AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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WHY I USE DUNGEONS & DRAGONS TO TEACH ETHICS

What follows is a guest post from Rebecca Scott, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Harper College.

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Photo credit: Rebecca Scott

As a philosopher who thinks a lot about teaching and learning, I have a tendency to experiment wildly in my teaching methods. I’m always searching for ways to make my classes more joyful, meaningful, relevant, and fun. Sometimes, my pedagogical experiments fail miserably, and other times they lead to unexpected and delightful encounters that transform my students and me in unexpected ways. A few semesters ago, I embarked on my favorite teaching experiment yet—I played Dungeons and Dragons with my Ethics classes. And what I discovered is that role-playing games have a lot to teach us about the importance of community and playfulness in the classroom.

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THE FEMINIST REVOLUTION CONTINUES: CONTRIBUTIONS OF WOMEN TO THE VISUAL ARTS (CAA) AND AESTHETICS (ASA)

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The author at her easel (photo courtesy of Peg Brand Weiser)

What follows is a guest post by Peg Brand Weiser.

The Feminist Caucus Committee (FCC) arose within the American Society for Aesthetics in the fall of 1990 with an impromptu meeting at the annual conference, that year in Austin, Texas. A chronology of events over the past three decades is now documented in a new online essay, “A Brief History of the FCC on the 30th Anniversary of its Founding,” co-authored by Carolyn Korsmeyer (Buffalo), Cynthia Freeland (Houston), and me. It is located on the FCC page that also celebrates faculty representatives at various summer programs for women and diversity. 2020 is also a year to celebrate the winners of the 30th Anniversary FCC Essay Prize: Sherry Irvin (Oklahoma) with Honorable Mention awarded to Alia Al-Saji (McGill). Continue reading


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BURYING THE DEAD MONUMENTS

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What follows is a guest post from Elizabeth Scarbrough.

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen people from various nations take to the street and graffiti, topple, and otherwise demand the removal of racist monuments. Among the more notable ousted statues in the United States is Confederate President Jefferson Davis on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, and slave-owning Founding Father Thomas Jefferson in Portland, Oregon. Christopher Columbus has fared no better, his statue beheaded in Boston and graffitied with blood on his hands in Miami. In the UK, slave-trader Edward Colson’s statue was toppled and thrown into Bristol harbor. And in Belgium a 150-year-old statue of King Leopold II was officially removed following mass protest.

Monuments are objects designed and created intentionally to remind us of something worth honoring. According to J.B. Jackson, “A traditional monument, as the origin of the word indicates, is an object which is supposed to remind us of something important. That is to say, it exists to put people in mind of some obligation they have incurred: a great public figure, a great public event, a great public declaration which the group had pledged itself to honor.” The aesthetic pleasure it might facilitate, Jackson believes, is secondary. In this way monuments have value as they remind their audience “of something important,” – some group commitment. While we might approach them as solitary individuals, their meaning is derived from some collective experience. As C. Thi Nguyen argues in “Monuments as Commitments: How Art Speaks to Groups and How Groups Think in Art” monuments are not only backward-looking. They ask us to commit to protect values, then act according to those values. In this sense, we rightfully decide to jettison values that no longer serve us – and consequently monuments of racist figures must too be jettisoned. And if it is time for these racist monuments to die, the question is – what should we do with their bodies? Continue reading


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HOLDING OUR BREATH: MAKING SOCIALLY DISTANCED MUSIC TOGETHER

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What follows is a guest post by John Dyck.

Singing is a potent way to spread the virus. I learned this in a Zoom call with my parents, getting the update from back home in Canada. Singing together in worship, they said, has been banned in my home province. I looked it up: Congregational singing is a high-risk activity and is not allowed. The provincial government’s guideline for places of worship explains: Infected people can transmit the virus through their saliva or respiratory droplets while singing. Even singing in a small live-streaming group is not allowed. Soloists and instrumentals are encouraged instead. Some groups, I’m told, are reading their hymns.

It must be strange to worship over a screen. If you are used to singing in worship, it must feel even stranger to worship without song. For some faithful Christian souls, I imagine, worship without song must be as jarring as worship without communion, the saliva and droplets gusting up out of your throat as sure a sign as the bread and wine rushing down into it. Continue reading


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AESTHETICS BY DECREE: TRUMP’S PROPOSAL ON “MAKING FEDERAL BUILDINGS BEAUTIFUL AGAIN”

What follows is a guest post by Jay Miller.

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The neoclassical Lincoln Memorial, designed by Henry Bacon (1922) [source]

Recently, a draft proposal of a presidential executive order was obtained and printed by the Chicago Sun-Times. Under the banner of “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” the leaked document effectively mandates the classical style of architecture for all federal buildings in the U.S. It seeks to right the wrongs of modernist architecture by officially proclaiming the classical style of architecture “the preferred and default style” for federal buildings. The proposal proceeds by first identifying the culprits: It blames the federal government for “largely abandon[ing] traditional, classical designs” in the 1950s; it accuses the General Services Administration (GSA) of overseeing “aesthetic failures”; even more specifically, it takes aim at the “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture,” drafted in 1962 by an aide of the Kennedy administration, for having “implicitly discouraged” classical and other designs “known for their beauty.” Yet, the real target of the proposal (henceforth MFFBA) are the Brutalist and Deconstructivist styles of modernist architecture, which it explicitly equates with the loss of beauty in American federal architecture over the past seventy years or so. In practical terms, this amounts to a federal mandate for classical architecture and a de facto moratorium on modernist architecture for any federal building costing more than $50 million. This includes any renovations or design upgrades to buildings of equal value. And any proposed deviations from classical and traditional designs must be vetted by the “President’s Committee for the Re-Beautification of Federal Architecture,” and must ultimately be submitted to the President for review prior to final approval.

I’ll go ahead and dispense with any pretense to political neutrality here. Because, really, the first step in taking MFBBA seriously is to acknowledge the veritable feast of ironies and absurdities offered up in the space of its mere seven pages. Continue reading


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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