Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

February 18, 2022
by Aesthetics for Birds
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Another Face of the World: Photography as Deception and Revelation

What follows is a guest post by Aderemi Artis.

“All philosophy is based on only two things, having a curious spirit, and bad eyes.”1

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In an interesting aside in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), Locke writes, “Were our Senses alter’d, and made much quicker and acuter, the appearance and outward Scheme of things would have quite another Face to us.”2 Raised on comic books wherein heroes and villains often had augmented senses, I have long dreamed about what the world would look like to superhuman perception. Locke himself specifically mentions the prospect of our vision being made “100000 times more acute than…the best Microscope.” Records of his library also show he had a copy of Robert Hooke’s popular and hard-to-get Micrographia (1665),3 in which Hooke described the microscope as an “artificial Organ.” Here is one of Hooke’s images of a fly, the sort of appearance Locke might have had in mind:

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February 11, 2022
by Aesthetics for Birds
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Life as Fanfic: Individual and Collective Narrative-Building

What follows is a guest post by Alexis Shotwell (Carleton University).

Did you know that Fifty Shades of Grey started its life as an erotic fan fiction of the Twilight novels? E.L. James changed the names for the publication of her series, but Anastasia is Bella, Christian is Edward, etc. Fan fiction is when readers (“fans”) write stories set in fictional worlds created by other writers. Now, I don’t need you to be excited about vampires or kink, separately or together. But if you didn’t know Fifty Shades’ origin story, isn’t it interesting to learn that it is part of a longer conversation? When I learned this, I suddenly perceived the books as an interaction rather than a proclamation, a work of collective enthusiasm rather than an individual project.

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January 27, 2022
by Aesthetics for Birds
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Polite Conversations: Philosophers Discuss the Arts

What follows is a guest post by Brandon Polite (Knox College).

In my YouTube series, Polite Conversations: Philosophers Discuss the Arts*, I interview philosophers about their work in aesthetics and the philosophy of art. We typically discuss a particular journal article or public philosophy piece (including some pieces from Aesthetics for Birds), diving into their views and exploring their implications for anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes. The aims of this series are twofold. The first is that I want to show off the cool and innovative work that’s happening in the field of aesthetics right now, both to the wider philosophical community and to the general public. There is some really amazing work being done in our field, and more people should know about it!

The second aim is pedagogical. Getting to see philosophers doing philosophy together can be a really eye-opening experience for students. To that end, these videos can be used as a way to deepen your students’ insights into a text you’ve assigned them to read, which is how I use them. Alternatively, one or more could be used in place of readings if, say, they’re too advanced for an introductory-level course. I have painstakingly edited the captions—including sometimes highlighting key terms and phrases—to make them accessible to those who want or need them. As teaching tools, the videos are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

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January 19, 2022
by Aesthetics for Birds
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Survival Is Insufficient: Coming to Grips with Trauma Through Art and Play in Station Eleven and Yellowjackets

What follows is a guest post by Erich Hatala Matthes.

[Warning: Light spoilers for both shows, but nothing the author thinks would ruin them.]

Do you want to play Would You Rather? No, not that version. Would you rather survive a plane crash with your high school soccer team or survive a deadly pandemic with whoever’s standing nearby when the shit hits the fan? Those are the scenarios served up by Yellowjackets (Showtime) and Station Eleven (HBO Max) both of which wrapped this week. The coincident timing has been revelatory (and not just because Jeevan, one of the Station Eleven leads, makes reference to a movie about a soccer team that eats each other): Despite their differences, both of these shows tackle a set of common themes, and viewing them against each other enhances the power of their divergent approaches to ideas of resilience and vulnerability, surviving and being survived by. 

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January 13, 2022
by Aesthetics for Birds
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The Political and Aesthetic Controversy over Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia during its time as a mosque (Illustration by Gaspare Fossati and Louis Haghe, 1852) [source]

Hagia Sophia was built during the reign of Justinian I in the 6th century. It is the most impressive building ever created by the Byzantine empire. Until the 13th century, it was the most important church in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Back then, presumably no one imagined that Hagia Sophia would ever be anything other than an Orthodox church. Yet its last days as a church were now more than five centuries ago.

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January 3, 2022
by Aesthetics for Birds
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Our Top 5 Posts of 2021

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Thanks to our readers for another great year at Aesthetics for Birds! Here were our most-viewed posts this year. Scroll through to make sure you haven’t missed something big. (You can also check out our Top 5 of previous years: 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.)

Note: As usual, our actual Top 5 by the numbers included some from previous years (including a 2018 piece about Nicki Minaj’s Chun-Li music video and cultural appropriation and a 2017 piece about performance artist Deborah De Robertis’s infamous Mona Lisa, um, exposure piece.). Below are the most popular five posts that first appeared in 2021.

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December 16, 2021
by Aesthetics for Birds
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The Artistic and Philosophical Legacy of Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim in 1994 (photo by Fred R. Conrad)

The great composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim recently passed away at the age of 91. His cool cleverness and skeptical, often ironic, intellectual character have long been commented on. It is not hard to find pieces with titles like “The Case for Sondheim as Existentialist,” or an obituary describing him as a “philosopher of music.”

So I was struck, but not surprised, by the sheer number and diversity of philosophers I could see who, like me, were taking it hard over the loss of so marvelous and so philosophical an artist. No less a figure than Cornel West (who interviewed Sondheim back in 2002) offered praise in such terms: “His genius shall live forever! He was profound in content, subversive in form and always beautifully lyrical.” It is hard to imagine any other composer for the stage in the last century commanding as much attention and respect from the philosophical community.

To honor his passing, and to celebrate his work, we have assembled a symposium of thinkers to mull on and explore the artistic, philosophical, and social legacy of Stephen Sondheim.

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