AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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ADRIAN PIPER AT MoMA

A philosopher and artist is getting lots of recognition lately, culminating in an upcoming solo show at MoMA. Adrian Piper, who received the Golden Lion from the Venice Biennale in 2015, has enjoyed several shows in the past couple of years, and will now have a major exhibition at MoMA, “Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Intuitions, 1965–2016” (March 31 to July 22, 2018), which will then travel to the Hammer Museum in LA (dates being finalized) before going abroad.

From the MoMA press release:

[T]he exhibition, which will be seen in its entirety only at The Museum of Modern Art, will occupy the Museum’s entire sixth floor—the first time that entire level has been devoted to the work of a living artist.

Exciting!

And the MoMA title isn’t just about her art. She has written about Kant’s notion of intuition. And indeed, this isn’t a case where “philosopher” is just tacked on to add some weight to other titles (like all those “artist, model, poet, DJ, and philosopher”s out there now). Piper is hugely research active in philosophy. To get an idea of her philosophical breadth, see some of her work here. She has published on Kant, aesthetics, rationality, race, and non-Western philosophy. According to Wikipedia, Piper was also the first African-American woman to receive tenure in philosophy in the US.

Her conceptual art is centrally concerned with race – with topics like passing as white, exclusion, otherness – as well as issues like sexism, responsibility, and subjectivity. She examines these issues through performance, drawing, collage, installation, and painting.

And for those of you in NYC or nearby who can’t wait until the MoMA solo show can check out her work at the Levy Gorvy Gallery, up until October 21.

See other announcements:


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WHAT’S SO WRONG WITH FREE EXPRESSION, ABUSIVE ART, AND UNDERSTANDING?

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What follows is a guest post by John Rapko about the recent Guggenheim Museum controversy.

The controversy

On Friday, September 22, a friend sent me an e-mail alerting me to an on-line petition. This time the issue was that the Guggenheim Museum in New York City had released a list of the names of the artists and their works to be included in the upcoming show “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World.” Among the 150 works were three involving live animals, including a video of an installation by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu wherein dogs were strapped into opposing treadmills, where they ran in place, tugged, and snarled at each other to exhaustion. The two other pieces are by artists better-known outside China: a notorious piece by Huang Yong Ping, “Theater of the World”, which shows a large structure wherein many reptiles and insects have been placed, with the animals left to willy-nilly eat each other, fight for space, or make some kind of mutual accommodation; and a video by Xu Bing that shows a boar and a sow, each densely painted with nonsense–Chinese and –Roman characters, mating in a gallery. Thousands of people, including myself after a scanning, were signing the petition. The Guggenheim quickly released a statement urging people to consider the works as a document of their times, and to reflect upon the situation of the artists who were driven to make such works. The signing of the petition only quickened, and by Tuesday, September 26, when the Guggenheim announced that the works would not be shown, supposedly because of the threatening tone of many of the complaints about the show, the petition had garnered over half a million signatories. What had happened? Was it simply a matter of an internet mob hurling electronic threats of violence towards the museum’s employees that forced the otherwise unjustified withdrawal of the works, as the Guggenheim stated? Was the withdrawal further a cowardly capitulation to thugs with an impoverished understanding of animal rights and human rights, indeed “tragic for a modern society”, as the artist Ai Weiwei said? Is this an act of “censorship” violating the artists’ “right to free expression”, as Huang Yong Ping, the artist behind one of the allegedly objectionable works has urged? Or had an inexplicable category mistake been corrected, as implied by the countless objections that “animal torture is not art“?  Continue reading


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AGAINST ROTTEN TOMATOES

Rotten Tomatoes was in the news this summer, as reports were made that the teams behind the Baywatch reboot and most recent Pirates of the Caribbean installment blame the critical aggregator for the films’ poor performance at the box office.  Both films had tested well, and the studios believe that audiences skipping the films in light of their poor Rotten Tomatoes scores otherwise would have attended and enjoyed them.  There is some evidence that the impact of Rotten Tomeatoes on box office earnings has in fact been minimal, but it’s hard to deny that the website has seen an increase in influence in recent years.  There’s no longer any need to actively search for RT scores.  If one simply Googles the title of the movie one is hoping to see, the RT score has pride of place at the top of the search results, along with the IMDB user score.  When one logs onto the Fandango website or app to buy movie tickets, the scores are already listed along with the showtimes (Fandango owns Rotten Tomatoes).  The same is true for Flixster, also owned by Fandango, and the home streaming app VUDU.  There are smartphone apps available that let users quickly consult RT scores for a movie recommendation or even cross-reference the movies that are available on Netflix streaming with their RT scores.  Rotten Tomatoes scores are now inscribed all over the technological landscape that mediates our access to film.  It is very hard to avoid becoming aware of a movie’s RT score before seeing it.

