AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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IS THIS REALLY ART? AESTHETIC DISAGREEMENT AND CONCEPTUAL NEGOTIATION

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What follows is a guest post from Elizabeth Cantalamessa.

Think about the endless debates over what, really, is art. We get it over the latest Star Wars movie, or over Richard Prince’s series of Instagram screenshots titled New Portraits, or the recent Banksy “art-world prank” where a print of Girl With a Balloon “self-shredded” upon its auction. Articles are written, exhibitions are curated, theories are proposed – but, if there’s no fact out there in the world that can settle the debates, why do people waste their time trying to get others to agree with them? It seems that we face a dilemma: either people are wasting their time trying to figure out what “really” makes something art – or there is some deep fact about these objects that would settle the debates if aestheticians and the like just do enough analysis and theory. Continue reading


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CAN WE SEPARATE THE ART FROM THE ARTIST?

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The following is an updated version of a post that appeared originally on the philosophy website Daily Nous as part of their “Philosophers On” series. Thanks to Justin Weinberg for permission to repost it with updates here.


This edition of Artworld Roundtable appears in collaboration with Chris Richards, the pop music critic for the Washington Post. Over the next several weeks, we’ll present a series of roundtable discussions based on Richards’ “five hardest questions in pop music”: “cultural appropriation, problematic lyricism, selling out, the ethics of posthumous listening, and … separating the art from the artist.” AFB has rounded up several thinkers working in these areas to see what they have to say about each question. Richards has provided AFB with key examples to draw out the problems and complexities of each debate. First was cultural appropriation. Second was how to respect the wishes of dead artists. Third was whether selling out is still possible. Fourth was how to engage with objectionable lyrics. Today we ask whether and to what extent we can separate art from the artist who made it.

The past couple of years have been filled with news about artists and entertainers history of sexual harassment and assault. But the bad behavior of artists isn’t limited to that. Many musicians are outspokenly racist. Some have committed crimes or even murders. And others are just terrible jerks.

How, if at all, should the personal character and moral transgressions of musicians change what we think about, and how we act in regard to, their music?

Whether we can separate the art from the artist is the fifth of “the five hardest questions in pop music”, as described in the Washington Post by pop music critic Chris Richards. Below is the guiding question accompanied by a few examples that Richards finds particularly salient, followed by our contributors’ responses. Continue reading


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ASA ELECTIONS

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The American Society for Aesthetics (ASA) is currently holding elections for a vice president and for two trustee positions.

The ASA Vice President will serve a two-year term starting February 1, 2019, and after which they will serve as ASA President for two years. The two ASA Trustees will serve for three years, also starting February 1, 2019.

Brief bios for the nominees appear below the fold. (These were sent out via email to ASA members.)

The deadline to vote is December 31, 2018. Results will be announced in early January. All members of the ASA in 2018 are eligible to vote.

To vote, click here. Continue reading


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WHAT MAKES KAFKA PHILOSOPHICAL?

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What follows is a guest post by Espen Hammer on his recent edited volume Kafka’s The Trial: Philosophical Perspectives.

When reading works of literature, philosophers often look for very general assertions of a quasi-theoretical nature. Thus, Camus’s The Stranger – to pick an obvious example  ̶  is supposed to demonstrate the absurdity of human existence. Or, if that doesn’t satisfy them, they typically start discussing entirely abstract questions of meaning, representation, and reference – of interest to academics steeped in Frege, Russell, and Davidson yet devoid of any concrete relation to actual texts of literary significance.

Kafka, however, on which a recent edited volume of mine entitled Kafka’s The Trial: Philosophical Perspectives (OUP, 2018) focuses, is peculiar in that his texts so vigorously seem to resist such general accounts. To be sure, many philosophers have tried to see in Kafka a kind of visionary thinker either of human existence as such or under specific circumstances, in particular those of modernity. Classical accounts of The Trial have focused on theology (“this is what the human condition looks like without God”), psychoanalysis (“this is what guilt and paranoia looks like”), and sociology (“this is the fate of the individual in a society integrated through anonymous, bureaucratic measures”). The list, of course, could be made very long. Note, though, that all the suggested interpretive keys stand in danger of violating our sense of Kafka’s mystery and ineffability. They all do what philosophers too often do: they reduce the text to a unified set of graspable, general meanings. Continue reading


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100 PHILOSOPHERS 100 ARTWORKS 100 WORDS #69

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Philosopher: Phillip Barron, University of Connecticut

Artwork: Las Meninas (10′ x 9′, oil on canvas, Prado) is the title given to a 1656 painting by the Spanish artist Diego Velázquez. Its composition and complexity raise questions about reality and illusion, most significantly by the presence of a mirror on the far wall of the room.

