AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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Five Fictions by Ben Roth

Image of Michael Heizer’s North, East, South, West via flickr

What follows is a guest post by Ben Roth (Harvard).

The Anxiety of Influence

When her first book was published, she was surprised, then perplexed, to read reviewers confidently itemize among her influences authors and books she’d never read, sometimes never even heard of. But perplexity gave way to fascination, and then joy. Here, finally, were book reviews doing what and only what she wanted book reviews to do: list books she would read, love, and absorb as influences.

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On The Record: An Audio Professional’s Take on Vinyl

What follows is a guest post by musician and recording engineer Michael Connolly. It is a response to an earlier piece that argues for the superiority of vinyl over digital audio.

As a long-time recording engineer and musician, I read Tony Chackal’s post “Spin Me Round: Why Vinyl is Better than Digital” with great interest. The analog-digital debate in audio is a longstanding one, and while it is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, I thought I might be able to offer some background as a longtime audio professional and musician. Recordings are a beautiful mix of technical and aesthetic concerns, and this post will attempt to tease out how to navigate these two framings of music recording, especially with regard to the often-oversimplified distinction between analog and digital recordings.

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What Really Went Wrong at ‘Reply All’: Norms for a New Medium

What follows is a guest post by Joshua Habgood-Coote, honorary research fellow at the University of Bristol.

Why are non-fiction podcasts so addictive? Why are their stories so persuasive? Part of the answer lies in the directness, intimacy, and richness of solely aural media. But even amongst purely aural media, podcasting seems to have a special grip on listeners. The seductive power of non-fiction podcasting means that when shows get things wrong, their mistakes tend to mislead a large part of their audience. However, because podcasting has yet to be institutionalized, exactly what journalistic norms podcast producers ought to be bound by is up for debate.

Two well-known podcasts—the New York Time’s Caliphate series and the Reply All mini-series on Bon Appétit—recently got into trouble for failures of reporting. The producers of both podcasts framed their responses by appeals to the norms of print journalism, chalking them up to “editorial failings“. But recycling journalistic norms from old media will not give us adequate standards for podcasting. To understand how Caliphate and Reply All have gone wrong, we need to understand how the conventions and function of podcasting have created distinctive forms of media.

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THE NFT: A WEALTH AND POVERTY OF IMAGINATION

Beeple, “Everydays: The First 5,000 Days”

What follows is a guest post by Jack Simpson, and it is one of two pieces we are running on NFTs. See another take on NFTs here.

In recent weeks we’ve seen an exponential rise in discussion around NFTs (non-fungible tokens, for those who’ve missed any of this). In industries ranging from sport to art to music, bets are being made on NFTs being the next big thing. Proponents suggest they can return value to art in digital form by creating an artificial level of scarcity. In music, it has been suggested that they could be transformative for rights, and who gets paid. Sceptics argue that there is no “real” value being created, that NFTs represent yet another piece of crypto hyperbole. First, let’s look at some basics and then at two key areas: One, how could NFTs have an impact on creative work? And two, what are the merits of creating artificially scarce art?

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IS CLASSICAL MUSIC RACIST? AN AESTHETIC APPROACH

What follows is a guest post by Chris Jenkins, Associate Dean at Oberlin Conservatory

Is classical music racist? Following the events of the summer of 2020 that exposed for many the depth of systemic racism within the justice system, people of color and their allies have raised the issue of racism in countless artistic and academic fields, classical music being no exception. Writing in the New Yorker in regard to classical music’s belated self-criticism, the critic Alex Ross admitted “such an examination is sorely needed in classical music, because of its problematic past.” Many other critics have answered definitively in the affirmative, or at least acknowledged major structural shortcomings in the design of the field. NPR critic Tom Huizenga has lamented “Why is American Classical Music so White?” Author and screenwriter Candace Allen, former wife of the British conductor Simon Rattle, has discussed the racist attitudes to which she has been subject, and declared that Black audience members are often made to feel unwelcome. Philip Ewell’s incendiary and accurate article “Music Theory and the White Racial Frame” begins with a necessary but seemingly self-evident proclamation – “music theory is white” – and explodes much of the entire field of theoretical musical analysis. Brandon Keith Brown, a Black conductor based in Berlin, has argued that “It’s Time to Make Orchestras Great Again – By Making Them Blacker.” Neybal Maysaud, a Lebanese-Druze composer, declares the entire genre as being so problematic that “It’s Time to Let Classical Music Die.”

