AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


1 Comment

FIVE USEFUL FACTS ABOUT THE FORCE AND RELATED MATTERS (OR, WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU SEE THE LAST JEDI)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens today. I suspect many if not most of you will go see it. Hence, I constructed this little guide to some important aspects of the Star Wars saga. Obviously, given both the prevalence of words like “Force” and “Jedi” in the title of this film and the (narrative-wise) previous one, and what we know of the story so far, it seems safe to assume that the nature of the Force, and clashes between different aspects or interpretations of the Force, will be front-and-center in the new film. Hence, I’ve concentrated on some Force-errific trivia tidbits that might be useful in navigating that aspect of the story:

  • Arguably, R2-D2 is the protagonist of the overall Star Wars story. In an interview conducted while filming Return of the Jedi, George Lucas stated that the Star Wars saga was being narrated by R2-D2 to the Keeper of the Journal of the Whills. The Whills are Force-sensitive beings who were revered by holy men known as Shamans of the Whills. For more detail on R2-D2’s role in the saga as a whole, see here.
  • The Whills (or, more specifically, their acolytes) are important too. It was a Shaman of the Whills who taught Qui-Gon Jinn the secret to returning from the dead as a “Force ghost”, and Qui-Gon then passed this knowledge on to Yoda and the surviving Jedi. Baze Malbus and Chirrut Imwe (from Rogue One) were Guardians of the Whills – a group of warrior-monks also connected to the Order of the Whills.
  • Jedi and Sith (and Whills) are not the only powerful Force-users in the Star Wars universe. For example, both the Nightsisters of Dathomir (who played an important role in the Clone Wars) and the Force Priestesses at the Wellspring of Life (who also apparently taught Yoda the secret to returning as a Force ghost) are powerful Force users.
  • Kyber crystals are deeply intertwined with much of the conflict in the Star Wars saga. Kyber crystals are critical components of lightsabers, but they are also used in the super-weapons constructed by the Sith and other dark-side Force users (e.g. Death Stars 1 and 2, and Starkiller Base). Kyber crystals are naturally attuned to the light side of the force. Hence a dark side user must bend a kyber crystal to his or her will, causing it to “bleed” (this explains the red color of Sith lightsaber blades).
  • In addition to the force being divided into the Dark Side and the Light Side (although it is not clear that even this division is exhaustive), the Force (both Light and Dark) is divided into four distinct aspects: The Living Force, the Unifying Force, the Cosmic Force, and the Physical Force. These four aspects are tied to different abilities (e.g., a connection to all living things, the ability to see the future, the ability to come back as a Force ghost, and the ability to move physical objects, respectively). Different Force users typically focus on different aspects of the Force, or even argue that one of these aspects is, in fact, the right way to understand the Force.

Enjoy the film, and may the Force be with you!


1 Comment

HAPPY ARTSY HALLOWEEN!

Eleven-in-tank.jpg

In the past, AFB has posted a few appropriately themed music videos for the holidays (see, e.g., here and here). But we’ve decided to take it up a notch!

When a holiday rolls around, various regular contributors to AFB will spotlight holiday-appropriate works of art. These are not necessarily works that the particular contributor thinks are the absolute best (although they might be), and they are not necessarily unfamiliar or particularly avant-garde. But hopefully the mini-essays included will introduce you to a new perspective on at least some of these works, or even just remind you of really cool works that fit that into the holiday mood!

In the future we plan on setting these up as a series of week-long mini-posts leading up to the holiday in question, but this Halloween we’re just going to throw a few of them at you all at once. So here goes! Continue reading


1 Comment

THE INTRIGUE OF ANONYMITY

 

Banksy lovers.jpg

Banksy arrested!  Unmasked!  Exposed!

