AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


Leave a comment

ASA STUDENT TRAVEL GRANTS TO CONFERENCE ON RACE, ART AND AESTHETICS

The Board of Trustees of the American Society for Aesthetics has approved $7,000 in funding to support the conference on “Exploring Beauty and Truth in World of Color: Race, Art and Aesthetics in the 21st Century.” The conference, organized by Professor Charles Peterson, will be held at Oberlin College September 29-30, 2017. The ASA Trustees also approved an additional $1,000 to support travel by ASA student members to attend the conference. The conference will be free and open to the public.

KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Kymberly Pinder (University of New Mexico)

FASHION

  • Siobhan Carter-David (University of Southern Connecticut)
  • Monica Miller (Barnard College)
  • Christina Moon (New School-Parsons)

TECHNOLOGY

  • Sam Liao (University of Puget Sound)
  • Mariana Ortega (John Carroll University)

AFRO-FUTURISM

  • RaShelle Peck (Oberlin College)
  • Meredith Gadsby (Oberlin College)

HUMOR

  • Gillian Johns (Oberlin College)
  • Luvell Anderson (University of Memphis)
  • Lissa Skiltolsky (Susquehanna University)

VISUAL ARTS (Film)

  • Dan Flory (University of Montana)
  • Matt Strohl (University of Montana)
  • V. Denise James (University of Dayton)

VISUAL ARTS (Material Arts)

  • Nkiru Nzegwu (Binghamton University)
  • Ivan Gaskell (Bard Graduate Center)

MUSIC

  • Fredara Hadley (Oberlin College Conservatory)
  • Chris Jenkins (Oberlin College Conservatory)
  • Aaron Meskin (University of Leeds)

THEATER

  • Justin Emeka (Oberlin College)
  • Harvey Young (Northwestern University)
  • Caroline Jackson-Smith (Oberlin College)

PEDAGOGY

  • Monique Roelofs (Hampshire College)
  • Mariana Ortega (John Carroll)
  • Meilin Chinn (University of Santa Clara)

The conference aims to take part in the growing movement to examine the role of race and ethnicity in the production of various arts and in aesthetic experience, appreciation, and judgment (where these are construed broadly to include popular culture and many aspects of everyday experience, as well as their appreciation and other aesthetic engagement with them). Race, Art and Aesthetics aims to go beyond the racial binary of Black/White to include the complexity of race and aesthetics in a multi-ethnic, multi-racial society. With this in mind, scholars are included who will discuss Jewish, East-Asian, and Latino/a perspectives, as well as African and African-American expressions.

The general approach for the conference is deeply interdisciplinary. This conference brings together both scholars from a wide range of fields – such as critical race studies, literature, film studies, English, Studio Art, Art History, History, African and African American Studies, Ethno-musicology, Fashion Studies and Comparative Literature and practitioners in these fields – with an eye toward examining the production, consumption, and appreciation of various art forms. Interdisciplinarity is also manifest within the more narrow field of philosophical aesthetics in the sense that Continental and broadly analytic perspectives are brought into conversation with one another. These various perspectives, positions, methodologies and approaches will create a gumbo of thought and discussion.

For a complete list of grants funded by the ASA in recent years:

http://aesthetics-online.org/resource/resmgr/Files/GrantsPrizes/Grants_awarded.pdf

For newly updated guidelines for ASA Major Project Initiative Grants:

http://aesthetics-online.org/?page=majorgrants


Leave a comment

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/


Leave a comment

IS ALEX JONES REALLY A PERFORMANCE ARTIST? WHO CARES.

Performance art has always inhabited an ambiguous space between everyday behavior and marked-off ‘art’ behavior.

And now ultra-conservative Infowars’ Alex Jones says that his vitriolic on-air personality is performance art. He refers to a recent incident as “clearly tongue-in-cheek and basically art performance, as I do in my rants, which I admit I do, as a form of art.”

jones_screenshot.png

screenshot from this video on Jones’ YouTube channel

Now everyone is talking about whether or not he’s a performance artist.

My first reaction is: Hell no. Performance art does not justify fake news or the awful stuff he says. (And really, “clearly tongue-in-cheek”? Is that the conspiracy theory stuff that’s tongue-in-cheek? Or is that the threat-laden, insult-ridden veneer that’s tongue-in-cheek? In either case it seems doubtful, given the clearly not tongue-in-cheek followers he’s amassed.)