In this blog post, I argue that the answer to the question of whether classical music is racist ought to be yes; but that casting the answer in terms of aesthetics provides a more coherent framework and points toward possible solutions. Like many fields, classical music’s chosen method of diversifying has not addressed its own values and approaches in order to become more inclusive, but rather has sought to diversify the population in which it inculcates a particular set of aesthetic priorities. Consequently, aesthetics themselves can end up constituting a structural barrier to diversification. Despite a number of commendable diversity initiatives, the aesthetics of the performance and pedagogy of classical music still do not resonate with many members of communities of color in the United States, and this is because the field has approached diversification as a project of assimilation, rather than integration. In addition to substantial change in the compositional diversity of performers, students, and audience, true diversification of the field will ultimately require aesthetic integration, the blending of more than one aesthetic approach to create something new that appeals to a diverse constituency. We might take African-American musical aesthetics as a point of comparison; what would a truly integrative approach that produces a new set of aesthetic priorities look like?

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THE HOUSE NEVER LOSES: HOW MICROTRANSACTIONS EXPLOIT VIDEO GAME PLAYERS

What follows is a guest post by Eliya Cohen, PhD candidate in philosophy at Princeton University.

Imagine an industry that makes use of a business model much like a casino’s, except – in the most literal sense of the phrase – the house never loses. Not only would the house win in the long term, but every iteration of every game would be one where the house never coughs up a cent. And curiously, it would be precisely because the house never has to pay out, because patrons can never win, but only lose something of value, that the model would be largely unregulated.

Welcome to the video game industry, where the product is so enchanting that we almost forget that producers exploit us while we play.

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WHY VIDEO GAME VIOLENCE ISN’T INNOCENT

What follows is a guest post by Christopher Bartel, Professor of Philosophy at Appalachian State University

Is it ever morally wrong to commit violent or immoral acts in a video game? Video games are just images, right? No matter what I do in a video game, I am just interacting with images, and harming an image doesn’t cause any real-world harm. So, all of my actions in games must be morally neutral. This is a perfectly reasonable (and common) line of thought. But I think it’s wrong. Here’s why.

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“WE ARE EVERYTHING AND WE ARE NOTHING”: AN INTERVIEW WITH ACTOR AND FILMMAKER JULIE DELPY

What follows is a guest post by Hans Maes (University of Kent) and Katrien Schaubroeck (University of Antwerp).

As part of Routledge’s Philosophers on Film series, Hans Maes and Katrien Schaubroeck are editing a volume on the so-called Before trilogy directed by Richard Linklater: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight: A Philosophical Exploration. The trilogy chronicles the love of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) who first meet up in Before Sunrise (1995), later reconnect in Before Sunset (2004) and finally experience a fall-out in Before Midnight (2013). Not only do the individual films present storylines and dilemmas that invite philosophical discussion, but philosophical conversation itself is at the very heart of the films.

Julie Delpy, who co-wrote the trilogy and was twice nominated for an Academy Award (best adapted screenplay) for Before Sunset and Before Midnight, agreed to be interviewed for the book because, as she explains, she has a soft spot for philosophy. What follows is an excerpt from that interview. The full text will be included in the volume that is scheduled to appear in 2021 and that will contain contributions from Christopher Cowley (University College Dublin), Diane Jeske (University of Iowa), James MacDowell (University of Warwick), Hans Maes (University of Kent), Kalle Puolakka (University of Helsinki), Anna Christina Ribeiro (Texas Tech University), Katrien Schaubroeck (University of Antwerp), Marya Schechtman (University of Illinois), Michael Smith (Princeton University), and Murray Smith (University of Kent).

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