader pattern of usage strongly suggests its meaning has expanded). Continue reading


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WHAT MAKES HEAVY METAL HEAVY?

What follows is a guest post by Jay Miller.

One of the great legends of heavy metal music history goes like this:  In the early 1990s, a little known three-piece band from San Jose, California named Sleep worked out a deal with London Records to produce their third album, Jerusalem, which included the rare luxury of maintaining full creative control. Instead, they blew most of the $75,000 advance on custom guitars, high-end amplifiers, and lots of marijuana. During two month-long recording sessions, they recorded a single, hour-long song filled with slow, churning guitars and monotonic chants having something to do with a new race of “Weedians.” Throughout the recording process, the song (which in various forms the band had played live for several years) evolved: it got longer; and, in the words of bassist Matt Pike “It got weird.” Continue reading


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HARD DECISIONS OF A BOOK RESTORER, BY STEVEN HALES

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My parents are antique dealers, and if there is one thing that I have learned from them, it is that people will collect anything: coins, stamps, Tiffany lamps, Victorian salt shakers, gasoline pumps, barbed wire, automobiles, rocks, fossils, Coca-Cola advertising, airline barf bags. I collect rare books. When I was in philosophy grad school at Brown I met Dan Knowlton, the university’s on-staff hand bookbinder, and wound up taking private bookbinding lessons from him for two years. I’ve been a serious hobbyist binder ever since. So I have first-hand knowledge of the kinds of interventions bookbinders do, and what they hope to achieve as a result. Here are a few thoughts about the types of value that collectors are interested in and how restorers (especially bookbinders) maximize or minimize those values. Continue reading


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BRO-COUNTRY, WALMART COUNTRY, AND AUTHENTICITY

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At her blog, L. M. Bernhardt has written a response to John Dyck’s recent post defending country music. In her post, “…but it’s all right.” she articulates something that worries her about Dyck’s presentation of country music as unsophisticated.

There is an important difference between the music born from the life of farmers and miners and the music that deploys that life as a sign of authenticity for consumers who don’t necessarily live there anymore.

She goes on to explain:

it’s a major feature of contemporary bro-country, which tends to be an assembly-line-produced mess of redneck identity signifiers masquerading as “authentic” country music. A pop-country performer like Brad Paisley (who is good at his job — don’t get me wrong!) bears little to no resemblance to someone like Ralph Stanley or Hazel Dickens. He and his usual co-writers produce songs about country as an identity. Hazel Dickens wrote and sang from it, and I think that makes a big difference — or should make a big difference — in how our aesthetic judgements handle these things. Country music like hers isn’t bad music or unsophisticated music that uses its messiness to signify authenticity — it’s representative of a distinct body of styles with its own natural history and quality markers, which is exactly what constitutes its authenticity.

Readers should check out the whole thing. Bernhardt writes from the perspective of both a performer and a philosopher, and her thoughts on the matter are really interesting.

We’ve given John Dyck the opportunity to respond. His response follows. Continue reading


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WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM ART? BY RAFE MCGREGOR

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‘Aesthetic’ is a vague and frustrating term with a profligate and confused history.  During the Enlightenment, the term was employed as a synonym for beauty, which was understood as taking many apparently unrelated forms, from the natural world to gardens to art to interior decorating and even mathematics. In the last two hundred years, it has frequently been conflated with the concept of the artistic. Consequently, philosophical aesthetics has been understood as sharing the same subject matter as art criticism. Both of these conceptions are too restrictive when it comes to the contemporary discipline. Continue reading


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IN DEFENSE OF COUNTRY MUSIC, BY JOHN DYCK

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I used to hate country music. I would hear it at my grandparents’ house. I remember hearing my grandma sing along to those drawling voices and crunchy fiddles. My nine-year-old self cringed inside. The music was so gauche and uncultured. My grandparents grew up poor and uneducated, and I could hear it in their music. Continue reading


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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

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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


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THE ASA AT 75: DIVERSITY AND THE TIPPING POINT

The following is a guest post by Charles Peterson (Oberlin College).
This is one of three companion pieces that reflect on the ASA’s 75th anniversary. Click here for the first, by A.W. Eaton, and the second, by Paul C. Taylor. See also the ASA Officers’ response letter here.

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The age of 75 can signify multiple indicators. At 75 years old, an ant would be ancient. At 75 years old a mountain would be considered infantile in its span and at 75 years old a human being, has lived to a ripe and healthy age. For an academic organization, 75 years is a perfect time to celebrate its longevity and take stock of its future. The American Society for Aesthetics is at this point in regards to the inclusion of diverse scholars and discourses in its proceedings.  The ASA stands at the threshold where its present efforts to open up, encourage and support the presence of women and members from previously underrepresented backgrounds can either move forward, grow and expand or retreat into exclusivity and marginality. Continue reading


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THE ASA AT 75: ‘SPLAINING AND SAFARIS

What follows is a guest post by Paul C. Taylor (Penn State).
[Updated:] This is the first of three companion pieces that reflect on the ASA’s 75th anniversary. Click here for the first, by A.W. Eaton, and the third, by Charles Peterson. See also the ASA Officers’ response letter here.

By the time my father turned 75, he was freely exercising the wide-ranging license to offend that family elders often enjoy. He could say or do pretty much anything, and we would chalk it up to him being set in his ways. We would weigh the costs and benefits of contesting his frequently insensitive and sometimes just rude behavior, or of reminding him of all the considerations that militate against talking about women or Jews or whatever like that anymore. And we would usually decide that discretion was the better part of valour, and we would let him alone.

So on he lumbered, cluelessly, sometimes willfully, out of step with evolving social mores. The good news is that he was mostly harmless, having tucked himself away into a quiet retirement where he neither had nor wanted influence or authority over anyone other than himself.

The American Society for Aesthetics (ASA), 75 years old this year, reminds me of my father. It has an at best uneven relationship to shifting social mores, especially as these bear on behaviours that should be as distant and grating to us as the world of Mad Men. And much as my father assumed he could say whatever he wanted and continue to enjoy the respect and love of his children, some members of the ASA seem to think the organization can both live in the 1950s and win the loyalty of people today. Continue reading