But that’s actually not the direction of this inquiry. He’s engaged in a custody battle. He’s claiming that his aggressive Infowars persona doesn’t make him an unfit to parent his children.

So, wait, why does it matter if it’s performance art or not?

Attorney Randall Wilhite told state District Judge Orlinda Naranjo that using his client Alex Jones’ on-air Infowars persona to evaluate Alex Jones as a father would be like judging Jack Nicholson in a custody dispute based on his performance as the Joker in “Batman.” (link)

As far as I can tell the argument goes like this: If it’s performance art, then it’s all a show and deep down he doesn’t actually harbor these violent tendencies, so probably he doesn’t treat his kids the way he treats people on his show and stuff. But if it isn’t performance art, then he is awful and probably does threaten to break his kids’ necks and whatever.

Let’s all take a deep breath and do a little philosophy here.

Thesis: It doesn’t matter if it’s performance art.

Suppose it is performance art. That still doesn’t answer any of the questions one cares about. Maybe Marina Abramovic does stare in uncomfortable silence at people sitting across the table from her, even when she’s not in museums! So it’s still an open question whether, even if performance art, his behavior is any evidence of his personality outside his “art”.

But we can also raise the same questions even if the job in question isn’t some sort of performance art. Compare:

  • Someone who works at a slaughterhouse. Should we be concerned that they go home and slaughter their pets?
  • Someone who works as a social worker or therapist. Should we think they go home and constantly listen to their partner’s or children’s problems?

Does working at a slaughterhouse/being a therapist make these respective behaviors more likely? Maybe; maybe not. (I’m going to say not, at least in the former case…)

The point is: We don’t have to talk about performance art at all to think through those questions.

Is Jones’ Infowars persona evidence that he is a bad parent? This is where the real debate should be. And invoking performance art will simply not resolve that debate either way.

Conclusion: Maybe he is awful to his kids; maybe he isn’t. But the issue of performance art is neither here nor there, and is a ludicrous defense. But then again I’m no lawyer, just a philosopher. And maybe a performance artist, although I doubt it.

See more:


Leave a comment

WORKSHOP: ART, PERCEPTION AND HISTORY

The American Society for Aesthetics Board of Trustees has approved support for the Workshop on Art, Perception, and History, at the University of Toronto, May 5-6, 2017. The Workshop is organized by Sonia Sedivy, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Toronto.

ASA has awarded up to $4,600 in support, plus an additional $1000 to support attendance at the Workshop by ASA student members. Support is also being provided by several units of the University of Toronto. The workshop is free and open to the public.

CONFERENCE WEB SITE

NEW! Poster for the Workshop

 

The Manneporte (Étretat), Claude Monet, 1883, The Met Museum

Speakers at the workshop will include:

From Art History

  • Whitney Davis, University of California, Berkeley, Art History

http://arthistory.berkeley.edu/person/1639581-whitney-davis

  • Jason Gaiger, University of Oxford, The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art

http://www.rsa.ox.ac.uk/people/jason-gaiger

  • Amy Powell, University of California, Irvine, Art History

http://www.faculty.uci.edu/profile.cfm?faculty_id=5553

  • Paul G. Smith, University of Warwick, History of Art

https://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/arthistory/staff/smith/

From Philosophy of Art or Perception

  • Diarmuid Costello, philosophy, University of Warwick

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/philosophy/people/costello/

  • Robert Hopkins, New York University, Philosophy

http://philosophy.fas.nyu.edu/object/roberthopkins.html

  • Bence Nanay, University of Antwerp, Centre for Philosophical Psychology

http://uahost.uantwerpen.be/bence.nanay/

  • Belinda Piercy, University of Toronto, Philosophy, Ph.D. 2016.
  • Sonia Sedivy, University of Toronto, Philosophy

http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/people/sedivy/

  • Kendall L. Walton, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Philosophy

https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/kendallwalton/

The workshop will focus on the way that works of art and visual culture are poised at the intersection of history and perception. Such works are imbued with their historical situation and with historical relationship to other works. Yet for the most part, it is through their perceptible properties that they have their impact.