Breaking fake news, as it turns out, created by a guy who has developed an Andy-Kaufmanesque approach to creating hoaxes, delighting in particular when his hoaxes get picked up by mainstream news sites.  The hoax article by Jimmy Rustling (how did the Internet not catch this? Come on, Internet.) mixes fiction with fact, and probably would make an excellent example for those interested in knowledge, the propagation of fake news, echo chambers and the like, (cough, cough), but I wondered:

Why does Banksy bother with anonymity?  Banksy’s identity isn’t public, but the rough consensus is that Banksy is probably male, probably British, probably white, probably from Bristol, and probably in his forties.  Banksy has claimed that they’re anonymous because their work is illegal, but this seems not to capture the entirety of it.  Someone that worried about arrest wouldn’t publicize their work on Instagram, or show up at exhibits in a mask.  More to the point, while Banksy’s art continues to include illicitly-placed stencils, Banksy also exhibits work in more traditional installations, and given the notoriety of his work, it’s hard to imagine any city seriously prosecuting a case for vandalism.

(Indeed, given that some of Banksy’s stencil fetch millions at auction, it would make  for an interesting case.  Your Honor, this man illicitly gave me an artwork of great value!  Shades of Pratchett’s anti-crime here.  But I digress.)

Quick take: Pragmatic reasons aside, street art paradigmatically is anonymous or pseudonymous, historically because of its illegality.  But as the art form has matured, arguably anonymity has become an artistic convention.   To make street art require anonymity; one must wear a disguise because some of the aesthetic delight of street art lies in contemplating its creation by the faceless crowd.

Photographed by Richard CocksOwn work, Banksy Graffiti (Park Street) Close shot, CC BY 2.0, Link


Leave a comment

WE ALL HAVE OUR REASONS

Comic artist Zach Weinersmith of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal talks about art:

smbc-art

And the aftercomic, for those of you interested in questions about representation and depiction:

1504798609-20170907after

And the referenced work, for your viewing pleasure, which has hilariously become Cesena’s profile pic on his Wikipedia page:

311px-michelangelo-minos2

According to Wikipedia: “It was widely said that when Cesena complained to the Pope, the pontiff joked that his jurisdiction did not extend to hell and the portrait would have to remain.”


Leave a comment

EMERGENT POETRY AND GOOGLE TRANSLATE

ke3.png

Google Translate’s Emergent Poetry

Some of you will be familiar with computer poetry, poetic compositions generated by computers using algorithms. Some of you may even be familiar with computer prose, as the book The Policeman’s Beard is Half Constructed (text here). There are lots of things to say about this. Who’s the author? Is it really poetry? And what does it say if computer poetry passes the Turing test?

Last week, I stumbled upon something new in this neighborhood, care of Google Translate. You might think this would be generated by inputting something funny (but promising if you think about it) like assembly instructions or political speeches–or even something translated into a different language, then translated back. Instead, this Google Translate poetry takes as input a single, repeated Japanese hiragana character. As you can see above, the returns are surreal and delightful. (For all of these, I’ve used ‘ke’, け.)

ke.png

See here and here for more examples.

For a little background, hiragana is a syllabary, so it’s not like Chinese characters where, roughly speaking, each character is a word, and these are subsequently built up into other words. An individual hiragana character can be a word, but this is also true in English with ‘a’ and ‘i’. And, like English, the meaning of the characters are not somehow built into the meaning of any word containing them. (The meaning of ‘a’ is not built into the meaning of all words that contain that letter.)

This fact about hiragana makes the results all the more interesting. In fact, you don’t need to limit yourself to hiragana to get these outputs. At his blog Riddled, Smut Clyde uses all sorts of different repeated syllables and repeated letters to generate such poetry.

You can also get different results by switching up spacing, returns, hyphens, and so on. Here’s an example using spaces.

ke2.png

The Philosophy

Philosophically speaking, it’s a little different from traditional computer-generated poetry, which often takes a mass of text as an input in order to generate something new and sometimes in a similar style. Here, the program (Google Translate) is not intended to really generate anything. It’s meant to convert some existing meanings into roughly synonymous existing meanings. (It would actually be contrary to the goal if new meanings were created.) But what we see in the above examples is meaning that just sort of emerges out of language goo. It’s as if we’d shaken a tree and its twigs and leaves fell into a meaningful pattern, or if we discovered a poem floating on the top of a bowl of Alpha-Bits cereal. We might end up shaking a lot of trees to find something good, but there is a sense in which we didn’t create the thing that comes out.

