AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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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


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ARTWORLD ROUNDTABLE: CAN TODAY’S ARTISTS STILL SELL OUT?

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Sadly they’re sold out. Must be good advertising.

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. Today we ask whether it’s still possible for musicians to sell out.

What does it mean to sell out? In today’s commercialized, social media, sponsorship-driven world, can musicians still sell out in any meaningful way? Or, in an era where people are unwilling to pay for music, is selling out just getting paid?

Whether today’s artists can still sell out 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: WHAT IS SATIRE?

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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 Dieter Declercq, “A Definition of Satire (And Why a Definition Matters)” which you can find in the current issue of JAAC.

Satire is infamously varied. The origins of the label date back to Roman times, as a classification for disgruntled verses by poets like Horace and Juvenal. Yet, although the Roman orator Quintilian tried to claim satire as “wholly ours” (satura tota nostra est), satire is clearly not limited to ancient Rome. Just think of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Jimi Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner” (performed at Woodstock), Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Pussy Riot, Guerrilla Girls, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, Jordan Peel’s Get Out, Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, Daliso Chaponda’s stand-up comedyContinue reading


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ARTWORLD ROUNDTABLE: HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND TO THE WISHES OF DEAD ARTISTS?

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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. Up today is how to respect the wishes of dead artists.

If an artist opposes, say, her music being available on Spotify, should record companies respect her wishes after her death? If they don’t, what become our responsibilities as consumers? How should we respect the wishes of dead artists? Should we do so at all? Or does the question itself not make sense?

Whether we should listen to music against a dead artist’s wishes forms the second 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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THE ASA JUST NEEDS TO APOLOGIZE — A RESPONSE TO LAST WEEK’S STATEMENT

What follows is a guest post by Brian Soucek (UC Davis).

Two weeks after its false statements forced an ASA member to out herself as the philosopher who’d been sexually harassed at the last Annual Meeting, the ASA has finally apologized.

Oh wait…no it hasn’t. The ASA’s statement this week “acknowledge[s]” the call to do better; it “promise[s]” that the Officers and Trustees will “do our very best to ensure a productive environment in which all ASA members” (including, presumably, the harasser who had reportedly been given a spot on the upcoming Program) “can flourish”; and it “thanks[s]” members who have challenged it “to better express and promote … our deepest values.” Continue reading