Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

A mosaic of Socrates and six other men in himations lounging outside. Socrates is using a stick to point to the ground, and the men seem to be thinking and talking.

September 7, 2023
by Aesthetics for Birds
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How To Illustrate Philosophy

A mosaic of Socrates and six other men in himations lounging outside. Socrates is using a stick to point to the ground, and the men seem to be thinking and talking.
Plato’s Academy mosaic, author unknown (c. 100 BCE-79 CE, Pompeii) [source]

What follows is an essay by Thomas E. Wartenberg (Mount Holyoke College), based on his recent book Thoughtful Images (OUP, 2023).

The first illustration of philosophy that I have been able to identify is the Roman mosaic from Pompeii made in the first century C.E. that you see here. It shows a group of men focused on a standing man who is speaking. The figures have been identified as Plato holding a stick and pointing, surrounded by other philosophers from Ancient Greece, though there is debate about who they are.

This beautiful mosaic illustrates an aspect of the Platonic practice of philosophy: it depicts a group of men having a discussion. This is an important aspect of how philosophy was done in Ancient Greece, and it accords with the famous portrait of Socrates doing philosophy with his followers. It thus represents an advance in the illustration of philosophy, for the only traces of philosophy in previous works of art were the busts of famous philosophers.

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Three lovely tacos

March 30, 2023
by Alex King
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Taco Bell and the Paradox of Ironic Appreciation

Outdoor signage of a Taco Bell restaurant
Taco Bell, Nottingham, England [ALAMY]

What follows is a case study by Alex King, republished from Bloomsbury Contemporary Aesthetics, the newest module of the Bloomsbury Philosophy Library. Bloomsbury Contemporary Aesthetics is anchored by a set of exclusive and original case studies contributed by some of the leading voices in aesthetics today, and written to introduce new students to the broad range of topics in aesthetics and the philosophy of art, from interpretation and ontology to appropriation, taste, curiosity, and the aesthetics of confusion. More information on Bloomsbury Contemporary Aesthetics follows at the bottom of the page.

He leaned over, laughing, and sneered just a little: “But like, ironically, right?”

I had just told him that I loved Taco Bell.

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A black bedazzled jacket. Vertical and lines going up and down the entire back form bars on a jail cell beyond which a lonely cowboy plays a guitar.

March 2, 2023
by Aesthetics for Birds
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Nose to the Rhinestone: The Authenticity of Country Music’s Sparkling Suits 

A sky blue rhinestone suit jacket and pants with nautical-themed patches sewn on.
A suit designed by Nudie Cohn for Hank Snow, reflecting the singer’s time as a sailor in Canada before becoming a country singer (source)

What follows is a guest post by Evan Malone (Lone Star College).

If there is one thing that country music fans love to debate, it’s what songs, artists, and subgenres count as ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ country. Whether it’s ‘countrypolitan’, ‘bro-country’, or ‘boyfriend country’, whatever is popular on mainstream country radio and CMT is liable to be met with accusations of killing country music, and the verdict is always the same: It’s inauthentic. 

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A total of thirty-six sepia-tone stills, organized in three rows show a woman walking in a sheer, white dress. While each row shows her from a different angle, the photos within a row look almost entirely identical but for the placement of her feet. In all photos she holds the tail of her dress in her left hand, and raises her other to her head, perhaps shielding her eyes from the sun, her elbow pointing out far to the right.

February 3, 2023
by Aesthetics for Birds
4 Comments

How Should Literature Mean? A Conversation About Art and Ambiguity

A total of thirty-six sepia-tone stills, organized in three rows, show a woman walking in a sheer, white dress. While each row shows her from a different angle, the photos within a row look almost entirely identical but for the placement of her feet. They look like film stills of her walking. In all photos she holds the tail of her dress in her left hand, and raises her other to her head, perhaps shielding her eyes from the sun, her elbow pointing out far to the right.
Eadweard Muybridge, Plate Number 37. Walking; left hand holding dress, right hand at face, 1887

What follows is an interview by Samara Michaelson.

A few months ago, I asked scholars John Gibson, Magdalena Ostas, and Hannah Kim to have a conversation with me about art and literature. Each of us brought a different perspective to the conversation. We discussed the difference between artistic and philosophical or historical modes of knowledge production, how art engenders or generates meaning, and the relationship between meaning, sense, and “aboutness” in the experience of art.

After sending along a list of questions over email, the four of us met over video and spoke together for an hour and half – and could have talked even longer. Below is an edited version of this conversation, which contains some disagreement, some consensus, and above all, inevitably, more questions than answers.

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January 26, 2023
by Aesthetics for Birds
2 Comments

Nine Scholars Discuss the Philosophy of Comics

What follows is a roundtable discussion of the new book Philosophy of Comics written by Sam Cowling and Wesley Cray.

To do philosophy of comics is to engage with everything from philosophical aesthetics to cognitive science, from moral philosophy to the history of mass art, and from complex debates in metaphysics to nuanced issues in the ethics of representation. It’s in this spirit that we wrote Philosophy of Comics: An Introduction (Bloomsbury, 2022), and it’s in that same spirit that we’ve looked forward to engaging with the range of philosophers, comics scholars, and artists who graciously agreed to collaboratively engage in this roundtable. (Enormous thanks are also due to Matt Strohl for pulling this roundtable together.)