I don’t have any position on this stuff. Maybe it’s a collaborative, co-authored work. Maybe we who dub the final thing ‘poetry’ are the real authors. Or maybe it’s just not poetry at all. Maybe there’s nothing philosophically controversial here. But even that would be kind of surprising, I think. In any case it’s a fun example to think about. And so much fun to play around with, too.

I’ll say one thing, after having messed around with it a little bit: As the one who enters the characters, you have some control over what comes out. You can exercise this control to varying degrees, being more hands-on (inserting spaces and punctuation, cutting and pasting, determining which lines are more or less interesting/poetic/provocative) or more hands-off (entering virtually random-length strings punctuated by occasional line returns). The more hands-on it gets, the more it feels like a collaboration, as you get inspired by what excellent random things pop out (“Welcome to the place where you can sit down with your birthday daughter”??). The more hands-off it gets, the more it feels like you’re just stumbling upon some surprisingly meaningful twigs.

Here’s a final challenge (or concession?), in the form of a one-line poem, very poetically using ‘i’ (い):

i.png

– Alex

(via Language Log)


1 Comment

VAPORWAVE AND MUSIC THEORY

Are music recordings their own type of musical instrument?

How does timbre (vs. pitch, harmony, etc.) affect musical experience?

What, really, is the point of music theory?

And is vaporwave really dead? (Do you, Dear Reader, not yet know what vaporwave is – or was?)

All these questions and more are addressed in this excellent video (from 2016 that I just discovered…) by YouTuber and musician Adam Neely.

 


Leave a comment

JERRY SALTZ: BAD ART CANNOT BECOME GOOD IN NEW CONTEXTS

tumblr_ojsimoSkhh1qzdpsuo1_1280.jpg

photo of Longo’s sculpture on Whitney’s Tumblr account

Another entry in philosophy-meets-the-artworld:
Famous art critic Jerry Saltz weighs in on Vulture about Robert Longo’s All You Zombies: Truth Before God, which was recently installed at the Whitney.

Saltz writes of ‘badness’ as a “metaphysical constant”:

Can older bad art be made good by changing political times? The short answer, I think, is “No.” Really bad art may be a metaphysical constant, and in the case of rediscovered, long overlooked masterpieces I tend to believe the work was always good and we just weren’t capable of seeing it yet.

But says that, really, it might not be that important:

But when thinking about how times change works of art, we probably need to get away from using words like good and bad. Let’s focus instead on values that make art useful: surprise, energy, redefinitions of skill, a willingness to fail flamboyantly, originality in pursuit of different ideas of beauty, ugliness, urgency, the shedding of biography, or 1,000 other things. Look through these lenses and older art will often look very different in newer times. Any image of black face or lynching reverberates horribly today, as it should.

So what exactly does Saltz think of Longo’s sculpture? Check out the full article at Vulture.


2 Comments

CAN #SELFIES BE ART? SAATCHI SAYS YES

rembrandt.jpg

I’m going to go ahead and say Saatchi isn’t really that cutting edge on this one. People have been doing self-portraits for a long-ass time. Maybe those don’t count as “selfies” though?

In any event, the famous Saatchi Gallery will host a show this spring called “From Selfie to Self-Expression”. This is funded together with the enormous Chinese telecom company Huawei. (Hm, I wonder why they’d be interested in selfies.)

Maybe most exciting is for those artistic sorts who read the blog: You can enter your own selfie for a chance to be shown at Saatchi!