Just as Descartes reduces thought to rationality,
Velázquez reduces painting to visuality.
— Jose Ortega y Gasset

Words: Sometimes on the metro, I catch myself in windows and see myself as another. Funny how sound is not the same as light. It never echoes transposed the way a mirror moves a scar from left to right.

The painting made me king or queen when peering in the canvas mirror. The nearer to the frame I stand, I am both here and there. Standing at Las Meninas, the self I saw on the train disappears.

After reflection, if I was what I saw, then saw is both the echo and mirror of was.

Image credit: Museo del Prado, via Wikimedia Commons

 


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ASA APOLOGIZES AND ANNOUNCES OMBUDSPERSON

On Saturday, October 13, the American Society for Aesthetics (ASA) issued an apology to Dr. Shelby Moser for their handling of her sexual harassment complaint. This went out via email to all members registered for the recent ASA Annual Meeting. Below is an excerpt from the apology:

“This summer, several individuals in the ASA Board made misleading public comments about the incident and its reporting. As a result, the member making the complaint felt obliged to make a public statement, identifying  herself, to set the record straight.

The Board of Trustees of the ASA hereby apologizes to Dr. Shelby Moser for misleading communications to the effect that she had not made an official complaint in 2017. We deeply regret that she felt compelled by the  remarks to  publicly identify herself, needlessly causing her stress and disrupting her life. We salute her grace and courage in speaking out.

We recognize that failure to respond appropriately to reports of sexual harassment contributes to a culture of  gender discrimination. We undertake to act collectively, as members of the Society, to ensure that in the future the  Society speaks clearly and unequivocally on matters of discrimination and harassment.”

(For more background, see our previous post on this issue.)

In related news, the ASA has named Dr. Jeanette Bicknell the new ombudsperson for the ASA. The basic role of the ombudsperson is to “receive complaints of discrimination and harassment and, where possible, serve as a resource to members regarding such complaints.” The ombudsperson’s full duties are detailed at this post on the ASA website.

They also invite nominations (including self-nominations) for a five-person standing committee on Discrimination, Harassment, and Respectful Behavior.

For the announcement and more information about the invitation, see the ASA’s post here.

This post has been updated. An earlier version incorrectly stated that the email went out to all ASA members.


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ARTWORLD ROUNDTABLE: OBJECTIONABLE LYRICS

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This edition of Artworld Roundtable appears in collaboration with Chris Richards, the pop music critic for the Washington Post. Over the next several weeks, we’ll present a series of roundtable discussions based on Richards’ “five hardest questions in pop music”: “cultural appropriation, problematic lyricism, selling out, the ethics of posthumous listening, and … separating the art from the artist.” AFB has rounded up several thinkers working in these areas to see what they have to say about each question. Richards has provided AFB with key examples to draw out the problems and complexities of each debate. First was cultural appropriation. Second was how to respect the wishes of dead artists. Third was whether selling out is still possible. Today we ask how we should engage objectionable lyrics.

The lyrics to some of our favorite songs are, upon moral reflection, completely horrific. Do those lyrics affect whether we should endorse the music or support the artist? Or is it okay – because it’s fictional, because it’s catchy, or because we know the artists don’t share those views?

How we should engage objectionable lyrics is the third of “the five hardest questions in pop music”, as described recently in the Washington Post by pop music critic Chris Richards. Below is the guiding question accompanied by a few examples that Richards finds particularly salient, followed by our contributors’ responses. Continue reading


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JAAC x AFB: HOLLOW SOUNDS

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What follows is a post in our ongoing collaborative series with the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. This is based on a new article by Daryl Jamieson, “Hollow Sounds: Toward a Zen‐Derived Aesthetics of Contemporary Music” which you can find in the current issue of JAAC.

