AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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ZOMBIE FORMALISM: OR, HOW FINANCIAL VALUES PERVADE THE ARTS

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Damien Hirst, Dantrolene (1994)

What follows is a guest post by Sarah Hegenbart.

Once upon a time, the month of June was jet-set season for the international artworld. After a meet and greet at the preview days at the Venice Biennale, which used to take place in early June, the crowd of artists, curators, critics, dealers, and collectors jumped on a plane, a train, or a yacht heading towards Basel, Switzerland. Basel wakes up at least once a year when astronomical amounts of money are paid for works so contemporary that the paint on the canvases has hardly finished drying. Or possibly even works that are such hot shit that they are not available yet because they are still on view in one of the national pavilions at the Venice Biennale. But the unavailability only increases the desire. (This is a pattern recognizable from other unhealthy relationships, too.) Knowing the economic laws of supply and demand, clever dealers strategically positioned themselves in the pavilions of the Venice Biennale to advertise their artistic assets. Continue reading


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WHICH INTERPRETATION? AESTHETIC EVALUATION IN THE GALLERY-MUSEUM

What follows is a guest post by Jennifer A. McMahon.

Have you ever found yourself patiently listening to a range of interpretations of an artwork, wondering whether there was some objective way to negotiate the plethora of sometimes idiosyncratic and whimsical responses? Regarding this question, it is interesting to compare the typical objective of a community-based-book-club to the way gallery visitors talk about the art they see. A reader seeks to make sense of a novel in terms relative to their own life experiences. If a reader finds by referencing expert authority that their experience is far removed from what the author had in mind, the value they place on the work might be diminished rather than prompt them to any new experience of it (unless they were reading it as part of a course on which they were to be assessed). With visual art, the situation until recently was quite different. The gallery visitor might ask what a work meant and establish this by reading art historians and art critics. But recently, the gallery has become an analogue of the local book club. The gallery program officers seek to provide experiences for their visitors and by definition this means, finding the means whereby the visitor can make sense of a work relative to their own life experiences. Today it can seem downright fascistic to ask for the view of an expert! Continue reading


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THE PHILOSOPHICAL BEAUTY OF BLACK MIRROR

What follows is a guest post from Laura Di Summa, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at William Paterson University.

Black Mirror, the TV series created by enfant terrible Charlie Brooker, is often described as the quintessential embodiment of grim poststructuralist criticisms of the ideology. But this, I believe, is just one way of looking at it. One, if I may, that has little to do with how it actually looks. Continue reading


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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