They’re currently holding a selfie competition (entry rules here), open until March 12, 2017. You have to submit images via their website interface. For whatever reason, you can’t just post an Instagram with the #SaatchiSelfie hashtag and be entered. Although they do want you to use that hashtag on Twitter, Instagram, etc.

Or you can just scope out the current entries.

From the website: “Winners will receive Huawei’s latest smartphone and have their selfies showcased at the Saatchi Gallery as part of Selfie to Self-Expression.” Even if you weren’t jonesing for the newest line of Huawei phones, being part of a Saatchi show would be pretty cool.

The show will run from March 31, 2017 – May 30, 2017.

Image: Rembrandt, Self-Portrait (1660), courtesy of The Met Collection


Leave a comment

CITIZEN TRUMP: AN INAUGURATION DAY SPECIAL FROM AFB

laurenweinstein.png

Did you know that Donald Trump’s favorite movie is Citizen Kane?

Did you know that the famed film director (and one-time Berkeley philosophy PhD candidate) Errol Morris interviewed him about it?

And did you know that LitHub’s Anthony Audi interviewed Errol Morris about that?

On Rosebud, Morris recalls:

It’s fun to hear Trump talk about how Rosebud somehow works, the metaphor works, “I don’t know why it works, but it works. After all, Steven Spielberg paid a lot of money for it, so it must work. Paid a lot of money, maybe seven figures, six figures.”

This comment is in reference to Spielberg’s having purchased the sled used in the film for $60,500 in 1982. (In fairness, that is six figures in 2008 dollars – about $135k.)

Humor aside, Trump seems to be suggesting an aesthetic theory on which money is evidence of – or perhaps constitutive of – quality. (Surprising, I know.)

Check out the video of Morris’ 2008 interview with Trump below:

The interview contains some intriguingly vulnerable moments. (“Wealth does in fact isolate you from other people. It’s a protective mechanism.”) But also some classic Trump.

Morris: “If you could give Charles Foster Kane advice, what would you say to him?”

Trump: “Get yourself a different woman.”

One last gem of Morris’ from the LitHub interview:

I have this concept based on possible revisions to the DSM V, the diagnostic manual for American psychiatry, and I was going to call it Irony Deficit Disorder: the absolute inability to appreciate irony on any level whatsoever, particularly when the irony involves oneself.

To find out more, follow the above links or check out these articles:

Excellent meme via @laurenweinstein on Twitter


2 Comments

POET ANSWERS STANDARDIZED TEST QUESTIONS ABOUT HER POETRY – INCORRECTLY.

art_test.png

I must alert you to an awesome piece by poet Sara Holbrook on HuffPo, where she explains that Texas used two of her poems for middle school standardized tests.

Holbrook:

  • receives an email from a distressed teacher who doesn’t understand the answers
  • discovers poor formatting that adds to the confusion
  • finds the questions in question
  • cannot, ultimately, answer them

The narration of her thought process going through the questions is also delightful.

At one point, she writes:

Parents, educators, legislators, readers of news reports: STOP TAKING THESE TEST RESULTS SERIOUSLY

Idiotic, hair-splitting questions pertaining to nothing, insufficient training, profit-driven motives on the part of the testing companies, and test results that simply reveal the income and education level of the parents.

All very fair. But then a bit of intentionalism to finish it all off!

My final reflection is this: any test that questions the motivations of the author without asking the author is a big baloney sandwich. Mostly test makers do this to dead people who can’t protest. But I’m not dead.

I protest.

Whoa – okay. Now the little dose of philosophy:

She definitely thinks she has the final word on how her poetry is interpreted! But like, does she really? Maybe she’s a good poet but a bad interpreter. (I’ll admit that the questions and answers do in fact seem a little silly. And I’ll be the first to throw down about how terrible standardized testing is.) But in principle, there’s no reason to think that just because she can’t answer the questions, they’re bad questions. Right? What do you guys think?

Go read the whole thing on Huffington Post.

Image credit: t-shirt design via Fashionably Geek – sorry little birdies, it looks like it’s sold out! 😥