One reasonable reaction is, “Well, good!  The blockbuster used to be a beautiful thing, but now it’s all lazy, uninspired sequels and reboots.   It’s a good thing that Rotten Tomatoes has created a mechanism that helps us avoid bad movies.  Perhaps studios will up their game if they become convinced that that they can’t get away with this crap anymore.”

I think this reaction is short-sighted, and the growing influence of the Tomatometer is mostly a bad thing. There are many reasons, but the one I want to focus on is this: the aggregator doesn’t just punish bad movies, it also punishes bold and distinct movies. How would 2001: A Space Odyssey have fared if Rotten Tomatoes existed in 1968? Not well. Continue reading


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NARROWING THE FIELD: THE FATE OF GENIUS IN THE AGE OF THE READYMADE

Philosopher John Rapko reviews recently published Art in the Making: Artists and their Materials from the Studio to Crowdsourcing by Glenn Adamson and Julia Bryan-Wilson


A peculiar characteristic of contemporary art is that it is accompanied by an enormous amount of talk from artists, curators, and academics about its distinctive features, both what they are and what they should be. A widely shared assumption of such talk is that contemporary art is marked by the acceptance of Marcel Duchamp’s invention of the readymade as an art-making strategy. A readymade is not so much made as chosen: the artist starts with an idea or concept, and then chooses some object to which the idea is attached. The artist’s creative activity is focused on articulating the idea and scanning the world for a suitable vehicle. How, then, could such a narrow conception of artistic activity give rise to the great range of practices in contemporary art?

In order to indicate the scope of artistic making in contemporary art, the authors introduce the term ‘production’. For them the term is extraordinarily capacious; it comprises what is traditionally called the ‘creative process’ (a phrase that does not occur in the book) of conceiving, designing, and fabricating a work, as well as any relevant social processes, such as seeking funding. The authors cite Karl Marx’s early characterization of production as “weaving, spinning, drilling, turning, building, shoveling, stone breaking” to show the level at which basic activities of ‘production’ occur, and to signal explicitly their “commitment to materialist approaches” (p.16). Most of the book is devoted to short descriptions of and reflections upon recent art works. The ten chapters range from ‘Painting’ through ‘Performance’ to the most recently emergent topics of ‘Digitizing’ and ‘Crowdsourcing’. The authors regularly note the points at which a work responds to the contemporary ‘expanded’ condition of the arts. For example, they claim that a characteristic of performance is ‘support’, the ways in which any isolated action of a single agent actually relies upon broad intersecting social networks (p.95).In Art in the Making, Glen Adamson and Julia Bryan-Wilson argue that the readymade is the fundamental model in contemporary art. However, recent developments, particularly the widespread acceptance of collective art-making, have stressed the model to a near breaking-point. Much prominent contemporary art is ‘fabricated:’ one or more artists detail how the work should be made, and artisans and fabricators make the artifacts that comprise the material dimension of the work. Why should such collective authorship stress the model of the readymade? Adams and Bryan-Wilson point to conceptual and social factors that undermine its intelligibility. First, the acceptance of the readymade implies that ‘anybody is/can be an artist’, for after all who can’t point at an object and say ‘I hereby declare thee a work of art’? The problem with this, the authors suggest, is that the readymade is a late outgrowth of the Romantic-modern conception of the artist as a ‘genius’. The social function of the genius model is to secure the conception of the artist as the primary source of a work’s meaning, value, and significance. The social factor is that contemporary works of art are now part of what Rosalind Krauss termed an ‘expanded field’, which the authors also alternatively refer to as ‘the broader environment’ (p.73) or ‘wider cultural matters’ (p.94).

The authors seem to have in mind such ‘material’ networks and practices as food production and distribution, cleaning, maintenance, and transportation. Once artworks are made in ways that acknowledge the contemporary ‘expanded’ condition, unnoticed or marginalized aspects of the work’s making can and sometimes do enter into the work’s content. The authors claim that there is a broad “problematic relationship between art and value” (p.15). Three kinds of value are explicitly noted. First, there is ‘material value’, the buying and selling price of the materials incorporated into a work. Material value has arisen as an issue due to the recent use of spectacularly expensive materials, most notoriously in Damien Hirst’s diamond-blanketed skull. Second there is the market price of the finished work, a value ultimately determined by the degree of social recognition of the artist’s alleged genius (p.141). The first two kinds of value are simply aspects of price, and so are conceptually distinct from a third kind that would usually be referred to as ‘artistic value’ (a phrase that does not occur in the book). The authors’ reference to this third kind are so brief and obscure that it’s unclear what conception of artistic value they hold, but some indications are given: it’s what gives a painting its potential to subvert the practice of painting conceived in terms of medium-specificity (p.34); it makes some works ‘compelling’ (p.208); when it is embodied in a work, the work becomes ‘potent’ (p.217).

