AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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PLAYING GAMES WITH HISTORY: PHILOSOPHERS ON THE ETHICS OF HISTORICAL BOARD GAMES

In a recent New York Times article, journalist Kevin Draper brings us up to date on some recent controversies in the world of historical board games. The article centers on the cancellation of Scramble for Africa, a historical board game which was to let players take the role of European powers exploring and exploiting Africa, trying to get the most resources.

Joe Chacon, the designer of Scramble for Africa, was accused of not treating this situation with appropriate seriousness. In his game, the savagery that was part and parcel of that exploration seems to be dealt with in minor and trivializing ways. The players must put down rebellions, and can slow their opponents by inciting native revolts. Random events include “penalties for atrocities” and rewards for ending slavery. Butchery is gameified.

The article raises a number of fascinating questions. What are the ethics of gaming history? Can we ever gameify our troubled past, and if so, how should we do it sensitively and thoughtfully? And is there something distinctive about games that make them a thornier venue for exploring history than, say, novels?

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Puerto Rico, a board game about colonizing Puerto Rico. Image credit: Jesse Michael Nix

To take on these questions, we asked some philosophers who specialize in thinking about games, ethics, and art.

Our contributors are:

  • Stephanie Patridge, Professor and Department Chair, Religion & Philosophy, Otterbein University
  • Chris Bartel, Professor of Philosophy, Appalachian State University
  • C. Thi Nguyen, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Utah Valley University

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THE ETHICS OF ARTISANSHIP: OR, NO, YOU MAY NOT PUT MILK IN YOUR COFFEE

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Sometimes I put milk in brewed coffee. I do so when I go to I-HOP for a plate of International Pancakes and a bottomless cup of diner swill. Sometimes I buy coffee at the airport. It’s usually godawful sludge that’s been over-roasted and brewed too strong before stewing in a hot coffee urn for god knows how long. You better believe I add some milk to this stuff; it’s too ghastly to drink black. Milk can make bad coffee less bad. It also of course has its place in a number of venerable espresso drinks.

But what about good brewed coffee? There are some coffees that you just shouldn’t add milk to. The term “Third Wave” refers to the movement that treats brewed coffee as an artisanal product. High quality, well-processed beans are sourced from small farms, roasted to exacting specifications meant to highlight the coffee’s origin character, and brewed precisely one cup at a time. Every step of the process is oriented towards doing justice to a high quality bean. Adding milk to Third Wave coffee is antithetical to this aim. Milk masks the origin character, changes the mouthfeel, drowns out the subtle details.

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ZOMBIE FORMALISM: OR, HOW FINANCIAL VALUES PERVADE THE ARTS

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Damien Hirst, Dantrolene (1994)

What follows is a guest post by Sarah Hegenbart.

Once upon a time, the month of June was jet-set season for the international artworld. After a meet and greet at the preview days at the Venice Biennale, which used to take place in early June, the crowd of artists, curators, critics, dealers, and collectors jumped on a plane, a train, or a yacht heading towards Basel, Switzerland. Basel wakes up at least once a year when astronomical amounts of money are paid for works so contemporary that the paint on the canvases has hardly finished drying. Or possibly even works that are such hot shit that they are not available yet because they are still on view in one of the national pavilions at the Venice Biennale. But the unavailability only increases the desire. (This is a pattern recognizable from other unhealthy relationships, too.) Knowing the economic laws of supply and demand, clever dealers strategically positioned themselves in the pavilions of the Venice Biennale to advertise their artistic assets. Continue reading


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WHICH INTERPRETATION? AESTHETIC EVALUATION IN THE GALLERY-MUSEUM

What follows is a guest post by Jennifer A. McMahon.

Have you ever found yourself patiently listening to a range of interpretations of an artwork, wondering whether there was some objective way to negotiate the plethora of sometimes idiosyncratic and whimsical responses? Regarding this question, it is interesting to compare the typical objective of a community-based-book-club to the way gallery visitors talk about the art they see. A reader seeks to make sense of a novel in terms relative to their own life experiences. If a reader finds by referencing expert authority that their experience is far removed from what the author had in mind, the value they place on the work might be diminished rather than prompt them to any new experience of it (unless they were reading it as part of a course on which they were to be assessed). With visual art, the situation until recently was quite different. The gallery visitor might ask what a work meant and establish this by reading art historians and art critics. But recently, the gallery has become an analogue of the local book club. The gallery program officers seek to provide experiences for their visitors and by definition this means, finding the means whereby the visitor can make sense of a work relative to their own life experiences. Today it can seem downright fascistic to ask for the view of an expert! Continue reading


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THE PHILOSOPHICAL BEAUTY OF BLACK MIRROR

What follows is a guest post from Laura Di Summa, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at William Paterson University.

