AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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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


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WHY FASHION IS MORE THAN A MERE CONSUMER OBJECT

What follows is a guest post by Laura T. Di Summa.

Perhaps we can agree on the fact that philosophers have not, for the most part, taken fashion very seriously. There seems to be something wrong, specifically, about being fashionable – about trafficking in the world of glossy magazines, runways, and looks and styles that change, frequently, and at a price. There seems to be something wrong about wearing the very clothes we find in those magazines, about buying them, and about investing energy (and money) in keeping up with them. Continue reading


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PYKE’S PORTRAITS OF PHILOSOPHERS

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What follows is a guest post by Michael Newall (University of Kent). This post is a partial continuation of the earlier post about Hans Maes’ recent book, Conversations on Art and Aesthetics.

Hans Maes’ excellent book, Conversations on Art and Aesthetics (Oxford UP, 2017), features a collection of ten photographic portraits of philosophers of art by Steve Pyke. (These can also be viewed on the website for the book, where it has to be said they appear to better effect. The book also features one portrait by philosopher and artist Claire Anscomb, which appears on the website too.) Pyke, of course, is known within philosophy as a photographer of many of its leading lights. Nobody has documented philosophers in this way before, and few professions have the benefit of such a constant and accomplished portraitist. Continue reading


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ART AND MONUMENTS: THE CASE OF TRUMP’S BORDER WALL

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What follows is a guest post from K. E. Gover.

Monuments are inherently political in a way that other kinds of artworks are not. As the recent controversies surrounding the removal of civil war monuments has made painfully clear, monuments make a public statement about what citizens should value and remember. The Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel has recently proposed that Trump designate as a “national monument” the eight border wall prototypes located along the US-Mexico border, claiming that they have “significant cultural value and are significant land art.” By petitioning that the wall prototypes be preserved indefinitely as a kind of memorial to bigotry, Büchel implicates anti-immigration Trump supporters and the liberal elite art establishment under the same proposal. Continue reading


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JAAC x AFB: WHY DO WE RESIST ROUGH HEROINES?

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What follows is a post in our ongoing collaborative series with the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. This is based on a new article by Adriana Clavel-Vazquez, “Sugar and spice, and everything nice: What rough heroines tell us about imaginative resistance.

After five seasons of House of Cards, it was finally Claire Underwood’s turn to be a proper rough heroine. In seasons one to four we find an interesting contrast between the moral transgressions that make Claire and Frank Underwood rough heroes: she is a ruthless, selfish, and drunk-with-power woman who is uninterested in motherhood; he is a ruthless, selfish, drunk-with-power man who has murdered several people. But in season five, Claire (finally!) murders Tom Yates, her journalist lover who had been given full access to the Underwood’s in previous seasons, and who was ready to publish an incriminating tell-all book. After poisoning him, Claire gives herself a couple of minutes to spare a few tears before calmingly leaving dead Tom behind. 2017 was the year of the rough heroine in pop culture: in addition to Claire Underwood, appreciators were given Grace Marks in Netflix’s adaptation of Alias Grace, and Katherine Lester in Lady Macbeth. But why did it take so long? Rough heroes, like Walter White, Patrick Bateman, and A Clockwork Orange’s Alex, have been around since, like, forever. Continue reading


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BEAUTY IN STRANGE PLACES: ART FIRST

I met a critic, I made her shit her drawers
She said she thought hip-hop was only guns and alcohol
I said “Oh hell naw!” But yet it’s that too
You can’t discrimi-hate cause you done read a book or two
What if I looked at you in a microscope, saw all the dirty organisms
Living in your closet would I stop and would I pause it?
…Speeches only reaches those who already know about it
This is how we go about it

– André 3000, “Humble Mumble

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What follows is a guest post by Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò.

This blog recently hosted a post on country music which defended country music partly because of its interaction with the class dynamics between the working class people who listen to the style and the broader culture in which they do so. The author of this piece comes close to a trope I’ve noticed in many online discussions of art, which feature people “critiquing” the performative politics of the authors but not the aesthetics.

It seems to me like some people these days think their political judgments should lead their aesthetic judgments. In the last few years I’ve been in more conversations than I care to remember about why this or that music is good or bad based on the politics or political symbolism of the artist or their work – why we should like this music because it’s made by representatives of this or that identity group, or we should hate that music because it’s “cultural appropriation”. And, worse, I’ve gotten through many of these discussions without drums or melody or harmony so much as being mentioned, much less being the focus. Sometimes, I was myself guilty! Third and perhaps worst of all is something I think of as a predictable result of the social environment helped along by the first two things: A lot of people in various artistic mediums seem very interested in discussing and preening the social significance of their work but uninterested in developing the fundamental skills of their craft. So, in the spirit of self-criticism: I want to try to do all of these things less because I think these tendencies are bad for art. By the end of this piece I want to have explained why I think that. Continue reading


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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