Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

April 16, 2020
by Alex King
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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. 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 … Continue reading

April 8, 2020
by Aesthetics for Birds
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How to Partake in the Fuckery: A Roundtable Discussion on Hip-hop, Gender, and Language

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: Bria Gambrell, MPP and MA candidate in Gender and Cultural Studies at Simmons University T.M.G., PhD student in Philosophy at Dalhousie University [website] Charlotte Henay, lecturer in Women’s and Gender Studies at Brock University Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, assistant professor in Philosophy at Georgetown University [website] Michael Thomas, assistant professor in Philosophy … Continue reading

March 2, 2020
by Aesthetics for Birds
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Sor Juana’s Rough Heroines: Cognitive Immoralism in Primero Sueño

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.

October 22, 2019
by Aesthetics for Birds
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Five Philosophers Discuss “Joker” [spoilers]

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.

September 20, 2019
by Aesthetics for Birds
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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.

September 17, 2019
by Aesthetics for Birds
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“Trauma-Feeding”: Why It’s Not Okay to Exploit Trauma in Art

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. … Continue reading

August 21, 2019
by Aesthetics for Birds
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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 … Continue reading

July 10, 2019
by Aesthetics for Birds
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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 … Continue reading

May 18, 2019
by Aesthetics for Birds
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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 Harold, Professor 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.