Black Mirror, the TV series created by enfant terrible Charlie Brooker, is often described as the quintessential embodiment of grim poststructuralist criticisms of the ideology. But this, I believe, is just one way of looking at it. One, if I may, that has little to do with how it actually looks. Continue reading


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GAME OF THRONES’ FINAL SEASON: WHEN OUR GREAT EXPECTATIONS ARE ILLEGITIMATE [SPOILERS]

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What follows is a guest post by Sean T. Murphy. Those who haven’t finished the series should beware of spoilers below!

Legitimate Artistic Expectations

“Almost nothing [showrunners David] Benioff and [D.B.] Weiss do will be enough to please (or appease) everyone.” So says critic Tim Goodman in a recent article in the Hollywood Reporter. It became clearer by the week just how great everyone’s expectations were for the final season of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Anyone taking a quick peak at Twitter following any episode this season could see fans breathing more fiery criticism, and wreaking more havoc on the show than Drogon did on King’s Landing. On the one hand, this is not surprising. After waiting two years for the series finale, there was no stopping the heights to which our expectations were ascending (although you would have thought that the lackluster seventh season would have tempered them a bit). And yet, after it became clear that episodes were not meeting those expectations, I found myself less angry at the show, and more intrigued by the viewers’ responses. And so I started to think about what was going on, and whether or not these great expectations were legitimate. I had to ask: What is, in fact, legitimate to expect of art? And where lies the flaw when a work of art fails to meet expectations? Is it in us, or the work?

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WHAT FANDOMS CAN TEACH US ABOUT THE VALUE OF PLOT HOLES AND THE BADNESS OF BAD ARTISTS

What follows is a guest post by James HaroldProfessor of Philosophy at Mount Holyoke College. Parts of this blog post draw from his article “The Value of Fictional Worlds (or, Why The Lord of the Rings is Worth Reading).”

Critics and fans approach certain works (like The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars) very differently. The critics evaluate these works on their own merits, considered as art objects in their own right, while fans consider in terms of their contribution to a larger world of play and creative exploration. While philosophers, like art critics, have spent a lot of time thinking about artworks, they have spent relatively little time thinking about this playful, participatory world, the world that is the focus of fan culture. Continue reading


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WHAT IS ‘CAMP’? FIVE SCHOLARS DISCUSS SONTAG, THE MET GALA, AND CAMP’S QUEER ORIGINS

Every year, the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City selects a theme around which to base its annual exhibition. And each year, that exhibition is kicked off with a huge fundraiser, the Met Gala. It has been called fashion’s biggest party of the year, drawing A-list celebrities and fashion personalities. Everyone attends, dressed for the exhibition’s theme. This year, that theme is camp.

A lot has been written about what camp is, and how we should understand it. But we thought it would be good to hear from scholars with interests in aesthetics and camp. Keep reading to learn more about the history of camp – including Susan Sontag’s important but perhaps overstated role, Old Hollywood, and queer and DIY cultures – as well as camp’s alternating seriousness and playfulness, and even a reading of Donald Trump as camp.

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UNE AUTRE DAME: WHY NOTRE-DAME DIDN’T REALLY BURN

What follows is a guest post by philosopher Saul Fisher, on the recent tragedy of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

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Alan Mozes, Seine/sibility #2, 2013, reproduced with permission of the artist

The burning of the roof and spire of the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris on April 15 was a moving and dramatic event, variously interpreted as architectural disaster, economic loss, flashpoint for myriad heritage issues, and moment of French national unity. The cathedral has endured since medieval times: construction began in 1163 CE, the towers were completed in 1250, and figurative elements were added in the mid-14th century. From this endurance alone, it is little wonder that the cathedral captures the imagination of the French, the devout, the appreciators of architectural history, and the every Parisian visitor. Little wonder, too, then, that the fire consuming the cathedral prompted strong emotional response.

While lamenting the event’s tragic dimensions and symbolism, I find consolation, or perhaps refuge, in formalist and abstractist ways that I think about architectural objects. Continue reading


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AN EXPERIMENT IN PHILOSOPHY AND POETRY

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What follows is a guest post by philosopher Aaron Meskin. He discusses a book that he and poet Helen Mort recently co-authored. In it, Mort “replies” to a variety of different philosophers’ papers with original poems, and the philosophers get to reflect on the poem and its relationship to their work. This piece is also cross-posted at Daily Nous. Continue reading