AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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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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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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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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ARTWORLD ROUNDTABLE: IS CULTURAL APPROPRIATION EVER OKAY?

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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. Up first is cultural appropriation.

Nicki Minaj and Chun Li. Eminem and Iggy Azalea. What counts as cultural appropriation in music, and when is it bad? And is there such a thing as acceptable appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is the crux of the first 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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CAN NICKI MINAJ’S “CHUN-LI” BE CULTURAL APPROPRIATION?

What follows is a guest post from Erich Hatala Matthes (Wellesley College).

Last month, Nicki Minaj released the video for her new song “Chun-Li” (along with an accompanying performance on SNL). Replete with chopsticks, conical hats, and other unimaginative Asian stereotypes, the performance quickly led to charges of cultural appropriation. I’m late to the party as far as the Internet commentary cycle is concerned, but I think this case highlights an important aspect of the debate about cultural appropriation that doesn’t always get enough attention. So here’s my ice-cold take: the fact that Minaj is herself a member of an oppressed group does not mean that those calling “Chun-Li” cultural appropriation are misguided. Continue reading


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ON THE AESTHETICS OF PLAYING PIANO

In the penultimate measure of the first movement Clementi’s Sonatina No. 36, there is a short cascade of notes:

This sonatina is often used as a teaching piece, because it’s a great introduction for the early intermediate pianist to the techniques required in more complicated piano pieces. This little cascade is a good example of why. It’s short, only eight notes long. In the numbering system every beginner learns, your thumbs are ones; your pinkies, fives. The G and A keys are right next to each other on the keyboard, and one might expect that the prescribed fingering of two adjacent notes would require two adjacent fingers. Perhaps, because the sequence continues down the keys, the four and five fingers, so that other fingers are properly positioned to reach the next notes.

But that’s not what happens. The G is struck with the thumb, and the A with the fourth finger. To do this, one must curl the edges of the palm toward each other like a taco. Then, the second finger crosses over to reach the D, the third follows to strike the E, and then the sequence repeats. 1, 4, 2, 3. Continue reading


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BEAUTY IN STRANGE PLACES: ART FIRST

I met a critic, I made her shit her drawers
She said she thought hip-hop was only guns and alcohol
I said “Oh hell naw!” But yet it’s that too
You can’t discrimi-hate cause you done read a book or two
What if I looked at you in a microscope, saw all the dirty organisms
Living in your closet would I stop and would I pause it?
…Speeches only reaches those who already know about it
This is how we go about it

– André 3000, “Humble Mumble

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What follows is a guest post by Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò.

This blog recently hosted a post on country music which defended country music partly because of its interaction with the class dynamics between the working class people who listen to the style and the broader culture in which they do so. The author of this piece comes close to a trope I’ve noticed in many online discussions of art, which feature people “critiquing” the performative politics of the authors but not the aesthetics.

It seems to me like some people these days think their political judgments should lead their aesthetic judgments. In the last few years I’ve been in more conversations than I care to remember about why this or that music is good or bad based on the politics or political symbolism of the artist or their work – why we should like this music because it’s made by representatives of this or that identity group, or we should hate that music because it’s “cultural appropriation”. And, worse, I’ve gotten through many of these discussions without drums or melody or harmony so much as being mentioned, much less being the focus. Sometimes, I was myself guilty! Third and perhaps worst of all is something I think of as a predictable result of the social environment helped along by the first two things: A lot of people in various artistic mediums seem very interested in discussing and preening the social significance of their work but uninterested in developing the fundamental skills of their craft. So, in the spirit of self-criticism: I want to try to do all of these things less because I think these tendencies are bad for art. By the end of this piece I want to have explained why I think that. Continue reading


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WHAT MAKES HEAVY METAL HEAVY?

What follows is a guest post by Jay Miller.

One of the great legends of heavy metal music history goes like this:  In the early 1990s, a little known three-piece band from San Jose, California named Sleep worked out a deal with London Records to produce their third album, Jerusalem, which included the rare luxury of maintaining full creative control. Instead, they blew most of the $75,000 advance on custom guitars, high-end amplifiers, and lots of marijuana. During two month-long recording sessions, they recorded a single, hour-long song filled with slow, churning guitars and monotonic chants having something to do with a new race of “Weedians.” Throughout the recording process, the song (which in various forms the band had played live for several years) evolved: it got longer; and, in the words of bassist Matt Pike “It got weird.” Continue reading


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BRO-COUNTRY, WALMART COUNTRY, AND AUTHENTICITY

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At her blog, L. M. Bernhardt has written a response to John Dyck’s recent post defending country music. In her post, “…but it’s all right.” she articulates something that worries her about Dyck’s presentation of country music as unsophisticated.

There is an important difference between the music born from the life of farmers and miners and the music that deploys that life as a sign of authenticity for consumers who don’t necessarily live there anymore.

She goes on to explain:

it’s a major feature of contemporary bro-country, which tends to be an assembly-line-produced mess of redneck identity signifiers masquerading as “authentic” country music. A pop-country performer like Brad Paisley (who is good at his job — don’t get me wrong!) bears little to no resemblance to someone like Ralph Stanley or Hazel Dickens. He and his usual co-writers produce songs about country as an identity. Hazel Dickens wrote and sang from it, and I think that makes a big difference — or should make a big difference — in how our aesthetic judgements handle these things. Country music like hers isn’t bad music or unsophisticated music that uses its messiness to signify authenticity — it’s representative of a distinct body of styles with its own natural history and quality markers, which is exactly what constitutes its authenticity.

Readers should check out the whole thing. Bernhardt writes from the perspective of both a performer and a philosopher, and her thoughts on the matter are really interesting.

We’ve given John Dyck the opportunity to respond. His response follows. Continue reading


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IN DEFENSE OF COUNTRY MUSIC, BY JOHN DYCK

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I used to hate country music. I would hear it at my grandparents’ house. I remember hearing my grandma sing along to those drawling voices and crunchy fiddles. My nine-year-old self cringed inside. The music was so gauche and uncultured. My grandparents grew up poor and uneducated, and I could hear it in their music. Continue reading