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Abell, Catharine, and . Art: What It Is and Why It Matters

2012, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 85: 671–91

Content: The first three sections of this paper offer a very useful overview of modern definitions of art. Most major types of definitions are introduced and explained in a succinct way, followed by a discussion of selected objections they face. First, Abell introduces functionalism and discusses its problems with extensional adequacy. Second, procedural theories including Dickie’s institutional and Levinson’s historical definitions are discussed, and criticized for their circularity and inability to account for art’s value. Next, Abell considers two mixed theories, formulated by Robert Stecker and David Davies. She shows how they can overcome the difficulties discussed above, but run into their own problems. Finally, Berys Gaut’s cluster account is introduced and criticized for its circularity and difficulties in determining all sufficiency conditions for being an artwork. In the remainder of the paper Abell focuses on developing her own version of the institutional theory.

Comment: This text can provide the students with an overview of modern definitions of art. Theories are presented in a clear, succinct way, with their main features, strengths and weaknesses identified. The selection of objections discussed, however, is not representative – rather it serves the aim of developing Abell’s own definition. The later sections of the text are excellent, but address much more complex issues and are significantly less accessible for undergraduate students. They might be used in Masters level teaching or as advanced further reading on the institutional definition.

Abhinavagupta, and . Abhinavabhāratī

2006, In M.M. Ghosh (ed.) Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharatamuni: Text, Commentary of Abhinava Bharati by Abhinavaguptacarya and English Translation.Delhi: New Bharatiya Book Corporation.

Summary: Abhinavagupta’s famed commentary on Bharatamuni’s treatise on drama, the Nāṭyaśāstra, in which he details aesthetic expression and experience according to a theory of rasa, or aesthetic relish. Abhinavagupta’s theory is the most influential account of how the rasas or aesthetic emotions transcend the bounds of the spectator and artwork in a three-part process including depersonalization, universalization, and identification.

Comment: This text is appropriate for an in-depth study of Indian aesthetics. It requires an at least an introductory background in Indian philosophy to be accessible.

Abíódún, Rowland, and . Àkó-graphy: Òwò Portraits

2013, in: John Peffer and Elisabeth L. Cameron (eds.), Portraiture & Photography in Africa, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, pp. 287-312.

Summary: Argues that the introduction of photography did not significantly interfere with, or terminate, the àkó legacy of portraiture. Shows instead that the stylistic elements of the àkó life-size burial effigy – a sculpted portrait that attempts to capture the physical likeness, identity, character, social status of a deceased parent – informed the photographic traditional formal portrait in Òwò, Nigeria.

Comment: Useful in discussing portraiture, as well as depiction and representation in general.

Artworks to use with this text:

Mamah, Carved, life-size, fully dressed second-burial effigy for Madam Aládé, EÌpelè- Òwò, Nigeria (1972)

Striking example of the practice. Demonstrates how the àkó tradition appears to have influenced the way elderly people posed for photographs.

Author(s) Unknown, and . Yue Ji 樂記—Record of Music: Introduction, Translation, Notes, and Commentary

1995, Asian Music 26(2): 1-96.

Summary: The earliest extant Chinese treatise on music. The Yue Ji presents largely Confucian ideas on the connections between music, self-cultivation, proper governance, and the realization of natural patterns. Human character is described as a musical progression with ties to the transformation of sound into a kind of music that is distinguished by its relationship to virtue. The exact identity of the author(s) is debated, and it is believed to have been compiled from various sources no later than the middle of the Western Han dynasty (206BCE-24CE).

Comment: This text is appropriate for an aesthetics (especially philosophy of music) and/or Chinese philosophy course. It is best accessed by a reader with a basic understanding of early Chinese philosophy (especially Confucianism).

Bishop, Claire, and . Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics

2004, October 110: 51-79.

