AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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GETTING PAST FORM: ON THE VALUE OF LITERARY IDEAS

 

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What follows is a guest post by Patrick Fessenbecker.

In a recent column in The New York Times, Ross Douthat contends that English professors aren’t having the right kind of arguments. Reflecting on the analysis of the decline of the humanities in a series of essays in the Chronicle of Higher Education over the last year, Douthat makes a familiar diagnosis: the problem is that we literature professors no longer believe in the real value of the objects we study. Engaging Simon During’s account of the decline of the humanities as a “second secularization” in particular, Douthat argues that secular attempts to defend the humanities will fail just as surely as secular attempts to defend religious ethics and norms did: it doesn’t work unless you really believe in the thing. Correspondingly, the debates literary scholars are having about how to expand the range of texts and subjects we teach are premised on a basic mistake about what such an expansion involves. As he puts it:

This should, by rights, be a moment of exciting curricular debates, over which global and rediscovered and post-colonial works belong on the syllabus with Shakespeare, over whether it’s possible to teach an American canon and a global canon all at once. Instead, humanists have often trapped themselves in a false choice between “dead white males” and “we don’t transmit value.”

In other words, we ought to be in the business of considering how our conceptions of value and their application should change as scholars recognize the incredible cultural wealth inherent in the diversity of the world. But instead we’re caught between reactionary conservatism and nihilistic critique. Continue reading


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SOR JUANA’S ROUGH HEROINES: COGNITIVE IMMORALISM IN PRIMERO SUEÑO

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Portrait of Sor Juana by Miguel Cabrera

What follows is a guest post by Adriana Clavel-Vázquez and Sergio A. Gallegos.

Against all odds, Novohispanic nun Juana Inés de la Cruz gained widespread recognition as a writer in her lifetime. Today, she is also recognized as a distinguished Early Modern philosopher who advanced one of the earliest defenses of the right of women to be educated, and who emphasized how human knowledge is constituted by doubts and struggles. She was particularly preoccupied with the lack of recognition of women as intellectual peers, and its consequences for how women are treated. Continue reading


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WHAT IS ART? LET COGNITIVE SCIENCE HELP YOU ANSWER THAT QUESTION

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ALFIE and BETTY observe Jeff Koons’ Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1988)

What follows is a guest post by Shen-yi Liao, Aaron Meskin, and Joshua Knobe. They offer an overview and summary of the ideas in their new paper, “Dual Character Art Concepts,” just out in Pacific Philosophical Quarterly. (Non-paywalled version available here.)

Alfie: This sculpture is not art. I know many people think it is art, but when you think about what art really is, you will realize that it is not art at all.

Betty: Of course this is art. It is in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art!

Alfie: I know. But all the same, it’s not a true work of art. It’s impersonal factory-produced rubbish.

Betty: Wait, I agree that this sculpture is completely awful in every way, but still, it’s obviously a piece of art. Continue reading


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SPIN ME ROUND: WHY VINYL IS BETTER THAN DIGITAL

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What follows is a guest post by Tony Chackal.

Ever wonder why people prefer vinyl records over digital formats? Are they just snobs who fetishize vintage culture or elitists overly concerned with being hip? Are vinyl enthusiasts backward-looking in resisting contemporary technology? Maybe. But there are other substantial reasons to prefer vinyl to digital formats that may account for recent rebounds in vinyl sales. In this piece, I’ll highlight what I think they are. Continue reading


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FOOD OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE: COOKING AS PUBLIC ART

What follows is a guest post by Andrea Baldini, Associate Professor of Aesthetics at Art Theory at Nanjing University, and Andrea Borghini, Associate Professor of Philosophy at University of Milan.

In 2016, the American food magazine Bon Appétit named South Philly Barbacoa “One of the Best Restaurants in the Country.” First opened in 2014, this small and unassuming eatery quickly rose to national and international attention not only for the amazing quality of its barbacoa, consomé, marinated lamb tacos, and pancita, among others. For chef Cristina Martinez and her husband Benjamin Miller, who together run South Philly Barbacoa, cooking and dining are not only ways to delight one’s palate; they are also tools for speaking “to the larger immigrant experience whose labor is often exploited and forgotten.” Herself an undocumented immigrant who crossed the border from Mexico into the USA, Martinez turned a personal passion and talent for cooking into a political act. A culinary experience, in other words, becomes the occasion to stage an effective and far-reaching vindication of the pride and value of undocumented workers within the American economy – with particular reference to the food and agriculture business.