To explore this nexus, the workshop aims to bring together art historians with two sub-disciplines from philosophy – philosophy of perception as well as aesthetics. While art historians and philosophers of art have collaborated to some extent, bringing philosophers of perception explicitly into the mix is a recent development. The objective of the workshop is to initiate fully three-way collaborative research between art historians, philosophers of art and aesthetics, and philosophers of perception.

The main goal of the workshop is to create bridges between these three fields of study to produce integrated, multi-dimensional research into works of art and visual culture. A small intensive workshop is ideal for discussing methodological differences, for sharing knowledge and for facilitating shared language.

The workshop will address a number of questions of broad interest to which art historians and philosophers of art and perception have turned their attention. For example:

1. How are historical developments made perceptibly manifest in artworks and non-art pictures more broadly, including photographs?

2. What is aesthetic value? How can such value be both historically contingent and perceptual in nature?

3. How do pictures work? How do diverse kinds of pictorial vehicles make contents available?

4. What is distinctive about photographs?

5. What makes properties aesthetic and when is perceptual experience aesthetic?


Leave a comment

AESTHETIC NORMATIVITY CONFERENCE

The American Society for Aesthetics has helped fund a conference on Aesthetic Normativity that will take place May 19-20, 2017, in Salt Lake City. The conference is organized by John Dyck (PhD student at CUNY Graduate Center) and C. Thi Nguyen (Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Utah Valley University). Additional funding is being provided by Utah Valley University and the University of Utah.

The conference will be held at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art in Salt Lake City. Dominic McIver Lopes (Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia) will be the keynote speaker. Confirmed speakers also include Nicholas Riggle (University of San Diego), Paul C. Taylor (Penn State University), and Katherine Thomson-Jones (Oberlin College).

Diva, Marthe Keller, 1993, The Met Museum

The conference will be free and open to the public, although pre-registration will be required. Pre-register at the conference website: <objectionable.net/artrules>.

Aesthetic and artistic normativity pertain to what’s good or bad in beauty and art. They speak to what makes something—or someone—beautiful or ugly. We are seeing a renewed attention to normative issues in philosophy of art and aesthetics. The goal of this conference is to discuss and assess directions for research.

The conference is free and open to the public; pre-registration is required. Pre-register at the conference website: <objectionable.net/artrules>.


2 Comments

GUEST POST: 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.

fearless

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?


Leave a comment

AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR AESTHETICS EASTERN MEETING

The American Society for Aesthetics Eastern Division will meet April 28-29, 2017, at the Independence Park Hotel in Philadelphia.

The conference program spans two full days, Friday and Saturday, April 28-29.

Designs for Four Upholstered Chairs, Charles Hindley and Sons, 1841–84, Met Museum

PRELIMINARY PROGRAM (April 3, 2017)

On-line pre-registration is strongly encouraged to assist us in planning. Look for the red REGISTER button on the upper-right corner of this page. To get the ASA member rates, you must FIRST log into the ASA web page.

On-site registration will begin on Thursday, April 27th, in the evening. The conference rate for Independence Park is available for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. As soon as we receive your registration, we will send you the link to use at the hotel for conference rates.

Pre-registration (by April 24th) for both days:

  • $70 (ASA members)
  • $90 (non-members)
  • $30 (student ASA members)
  • $40 (student non-ASA members)

On-site or same-week registration (April 24th or later) for both days:

  • $80 (ASA members)
  • $100 (non-ASA members)
  • $35 (student ASA members)
  • $45 (student non-ASA members)

One-day registration (pre-registration or on-site):

  • $60 (ASA members and non-members)
  • $30 (student ASA members and non-members)

Mail-in pre-registration (must be received by April 21)

Pre-registrations are greatly appreciated to assist us in planning. Please note that all conference presenters and panel proposers must be members of the ASA. You can find information about joining the ASA at the following address: http://aesthetics-online.org/

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us: Brandon Cooke (University of Minnesota, Mankato) cooke@mnsu.edu or Alessandro Giovannelli (Lafayette College) giovannelli@lafayette.edu. Thank you!