Glenn Adamson

Glenn Adamson

The argument of the book, then, seems to be this: Contemporary art is constituted in part by the broad acceptance of the strategy of the readymade as the core model of art-making. This model is bound to the continued acceptance of the artist as genius, that it is social recognition of the imaginative powers of a particular individual that gives that individual’s works whatever meaning, value, and significance they have. The recent and growing prominence of multiple authorship, fabrication, and crowdsourcing serves to undermine the appeal to individual genius. So artistic value in contemporary art is uncertain, at least in orienting our understanding of multiply authored works and those that are seemingly individually authored (since individual authorship is in any case an illusion).

This summary of the argument is distant from the experience of reading the book which is dominated, as noted above, by brief discussions of individual works. Since the authors aim to present “the full spectrum of sites of production” in contemporary art, these discussions of particular works are necessarily so brief (usually a couple of paragraphs, and rarely more than three or four) that the accounts seem arbitrary. For example, in the two short paragraphs on the work of Josephine Meckseper, they note that some critics have characterized her works as “mind-numbingly obvious”. They immediately counter with the suggestion that “the mind-numbing effects of hyper-commodification are precisely what concern her.” No further evidence or argument is given in support of their interpretation other than noting that she does indeed recycle “the cliché [sic] tropes of luxury display” and that this somehow “strikes right at the heart of artistic authorship” (p.148). Perhaps the nadir of the book is their discussion of Robert Smithson’s ‘Spiral Jetty’. They ignore the volumes of literature on the piece, as well as Smithson’s own conceptualization of the work, to simply assert that despite the work’s great complexity, it “was at the most basic level a deployment of equipment normally used to clear a lot and lay a foundation” (p.74) It would be tedious to clarify the various conceptual obscurities here. The occasional citations of authors ranging from Karl Marx (p.16) to the anthropologist of art Alfred Gell (p.37) to the contemporary art historian Rosalind Krauss (p.12) are wholly perfunctory and at best play no role in the larger argument. This is particularly frustrating with regard to Gell, who had advanced a sophisticated and controversial anthropological account of art involving the consideration of networks of makers and users in his book Art and Agency (1998). In their concluding chapter the authors suddenly claim that the subject of ‘distributed authorship’ has been present throughout their book, and that this condition is pervasive in contemporary art (p.223); but, though they have earlier cited Gell, they do not so much as mention his attempt to demonstrate that this subject is also pervasive in, among other things, the arts of the Trobriand Islanders kula, famously studied by Bronislaw Malinowski. Is this condition, then, only pervasive in contemporary art?

Aside from hoping to gain a superficial familiarity with a broad range of recent art, one might read the book as a stimulus for reflection on the remaining force, if any, of the Duchampian model of the readymade in contemporary art. It seems to me, though, that the authors bungle this possibility because they lack any articulate conception of what one might call ‘the appreciative focus’, or what artists are offering for participation, perception, and/or reflection. A distinction of contemporary ‘visual’ art could be that the focus of appreciation is given less through a viewer’s visual perception and more through participation in tasks set by artists. Perhaps contemporary visual art is connecting with ‘wider cultural frames’ by becoming integrated or re-integrated with architecture, dance, and participatory spectacles.

Lacking anything equivalent to the notion of an appreciative focus, the authors cannot resolve the issues they set forth. A particularly damaging consequence of this is their inability to say what the content of a work is. Since on their account it is a consequence of the model of the readymade that the ‘pre-artistic’ processes out of which the artifact arises are part of the content of the work, they have no principled reason for not including in a painting the making of its frame, the cutting of the tree, the making of the saw to cut the tree, and so on infinitely. Put bluntly, the authors need to go back to school to learn the relevant basic conceptual points. But since they themselves are among the most sophisticated writers on contemporary art, and one is a prominent and high-level academic, who shall educate these educators?

Glenn Adamson and Julia Bryan-Wilson: Art in the Making: Artists and their Materials from Studio to Crowdsourcing. (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2016. 256 pp. ISBN 9780500239339. $39.95)


Original review published 4/14/17 at artcritical.com: http://www.artcritical.com/2017/04/14/john-rapko-on-art-in-the-making/


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MARY BETH WILLARD REVISITS “FEARLESS GIRL” STATUE

Mary Beth Willard is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Weber State University. She works in metaphysics and aesthetics, and writes about street art, including an objectively absurd amount of time spent on the story of this little statue.