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Tacos at South Philly Barbacoa (2019); photo courtesy of Anisha Chirmule

In the era of the of the super-star chefs, cooking and dining have been often turned into spectacles that many wouldn’t find difficult to consider art. Food is by now regularly found in museums or exhibited and showed like artworks. As philosophers such as Dom Lopes and Yuriko Saito have suggested, indeed, it is difficult to see an essential divide between traditional art forms and cooking. Yet, the example of South Philly Barbacoa suggests an artistic dimension of cooking and dining that have been heretofore largely overlooked by aestheticians and philosophers of art. Continue reading


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THOUGHTS FOR IMPROVING THE ASA NATIONAL MEETING

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What follows is a guest post by Nick Wiltsher (Uppsala University).

I enjoyed the recent American Society for Aesthetics (ASA) National Meeting in Phoenix. I saw and learned from several good talks, my own talk went decently, I caught up with friends and met new people. Natalie Diaz’s Danto Lecture was outstanding. It takes a heck of a lot of work to organize a conference like that, and I’m very appreciative of the efforts of all those who did that work.

But whether or not I enjoy a conference is not the measure of whether or not it is good. A conference is good if it reaches the aims appropriate to a conference. I think the ASA falls short. From conversations during the last few days, I gather that I am not alone in thinking so. I intend here to articulate my main reasons for thinking so, and some potential solutions. There are probably other reasons, and probably other solutions. I hope colleagues are motivated to suggest them, too, in the spirit of mutual improvement—thinking how we can do better what we do well already. Continue reading


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MUST WE MEAN WHAT WE WEAR?

What follows is a guest post by Marilynn Johnson.

A Compulsive Con Man

On January 4, 2016, a man who identified himself as Jeremiah Asimov-Beckingham walked into a New York City police station wearing a Harvard sweatshirt, a Wounded Warrior baseball hat, and military dog tags. He had come to inquire about an impounded BMW but was instead quickly arrested and charged with a crime. Why had this wealthy military veteran and Harvard grad been arrested? It turns out his name is Jeremy Wilson, not Jeremiah Asimov-Beckingham, and he had been arrested on charges of fraud. For years he had been traveling the country, adopting different personas. In New York, he had been living as Jeremiah Asimov-Beckingham, but this character was a fabrication. Continue reading


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WHAT A GREAT CRITIC DOES

What follows is a guest post by Antonia Peacocke.

Art critics get a really bad rap. The stereotype of a critic is a haughty, pedantic grump who loves passing judgment on art—without being able to do anything creative themselves. According to the stereotype, critics are assholes ready to destroy the dreams of hopeful artists and intimidate the rest of us into feeling dumb.

This stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth. Critics—or, at least, great critics—are really not assholes. They love art, and artists too, and they are not here to intimidate the rest of us. To see the potential of great art criticism, it helps to read a great art critic. Continue reading


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YOU THINK MAKE-BELIEVE IS FOR KIDS? SHERLOCK HOLMES WILL TEACH YOU A THING OR TWO

What follows is a guest post by Nils-Hennes Stear.

How do fictions work? How do made-up characters and their made-up feelings make us cry or rejoice in sympathy? With what are we even sympathizing?

Philosopher Kendall Walton has an answer. His theory of fiction, spelled out in his monograph Mimesis as Make-Believe, is among the most influential and celebrated contributions to the history of aesthetics, if not philosophy. So, when I promised to create an animated explainer film as part of my Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship at the University of Southampton, it seemed a promising subject to tackle. Continue reading


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“TRAUMA-FEEDING”: WHY IT’S NOT OKAY TO EXPLOIT TRAUMA IN ART

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Room, Cité Universitaire, Paris, with Al Ghazali quotation:
“I follow love’s caravan wherever it goes. For love is my religion and my faith.” (2006)

What follows is a guest post by Jeremy Bendik-Keymer & Misty Morrison. It also appears cross-posted at the Cleveland Review of Books.

We want to draw attention to a practice inside contemporary artistic practices and to suggest a set of considerations that could gradually change it, for we take it to be morally dishonest and aesthetically compromised. We call this practice “trauma-feeding.” The expression is our invention. We think trauma-feeding is enmeshed in corrupt conditions in the economy of contemporary art so that to talk about it is to talk inevitably about the institutional framing of artistic practice in an art economy that cultivates practices, habits, and sensibilities that allow artists to hustle their way to success in a neoliberal economy structured by gross inequality of wealth and of capabilities. With trauma-feeding, their mode of hustle is parasitic (from para – alongside – sitos – food) on everyday people’s moral sensibilities. The hinge in our discussion is the relation between trauma-feeding, consumable spectacle, and viability in a neoliberal art economy, predicated off of everyday people’s moral sympathy. After explaining what we mean by “trauma-feeding” and relating it to the social-economic conditions to which we’ve alluded, we will argue that artists and institutions have a moral responsibility to deal with trauma differently, particularly by following through in responding to it. They should stop being morally dishonest and parasitic.

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