First, a lightning quick overview of our book! Our goal is not to explore philosophy through comics—that is, using the medium as a lens through which to tackle perennial philosophical questions—but instead to explore, expand, and fortify the growing field of philosophy of comics: that is, philosophical examination of the medium itself, as well as its relations to other social and artistic phenomena. For that reason, the book covers a lot of ground, ranging from social questions (e.g., the ethics of comics pornography, the norms of re-coloring) to artistic questions (e.g., how to approach the relation between comics and literature or the aesthetic evaluation of comics adaptations) to ontological questions (e.g., what kinds of artifacts comics are, what kinds of entities fictional characters are) and more. Our hope is that philosophers will find interest in the investigations into comics, and that comics creators, scholars, and fans alike will find interest in the philosophical explorations.

Our contributors are:

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Five bright, peach-colored flamingos appear from the neck up against a dark green pond in the background.

January 19, 2023
by Aesthetics for Birds
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Top 5 Posts of 2022

A group of flamingos stand in a river, their heads pointed to the side.

Editor’s Note: It’s been a little quieter around here than usual, sorry about that! Let’s get back to it. Up first in 2023…

Thanks to our readers for another great year with us. As we’ve done before, we wanted to dedicate a post to 2022’s most-viewed pieces. Scroll through to make sure you haven’t missed something big. (And check out our Top 5 of previous years: 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020, and 2021.)

Note: As usual, our actual Top 5 by the numbers included some from previous years (including a pair of pieces about vinyl and digital music and a 2021 essay about digital blackface). Below are the most popular five posts that first appeared in 2022.

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Two images Monroe's dress. One before worn by Kardashian, the other after with some crystals missing and stretching around the zipper. An overlayed Tweet reads "Everyone's poling on Kim Kardashian for ruining the Marilyn Monroe dress, but no one said a word when Nic Cage stole the Declaration of Independence."

December 2, 2022
by Aesthetics for Birds
4 Comments

Lizzo Playing Madison’s Flute and Kim Wearing Monroe’s Dress Are Not the Same

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Lizzo playing Madison’s crystal flute. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

What follows is a guest essay by Elizabeth Scarbrough.

The loudest voices on the internet have had the same response to Lizzo playing James Madison’s crystal flute and Kim Kardashian wearing Marilyn Monroe’s dress: unbridled outrage. How dare she (Lizzo/Kardashian) desecrate a piece of our country’s cultural heritage! Those are precious, irreplaceable items! How will we ever recover!

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A cutesy robot with large, globulous eyes stands proudly amongst its paint brushes.

November 2, 2022
by Aesthetics for Birds
12 Comments

AI Art is Art

A cutesy robot with large, globulous eyes stands proudly amongst its paint brushes.
Midjourney Painting by G. M. Trujillo, Jr.

What follows is a guest post by G. M. Trujillo, Jr.

Jason Allen recently ignited a firestorm of controversy by winning first place in the Colorado State Fair’s digital art competition. His work, Théâtre D’opéra Spatial, is undeniably beautiful. Its color palette and composition evoke drama. Expressive brush strokes prove care for each element. And the subject—women staring out onto the countryside from a vaguely European but suggestively futuristic ballroom—invites interpretation. Maybe it is a comment on being “kept women”, the anonymous ladies secluded from nature and politics in their artificial home. Or maybe the painting is a comment on class, the wealthy women in the ballroom looking out at rustic people.  But Théâtre D’opéra Spatial is a digital painting generated by AI.

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October 20, 2022
by Aesthetics for Birds
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When Can a Band Cover Their Own Song?

Protestor holds a sign saying "I am" with the word "ready" is pasted overtop the image in postproduction.
Image from Lotus Notes commercial (1999)

What follows is a guest post by P.D. Magnus.

The advent of sound recording has made audiences experience music differently than audiences did for all of history before that. This may sound like a grandiose overstatement, but it’s true. For the last 75 years, popular music listeners have tended to think of songs as belonging to particular recording artists and represented canonically by a particular recording. We think of that as the original recording, and every version after that by anyone else is a cover.

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A dark sky with a few scattered stars fades to a bright pink horizon over dark waters

October 13, 2022
by Aesthetics for Birds
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Sally Haslanger on “Under One Small Star”

A dark sky with a few scattered stars fades to a bright pink horizon over dark waters
“Venus, Jupiter & Aldebaran” by Luis Argerich [source]

My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity if I’m mistaken, after all.
Please, don’t be angry, happiness, that I take you as my due.
May my dead be patient with the way my memories fade.
My apologies to time for all the world I overlook each second.
My apologies to past loves for thinking that the latest is the first.
Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
I apologize for my record of minuets to those who cry from the depths.
I apologize to those who wait in railway stations for being asleep today at five a.m.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing from time to time.
Pardon me, deserts, that I don’t rush to you bearing a spoonful of water. 
And you, falcon, unchanging year after year, always in the same cage,
your gaze always fixed on the same point in space,
forgive me, even if it turns out you were stuffed.
My apologies to the felled tree for the table’s four legs.
My apologies to great questions for small answers.
Truth, please don’t pay me much attention.
Dignity, please be magnanimous.
Bear with me, O mystery of existence, as I pluck the occasional thread from your train.
Soul, don’t take offense that I’ve only got you now and then.
My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere at once.
My apologies to everyone that I can’t be each woman and each man.
I know I won’t be justified as long as I live,
since I myself stand in my own way.
Don’t bear me ill will, speech, that I borrow weighty words,
then labor heavily so that they may seem light. 

This is entry #88 in our ongoing 100 Philosophers, 100 Artworks, 100 Words Series.

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