Posts tagged art

Exploring the philosophy of beauty

One of the things I came across during my winter blogging break was a great website named Gilded Birds, which features brief discussions with philosophers, artists, and others on the subject of beauty. The most recent interview, with Stanford University philosopher Joshua Cohen, provides a fitting glimpse of what the site has to offer:

GB: Artists in the twentieth century turned against the idea of beauty because of its association with bourgeois ideals. This is man-made beauty that surely anyone would be happy with.

JC: [Frederick Law] Olmsted had spent the 1850s working as a journalist, writing about slavery and aristocracy. He thought that the conflict between North and South in the United States was part of a global fight between democratic and aristocratic models of society. There’s an aristocratic criticism of democracy that goes all the way back to Plato, that when you try to do things for everyone you end up with lowest common denominator crap. Olmsted saw building Central Park as a way of proving the aristocrats wrong. It was built by a democratic society for a democratic society—for the people—and was incredibly beautiful. His bet was that people would be drawn to it. In 1865 Olmsted wrote a piece making the case that Yosemite should be open to the public and he explains what’s really special about natural beauty. He contrasts the pleasure of beauty with the pleasure of reading a great novel. A novel contains moral lessons that draw you outside the story. The experience of natural beauty is completely absorbing. It’s a distinctive and important human pleasure that’s good for everyone.

You can read the rest of this interview, along with others, here.

Should art be moral?

Should our judgement of art — paintings, poetry, literature, films — take into account the moral and political merit of the artist and his or her message? Or should we judge art through something other than our moral and political filters? 

That’s the interesting debate Dhanuka Bandara takes up in the Sri Lankan Nation:

Since today the academia has become the location for competing ideologies, critical interest in analyzing the politics in a text has become the more fashionable practice. In their assiduous efforts to remain politically ‘progressive’ and ‘radical’ dons and students alike disregard the technical and stylistic aspect of a given text at the expense of the politics that it endorses or rejects. It is easy to label a text as ‘orientalist’, ‘elitist’ or ‘sexist’. However, this is not necessarily a comment on the aesthetic value of that text. …

In my opinion, a text could be orientalist, classist or even fascist, but still remain qualitatively estimable. For instance, T.S. Eliot’s unease with women and Jews is quite well known, but this does not mean that Eliot is a bad poet. W.B. Yeats is a classist and some might even say fascist but still this does not undo the artistic merit of his poetry. On the other hand, ‘progressive politics’ in a text does not necessarily bear upon its artistic merit. It is for this reason that some of the texts (albeit not all) that have got into university syllabi, on account of being postcolonial and/or feminist are embarrassing to read.

Science + philosophy + humanities

Massimo Pigliucci outlines why it is impossible for science alone to help us fully understand and improve the world:  

Science is a marvellous thing that has brought us computers, airplanes and modern medicine. But it has also brought us the atomic bomb, eugenics and biological warfare. It is a wonderful experience to think like a scientist – believe me, I’ve done it for decades. But that is only one mode of human thinking. Our arsenal is vast, including the ability to critically reflect on what we do and why (philosophy) and to communicate our emotions and perspectives about the world to other human beings (art and literature).

Keep reading here.

Explaining philosophy through art

In an effort to better explain a range of complex philosophical ideas to the general public — an important task if there ever was one — London-based graphic designer Genís Carreras has created a series of so-called Philographics: posters featuring a combination of basic colors, simple shapes, and concise definitions of different philosophies.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

You can see more posters here, and purchase copies here.