When I last wrote about Fearless Girl, I observed that the meaning of the little Bull-challenging statue will lie in its interaction with the public, who for the moment has claimed it as an icon of feminism, capturing the vivacity of little girls at that tender age where they still dare to dream.

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Fearless Girl reportedly now has a permit through 2018, and this has angered none other than the creator of Charging Bull, Arturo di Modica, who has asked for Fearless Girl to be relocated, because it’s making his Bull into a villain.

Here’s a quick version of an argument on behalf of di Modica. Fearless Girl might have been intended by the artist and firm who commissioned her (It? She. Has to be “she.”) as a stunt aimed at promoting the hiring and retention of women in the financial industry, but that’s not how people reacted. She opposes the bull – she’s not riding it, after all – and the public has decided that they’re on her side. If she represents the power of girls, then the bull is now a beast that tramples them.  This substantially changes the meaning of Charging Bull, and the artist, who supports gender equality, does not want that. Given that both pieces are works of public art, he cannot simply declare that Charging Bull is not anti-feminist, because his declaration will mean nothing to the swarms of visitors who see the tableau. Thus, to preserve the meaning of Charging Bull, the Fearless Girl must stand down.

The ethos of street art, according to one influential account, commits artists implicitly to accept its ephemerality; once in the street, the artist should expect to have no say over what happens to it, because historically many works of street art were illicit, and would be removed.  The relevant contrast is supposed to be with sanctioned public art, which by way of having sought official approval, is historically afforded a degree of civic protection. Charging Bull has permission, and in the past has been protected from the threat of physical damage by civic authorities, so one question raised by this case is whether the implicit expectation of civic protection extends to the meaning of the work.

There’s also an ethical discussion occurring between the artworks, which arguably affects how we should view di Modica’s request. Curiously, both Charging Bull and Fearless Girl were presented as if they were street art: installed at night, under the cover of darkness. Charging Bull was even hauled off by the authorities before being rehomed two blocks south; there’s a case for it to be properly considered as street art that owes its permanence to its unexpected welcome reception. (Fearless Girl, the result of an ad campaign, had a permit.) In both cases, the intended meaning of the works were overwritten by the reaction of the public. The street decided that Charging Bull was a symbol of the financial district, and that Fearless Girl symbolized everything opposed to it.

In asking for the city to remove Fearless Girl, however, di Modica is saying that in this case, the street does not get to decide the meaning of his artwork. But can he succeed?  There is a limit to what an artist’s intention can establish – there’s no way to preserve Charging Bull as long as Fearless Girl stares it down. He might sue.

(So far, the mayor is telling di Modica to pound salt.)

But if Fearless Girl is so threatening that she must be removed, might she already have won the battle over the meaning of Charging Bull? Imagine the stories: The Charging Bull is so thoroughly identified with capitalism that the power of the state is called in to save it from a tiny ponytailed girl. We were here first, little lady. It was fine when we did it. Don’t you go trying to change the way things are done around here. Don’t take up space.

Will the bull become a bully?


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MARY BETH WILLARD ON “FEARLESS GIRL” STATUE

Mary Beth Willard is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Weber State University. She works in metaphysics, aesthetics, and early modern philosophy, and has particular interests in street art.

On a cold December night in 1989, artist Arturo di Modica installed Charging Bull, a three-and-a-half ton bronze bull, in New York’s Financial District. Di Modica had no official permission to install the statue, which he said symbolized the “strength and power of the American people” following the disastrous 1987 stock market crash.

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These days Charging Bull is a well-beloved tourist attraction, so you probably don’t remember, if you ever knew, that the immediate reaction to this guerilla Christmas gift was mixed. Crowds loved it, but the police were called by the securities exchanges, who then hired a contractor to remove the bull. Five days later, the city announced that it would have a temporary home two-and-a-half blocks south on Bowling Green, where it stands today.

Charging Bull is a work of public art, so while the artist may have intended it as a testament to the strength of the American people, its meaning is created in part by its interaction with the surrounding public space, and it has become identified with New York and the very securities exchanges that called for its removal in 1989. It is an icon of capitalism, as recognizable as the Statue of Liberty. Tourists travel to see it and pose with it. Rubbing various parts of the statue are thought to bring good luck; this tourist is not an anomaly.

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The bull’s identification with capitalism and Wall Street is so complete that during the Occupy Wall Street protests, the city erected barricades around it, fearing that it would be damaged by anti-capitalist protestors. It still has only a temporary permit, but the bull isn’t going anywhere.

