AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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WHY VIDEO GAME VIOLENCE ISN’T INNOCENT

What follows is a guest post by Christopher Bartel, Professor of Philosophy at Appalachian State University

Is it ever morally wrong to commit violent or immoral acts in a video game? Video games are just images, right? No matter what I do in a video game, I am just interacting with images, and harming an image doesn’t cause any real-world harm. So, all of my actions in games must be morally neutral. This is a perfectly reasonable (and common) line of thought. But I think it’s wrong. Here’s why.

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WHY I USE DUNGEONS & DRAGONS TO TEACH ETHICS

What follows is a guest post from Rebecca Scott, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Harper College.

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Photo credit: Rebecca Scott

As a philosopher who thinks a lot about teaching and learning, I have a tendency to experiment wildly in my teaching methods. I’m always searching for ways to make my classes more joyful, meaningful, relevant, and fun. Sometimes, my pedagogical experiments fail miserably, and other times they lead to unexpected and delightful encounters that transform my students and me in unexpected ways. A few semesters ago, I embarked on my favorite teaching experiment yet—I played Dungeons and Dragons with my Ethics classes. And what I discovered is that role-playing games have a lot to teach us about the importance of community and playfulness in the classroom.

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AESTHETICS BY DECREE: TRUMP’S PROPOSAL ON “MAKING FEDERAL BUILDINGS BEAUTIFUL AGAIN”

What follows is a guest post by Jay Miller.

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The neoclassical Lincoln Memorial, designed by Henry Bacon (1922) [source]

Recently, a draft proposal of a presidential executive order was obtained and printed by the Chicago Sun-Times. Under the banner of “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” the leaked document effectively mandates the classical style of architecture for all federal buildings in the U.S. It seeks to right the wrongs of modernist architecture by officially proclaiming the classical style of architecture “the preferred and default style” for federal buildings. The proposal proceeds by first identifying the culprits: It blames the federal government for “largely abandon[ing] traditional, classical designs” in the 1950s; it accuses the General Services Administration (GSA) of overseeing “aesthetic failures”; even more specifically, it takes aim at the “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture,” drafted in 1962 by an aide of the Kennedy administration, for having “implicitly discouraged” classical and other designs “known for their beauty.” Yet, the real target of the proposal (henceforth MFFBA) are the Brutalist and Deconstructivist styles of modernist architecture, which it explicitly equates with the loss of beauty in American federal architecture over the past seventy years or so. In practical terms, this amounts to a federal mandate for classical architecture and a de facto moratorium on modernist architecture for any federal building costing more than $50 million. This includes any renovations or design upgrades to buildings of equal value. And any proposed deviations from classical and traditional designs must be vetted by the “President’s Committee for the Re-Beautification of Federal Architecture,” and must ultimately be submitted to the President for review prior to final approval.

I’ll go ahead and dispense with any pretense to political neutrality here. Because, really, the first step in taking MFBBA seriously is to acknowledge the veritable feast of ironies and absurdities offered up in the space of its mere seven pages. Continue reading


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HOW TO PARTAKE IN THE FUCKERY: A ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION ON HIP-HOP, GENDER, AND LANGUAGE

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L to R: Bates, Lissa Skitolsky, and BL Shirelle

In January, we hosted an interview and preliminary discussion of some pressing issues in rap and hip-hop. We wanted to investigate the fact that, in Bill Adler’s words, hip-hop has never been “a model of civil discourse”. We did that by talking to two queer Black women rappers, BL Shirelle and Bates, to get their takes on the matter. Now we follow that up with a roundtable of scholars, each reflecting in their own way on what BL Shirelle and Bates had to say.

[Warning: This discussion contains explicit language, including a variation of the n-word.]

Our contributors are:

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SOR JUANA’S ROUGH HEROINES: COGNITIVE IMMORALISM IN PRIMERO SUEÑO

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Portrait of Sor Juana by Miguel Cabrera

What follows is a guest post by Adriana Clavel-Vázquez and Sergio A. Gallegos.

Against all odds, Novohispanic nun Juana Inés de la Cruz gained widespread recognition as a writer in her lifetime. Today, she is also recognized as a distinguished Early Modern philosopher who advanced one of the earliest defenses of the right of women to be educated, and who emphasized how human knowledge is constituted by doubts and struggles. She was particularly preoccupied with the lack of recognition of women as intellectual peers, and its consequences for how women are treated. Continue reading


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FIVE PHILOSOPHERS DISCUSS “JOKER” [SPOILERS]

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This month saw the US release of the newest installment in the DC Comics film franchise, Joker. The film has been the subject of heated debate, with some having enormously positive responses, and others having enormously negative ones. Some see it as just a well-done villain origin story. Others see it as bringing more light to mental health and social support systems. And yet others see it as humanizing and even valorizing white male violence and the mass killings that have become too common in the contemporary US landscape.

We thought we would gather up some philosophers working on ethics and the philosophy of art to give their takes on the movie. Below, you’ll see what they have to say about how Joker treats villainy and evil, race, and moral responsibility, as well as what we should learn from all of the debate and disagreement that surrounds it.

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YOU THINK MAKE-BELIEVE IS FOR KIDS? SHERLOCK HOLMES WILL TEACH YOU A THING OR TWO

What follows is a guest post by Nils-Hennes Stear.

How do fictions work? How do made-up characters and their made-up feelings make us cry or rejoice in sympathy? With what are we even sympathizing?

Philosopher Kendall Walton has an answer. His theory of fiction, spelled out in his monograph Mimesis as Make-Believe, is among the most influential and celebrated contributions to the history of aesthetics, if not philosophy. So, when I promised to create an animated explainer film as part of my Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship at the University of Southampton, it seemed a promising subject to tackle. Continue reading


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“TRAUMA-FEEDING”: WHY IT’S NOT OKAY TO EXPLOIT TRAUMA IN ART

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Room, Cité Universitaire, Paris, with Al Ghazali quotation:
“I follow love’s caravan wherever it goes. For love is my religion and my faith.” (2006)

What follows is a guest post by Jeremy Bendik-Keymer & Misty Morrison. It also appears cross-posted at the Cleveland Review of Books.

We want to draw attention to a practice inside contemporary artistic practices and to suggest a set of considerations that could gradually change it, for we take it to be morally dishonest and aesthetically compromised. We call this practice “trauma-feeding.” The expression is our invention. We think trauma-feeding is enmeshed in corrupt conditions in the economy of contemporary art so that to talk about it is to talk inevitably about the institutional framing of artistic practice in an art economy that cultivates practices, habits, and sensibilities that allow artists to hustle their way to success in a neoliberal economy structured by gross inequality of wealth and of capabilities. With trauma-feeding, their mode of hustle is parasitic (from para – alongside – sitos – food) on everyday people’s moral sensibilities. The hinge in our discussion is the relation between trauma-feeding, consumable spectacle, and viability in a neoliberal art economy, predicated off of everyday people’s moral sympathy. After explaining what we mean by “trauma-feeding” and relating it to the social-economic conditions to which we’ve alluded, we will argue that artists and institutions have a moral responsibility to deal with trauma differently, particularly by following through in responding to it. They should stop being morally dishonest and parasitic.

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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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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