AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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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


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AN AESTHETICS OF MISDIRECTION: A BRIEF NOTE ON BLACK PANTHER

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Transatlantic turntable-ism, Krista Franklin

What follows is a guest post by James B. Haile (University of Rhode Island).

Critical responses to Marvel’s first black super hero movie have been quick, varied and numerous, ranging from the significance of an all-black cast for filmic representation (here and here), to the veneration of its depiction of strong, intelligent dark-skinned black women with natural hair as central and heroic characters (here and here), to the critique of the film for pursuing a cosmopolitan vision of “Africa” at the expense of both Africans themselves and for African Americans (here and here), to critiques of the film for promoting the ameliorative agenda of integrationist hopefulness of neo-liberalism dressed in “black excellence,” standing shoulder-to-shoulder with hegemonic power, eschewing pan-Africanist sentiments (here, here and here). And though on the surface these approaches appear diverse, they have, for the most part, a common or central focus that limits their analysis. That is, what unites these ideas is the ever-present and looming undercurrent of our contemporary social, political, and aesthetic history—individualism. Our nation is grounded in the importance of the individual both politically (we can look at the “one man, one vote” idea as central to our political system) and socially (the idea of democracy is so fundamentally rooted in the importance of the individual that no other social or political organization is given merit). But this idea is also significant aesthetically in that it grounds how we interpret, that is, think about and represent ourselves and our world socially and politically (one can think of the aesthetic quality of the voting booth as akin to the confessional booth). It is unsurprising, then, that our films also replicate individualism. This is nowhere more evident than in the recent explosion of superhero movies, highlighting the force of the great individual to impose social, political, and moral values onto the world through a very particular aesthetics—e.g., the aesthetics of Superman’s iconic red cape fluttering behind his floating body captures the idea of an all-seeing sense of justice; Batman’s highly stylized black suit replete with a black and gold utility belt gives the sense that any and every one could be the enforcer of a moral code greater than the law itself; and Black Panther’s all-black suit that gives the impression of how future technological innovation could be merged with the natural world without damaging our planet. Yet, each of these characters are individuals who come to represent larger social and political ideals rather than social collectives. It is, then, no surprise that individualism not only shaped the storyline and how Black Panther depicted its central characters and plot line, but also how it was received by the public. Continue reading


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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