AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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WHAT’S SO WRONG WITH FREE EXPRESSION, ABUSIVE ART, AND UNDERSTANDING?

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What follows is a guest post by John Rapko about the recent Guggenheim Museum controversy.

The controversy

On Friday, September 22, a friend sent me an e-mail alerting me to an on-line petition. This time the issue was that the Guggenheim Museum in New York City had released a list of the names of the artists and their works to be included in the upcoming show “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World.” Among the 150 works were three involving live animals, including a video of an installation by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu wherein dogs were strapped into opposing treadmills, where they ran in place, tugged, and snarled at each other to exhaustion. The two other pieces are by artists better-known outside China: a notorious piece by Huang Yong Ping, “Theater of the World”, which shows a large structure wherein many reptiles and insects have been placed, with the animals left to willy-nilly eat each other, fight for space, or make some kind of mutual accommodation; and a video by Xu Bing that shows a boar and a sow, each densely painted with nonsense–Chinese and –Roman characters, mating in a gallery. Thousands of people, including myself after a scanning, were signing the petition. The Guggenheim quickly released a statement urging people to consider the works as a document of their times, and to reflect upon the situation of the artists who were driven to make such works. The signing of the petition only quickened, and by Tuesday, September 26, when the Guggenheim announced that the works would not be shown, supposedly because of the threatening tone of many of the complaints about the show, the petition had garnered over half a million signatories. What had happened? Was it simply a matter of an internet mob hurling electronic threats of violence towards the museum’s employees that forced the otherwise unjustified withdrawal of the works, as the Guggenheim stated? Was the withdrawal further a cowardly capitulation to thugs with an impoverished understanding of animal rights and human rights, indeed “tragic for a modern society”, as the artist Ai Weiwei said? Is this an act of “censorship” violating the artists’ “right to free expression”, as Huang Yong Ping, the artist behind one of the allegedly objectionable works has urged? Or had an inexplicable category mistake been corrected, as implied by the countless objections that “animal torture is not art“?  Continue reading


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WONDER WORKS: RENOVATING ROMANTICISM ABOUT ART, BY JESSE PRINZ

Jesse Prinz is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York, Graduate Center. His research focuses on the perceptual, emotional, and cultural foundations of human psychology. He is the author of Furnishing the Mind: Concepts and Their Perceptual Basis (MIT 2002), Gut Reactions: A Perceptual Theory of Emotion (Oxford 2004), The Emotional Construction of Morals (Oxford 2007), The Conscious Brain (Oxford 2012), Beyond Human Nature (Penguin 2012), and most recently, the forthcoming Works of Wonder: The Psychology and Ontology of Art (Oxford). Jesse also co-founded (with NYC mixed-media artist Rachel Bernstein) the art blog Art Bouillon. It is an honor and a true pleasure to have Jesse kick off the Guest Blogger Schedule here at Aesthetics for Birds.

Anish Kapoor, Leviathan

Among the many divides one can kind among competing theories of art, none sides wider and more ideologically entrenched than the gulf between experiential theories and various forms of institutionalism.  Experiential theories say that something counts as art in virtue of the kind of experience it affords, such as a distinctive emotional state.  Institutional theories emphasize the context of presentation–to a first approximation, something becomes art on this view when it is placed in a gallery, or the equivalent.  Here I want to suggest, heretically, that the experiential theories are right, but also that they can be reconciled with the institutional approach.
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