Losing yourself in the experience of listening to – or playing – is an experience that many (most?) people will have had at some point in their lives. It can be life-changing. For a child just dabbling in music, having a transcendent experience like that can turn her on to a career. Or it could turn someone into a lifelong fan of the musician or genre of music that they were listening to when it occurred.

I can recall several such experiences: the first time I heard an orchestra live in my school auditorium (playing Akasha (Sky) by Glenn Buhr, if I recall correctly), dancing all night at London clubs with particularly good DJs, the full-frontal assault of analogue Japanese noise music, both times I have been present at live performances of Feldman’s more-than-six-hour-long String Quartet N°2, the weirdly-erotic ritualism of Wagner’s Parsifal, and the shock of encountering the 15th-century Matteo da Perugia’s sublimely complex Le greygnour bein. I could go on…

I’ve been composing since before I knew what a composer was, and naturally, having had many of these transcendent experiences with music myself, my own goal as a composer is to write music that has this effect on listeners (and performers). I came to aesthetics as a discipline late in this quest, having stumbled my way (basically self-taught) through political philosophy and queer theory in university, and getting into Buddhist philosophy as a way to understanding Nō theater. From learning about Dōgen and medieval Buddhist thinkers, I naturally got into the spiritual, ethical, and aesthetic philosophy of more modern Japanese philosophers. I was especially intrigued by the Kyoto School, a loose association of thinkers based around Kyoto University whose founding figurehead was Nishida Kitarō (1870-1945). In their writings on art, flowers, and especially poetry, these philosophers greatly influenced my own musical craft. They were writing about art’s transcendental power as an aid to religious experience and sometimes as a substitute path to enlightenment.

But I began to notice something odd: none of these philosophers – or any other major Japanese philosopher – had written anything substantial about music. Continue reading


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AN AESTHETICS OF MISDIRECTION: A BRIEF NOTE ON BLACK PANTHER

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Transatlantic turntable-ism, Krista Franklin

What follows is a guest post by James B. Haile (University of Rhode Island).

Critical responses to Marvel’s first black super hero movie have been quick, varied and numerous, ranging from the significance of an all-black cast for filmic representation (here and here), to the veneration of its depiction of strong, intelligent dark-skinned black women with natural hair as central and heroic characters (here and here), to the critique of the film for pursuing a cosmopolitan vision of “Africa” at the expense of both Africans themselves and for African Americans (here and here), to critiques of the film for promoting the ameliorative agenda of integrationist hopefulness of neo-liberalism dressed in “black excellence,” standing shoulder-to-shoulder with hegemonic power, eschewing pan-Africanist sentiments (here, here and here). And though on the surface these approaches appear diverse, they have, for the most part, a common or central focus that limits their analysis. That is, what unites these ideas is the ever-present and looming undercurrent of our contemporary social, political, and aesthetic history—individualism. Our nation is grounded in the importance of the individual both politically (we can look at the “one man, one vote” idea as central to our political system) and socially (the idea of democracy is so fundamentally rooted in the importance of the individual that no other social or political organization is given merit). But this idea is also significant aesthetically in that it grounds how we interpret, that is, think about and represent ourselves and our world socially and politically (one can think of the aesthetic quality of the voting booth as akin to the confessional booth). It is unsurprising, then, that our films also replicate individualism. This is nowhere more evident than in the recent explosion of superhero movies, highlighting the force of the great individual to impose social, political, and moral values onto the world through a very particular aesthetics—e.g., the aesthetics of Superman’s iconic red cape fluttering behind his floating body captures the idea of an all-seeing sense of justice; Batman’s highly stylized black suit replete with a black and gold utility belt gives the sense that any and every one could be the enforcer of a moral code greater than the law itself; and Black Panther’s all-black suit that gives the impression of how future technological innovation could be merged with the natural world without damaging our planet. Yet, each of these characters are individuals who come to represent larger social and political ideals rather than social collectives. It is, then, no surprise that individualism not only shaped the storyline and how Black Panther depicted its central characters and plot line, but also how it was received by the public. Continue reading