And as of last week, the bull has a tiny adversary:

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Fearless Girl, by artist Kristen Visbal, faces down the bull, her dress and hair windswept as if by the breath of the beast, her chin raised in defiance. Fearless Girl is already a sensation, taken a symbol of the strength of women, and clearly opposed to the capitalistic forces the bull symbolizes. She gets humped by a (presumed) finance bro, who is met with viral outrage. Here she wears a pink knitted pussyhat, a symbol of the recent Women’s March; the fearless girl is being claimed by the left. She resists. She surely persists.

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But wait. The plaque at her feet reads “Know the power of women in leadership.  She makes a difference.” Launched ahead of International Women’s Day, it’s a well-timed piece of corporate art, sponsored by State Street Global Advisors, an investment group promoting the leadership of women in finanical institutions. They have a permit for one week, already extended to thirty days.

The girl is an ad. You might as well be moved by a commercial for Folgers.

If you’re like many people who initially saw the statue, you might feel as if your reaction is cheapened by the knowledge that it’s corporate art. You were played by a latter-day Don Draper. For how can the statue embody the nebulous anti-Wall Street spirit of the times if it’s been planted there by the very corporate and financial interests she appears to be fighting?

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Yet perhaps that’s too quick. Her story isn’t finished. Suppose the installation is removed after a week, purchased by a collector, and placed in a museum. You’ll read about her creation on the small placard in the cool white gallery. Fearless Girl (2017) is a curiosity, a brief triumph of exceedingly clever marketing in an Instagrammed age where the best publicity is viral astroturf.

But for now, she remains public art, and the street is her gallery. The passersby are the docents and patrons, and they will decide what she ultimately means. Suppose she stands in the park for years, so that her placement in the park was a corporate stunt fades from memory. We don’t remember that Wall Street hated the bull at first, that they towed it away. It’s hard to remember when it wasn’t there.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors snap photos of their daughters next to her, arms akimbo; they give her hats and scarves; they take selfies; they link their arms with hers. They face down the bull with her. Tourists ruffle her hair for good luck and her crown shines gold.

She’s always been there in New York, hasn’t she?


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JERRY SALTZ: BAD ART CANNOT BECOME GOOD IN NEW CONTEXTS

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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.


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CAN #SELFIES BE ART? SAATCHI SAYS YES

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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


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YouGov SURVEY ANSWERS PERENNIAL QUESTION: CAN VIDEO GAMES BE ART?

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Survey says… No. 😥

But tattoos can be, and many other things.

Internet-based market research company YouGov asked over 1500 Brits whether they thought various mediums could be art.

Their results:

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Unsurprisingly, results varied a lot across age groups, and some across class. Take a look at YouGov’s write-up of these surveys, and their detailed survey results. This updates some older results they got in 2014.

Well, I guess we can shut things down around here. Thanks to everyone for playing!

p.s. But seriously, stay tuned for the next JAAC x AFB Discussion on this beloved non-art-form. We’ll be discussing Grant Tavinor’s JAAC paper “What’s My Motivation? Video Games and Interpretive Performance”.

Photo credit: Ryan Quick, The Art of Video Games via Flickr


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VENGEANCE IN BRIGHT PINK

You might think that you can’t, like, own a color, man.

But you’d be wrong. (And actually you’d have been wrong for a while. See Yves Klein Blue.)

Context: Maybe you remember the dustup earlier this year when superstar artist Anish Kapoor acquired the exclusive rights to (artistic) use of Vantablack, the blackest black in the world. Check it out:

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you can totally see through your screen that it’s the blackest black in existence, right?

Snarky remarks aside, it seems to make the aluminum look downright velvety. Artists were (reasonably) pissed about not being able to use this.

One such artist took revenge. Stuart Semple has developed the pinkest pink in existence. Check it out:

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it’s definitely pinker than this image can depict

And he’s making it available to everybody except Kapoor. Even you* can go grab a jar for £3.99.

*Unless you’re Anish, in which case, wow! We’re super flattered. Click-like-share this blog with your friends!

He’s also developed the glitteriest glitter, which is about twice the price of the pinkest pink, and also available to anybody except Kapoor.

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so why is everybody just talking about the pink?

Real questions: Are these really the pinkest pink and glitteriest glitter? On what sort of scale? Is this just a publicity stunt? Was what Kapoor did just a publicity stunt? Does any of that matter? And is it a problem for the future of art, now that you can actually own certain colors? Or is it no big deal?

Read more:

Images credits: (1) via Wikimedia Commons; (2) and (3) via CultureHustle, Stuart Semple’s website