Brandon Cooke and Alessandro Giovannelli
Co-Chairs, American Society for Aesthetics Eastern Division Meeting


10 Comments

THE METAPHYSICS AND LINGUISTICS OF EMOJI

the_nib_emoji_screenshot.png

screenshot from the comic “Want A New Emoji?” by Andy Warner

Some Philosophical Questions about Emoji

First, let’s be clear about what we’re talking about. “Emoji(s)” are things like this: [😀🤔], not emoticons like : ) or (T_T) or ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ or ㅇㅅㅇ. (Note: in this post, emoji will be flagged by square brackets so that if you can’t see them, you’ll at least know roughly what you’re missing.)

emoji_wiki.png

Thank you, Wikipedia

A Brief History of Emoji:

  • introduced in 1995 by Japanese telecom company Docomo
  • first emoji: ❤
  • then, another 175 followed
  • 2011: Apple introduced them…
  • soon after, everyone else did too

See the awesome comic “Want a New Emoji?” by Andy Warner and this Vice video for more.

Now, some philosophical questions about emoji and my unsupported hot take on the answers.

Metaphysics

Are the different Apple-Google-Samsung emoji different emoji instances or genuinely different emoji? What is an emoji?

I guess the different emoji in the first image are probably just instances of one emoji, since emoji are individuated by their Unicode numbers and coarse-grained descriptions (like “Smiling Cat Face with Heart-Shaped Eyes” or [😻]). But then, the emoji isn’t itself just the number or just the description. Emoji are pictographs and Unicode numbers are not pictographs, nor are descriptions. So emoji need a particular pictographic manifestation.

Maybe it’s a type-token relationship or a determinable-determinate relationship. I bet it’s like whatever we call the relationship between a piece of music and its score. … Maybe. I have no idea; I don’t really do metaphysics.

Whatever we say, this seems pretty important:

grouplens_miller_study.png

from “Investigating the Potential for Miscommunication Using Emoji“, a computer science and engineering study by Hannah Miller

Also, is : – ) the same as : ) ? Are these the same as (^_^)? And are these the same as ☺ and [😊]?

Yes, no, no. Or maybe: yes, yes, yes. But definitely not: no, yes, yes.

Language

Do emoji have semantic content? Can a string of (only) emoji be propositional? Are emoji words? Do they constitute a bona fide language?

Yep, I’m going to say they definitely have semantic content, although they are also used as a kind of prosody (e.g., to indicate sarcasm or other emotional punctuation). And sure, a string can be propositional. Here are two easy one-emoji string examples: [👍] or [🤝] = Sounds good, Okay, Deal. That said, it’s probably underdetermined in most cases, and most strings are, like all emoji, going to be highly subject to context, as well as idiolect or dialect variation.

Emoji can function as nouns (I want [🍕]) or verbs (I [❤] you) or interjections ([😲])… etc. Are they words? Well, I don’t know really what a word is, but Oxford Dictionaries* seems to think so, so let’s say yes.

The poverty of dedicated – or even roughly standardized syntax (e.g., I bet word order emoji order varies between SVO and SOV languages) is going to make calling it a language – at least a standalone one – pretty difficult, though. And can a system be a language if it has to be parasitic on another, standalone language? I would have thought no, but I don’t know. Maybe this is a counterexample?

*[😂], “Face with Tears of Joy”, was named Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year in 2015.

Now what?

Philosophers: really, NO results??

emoji_philpapers.png

We need to get on this. I guess that, for now, I will have to content myself with Language Log archives and other random amusing things online. [😂😂😂]

– Alex


Leave a comment

ARTISTIC REPRESENTATIONS OF PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT

geometria_xxiiii.jpg

There’s a post over at the general interest philosophy blog Daily Nous that might be of interest to our readers. Susanna Berger, assistant professor of art history at the University of Southern California, has posted an excerpt adapted from her book, The Art of Philosophy: Visual Thinking in Europe from the Late Renaissance to the Early Enlightenment (Princeton University Press, 2017).

From Berger:

I show how their inventive iconography inspired new visualizations of thought in a range of drawn and printed sources, including student lecture notebooks, printed books, and alba amicorum (friendship albums). The book culminates with a new study of the celebrated frontispiece to Hobbes’s Leviathan. I argue that previous accounts of the print have failed to capture the full complexity of this etching and offer a new, if complex, account of this famous image—one which emphasizes the process of the state’s generation. Artists and philosophers invested significant amounts of time and money in the creation of philosophical visual representations and we must take these contributions to their thought seriously if we wish to understand their ideas in all their complexity and richness.

Check it out!

Image credit: 15th c. Italian engraving “Geometria XXIIII” from MET Collection


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.