Summary: Bishop offers a critique of “relational aesthetics” – an approach to installation art that originated in the 1990’s and whose main proponent and interpreter was Nicolas Bourriaud. Bourriaud’s chief claim is that the art movement in question promotes intersubjective relationships (between artist and audience members and among audience members alike) and privileges social and political cohesion over other possible aspects of the aesthetic experience. While Bishop finds this ethos applicable to the work of the artists Bourriaud chooses to discuss (Rikrit Tiravanija, Liam Gillick etc.), she finds it difficult to reconcile relational aesthetics with the realities and concerns of the larger artworld. Antagonism is for Bishop just as viable a driving force in the making and appreciation of art as are social cohesion and intersubjective togetherness. Furthermore, as the history of early performance art and its reception shows, what makes art difficult, and thus politically important, is precisely the tensions that the makers and theorists of relational aesthetics attempt to quell.

Comment: This text offers a good introduction to relational aesthetics. Best if read together with (some of) Nicolas Bourriaud's work on relational aesthetics.

Brand, Peg Zeglin, and . Glaring Omissions in Traditional Theories of Art

2000, in Theories of Art Today, ed. by Noel Carroll (London: The University of Wisconsin Press)

Abstract: I investigate the role of feminist theorizing in relation to traditionally-based aesthetics. Feminist artworks have arisen within the context of a patriarchal Artworld dominated for thousands of years by male artists, critics, theorists, and philosophers. I look at the history of that context as it impacts philosophical theorizing by pinpointing the narrow range of the paradigms used in defining “art.” I test the plausibility of Danto’s After the End of Art vision of a post-historical, pluralistic future in which “anything goes,” a future that unfortunately rests upon the same outdated foundation as the concept “art.”.

Comment: This text offers an overview of the feminist critique of the classificatory project. It assumes some basic knowledge and is best used after the main modern theories of art have been introduced. The pointed critique and clearly stated suggestions for constructing unbiased theories, make it excellent at inspiring a critical discussion on the subject of universalism and discrimination in both art practice and theory. Perhaps more importantly, the argument offered and the long lists of female artists and art theorists which support it, can have an empowering and validating role to many female students.

Brand, Peg Zeglin, and . Beauty as Pride: A Function of Agency’

2011, APA Newsletter 10(2): 5-9.

Abstract: This is basically a paper about artistic evaluation and how multiple interpretations can give rise to inconsistent and conflicting meanings. Images like Joel-Peter Witkin’s First Casting for Milo (2004) challenge the viewer to look closely, understand the formal properties at work, and then extract a meaning that ultimately asks, Is the model exploited or empowered? Is Karen Duffy, pictured here, vulnerable and “enfreaked” or is she potentially subversive, transgressive, and perhaps self-empowered? I will offer an argument in agreement with artist/author/ performer Ann Millett-Gallant that favors the latter interpretation, but will augment and complicate the issue by also introducing a pointed question or two taken from a recent analysis by Cynthia Freeland on objectification. I judge the works by photographer Joel-Peter Witkin to be representations of disabled persons who are empowered through agency and pride, but I also worry about the risk of multiple, conflicting interpretations on the part of viewers who do not, or cannot, entertain such enlightened readings. Like second wave feminist views about pornography that depicted women in demeaning ways, or feminist critiques of Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party , Witkin’s photos can be judged as potentially offensive. But they are also objects of beauty – both in terms of aesthetic properties (they are magnificent studies in black and white, shadows, the human body, with many classical references) and because of the feeling of beauty and pride felt by the posers, who become performers of their own beauty and pride. I argue that beauty trumps offensiveness. Pride wins. But I’m not sure that everyone will agree.

Comment: Questions the ideal standard of beauty portrayed throughout the history of art, particularly in form of the female nude, and examines works of art that defiantly challenge that ideal. Argues that in certain representations of disabled persons the model is empowered and not exploited and that beauty trumps offensiveness. Pride wins.

Artworks to use with this text:

Joel-Peter Witkin, First Casting for Milo (2004)

Portrait of Irish artist Karen Duffy engaged in a silent performance of 'disarming' Venus. In her own words, she is aiming to 'liberate herself from histories of oppressive representations of women and disabled women in particular.'

Campbell, Shelley, and . Myra: a Portrait of a Portrait

2013, in: Hannah Priest (ed.), The Female of the Species: Cultural Constructions of Evil, Women and the Feminine, Oxford: Inter-disciplinary Press.

Summary: Considers philosophical problems with representation, particularly in regard to the loss of particularity and individuality in instances when an identity takes on symbolic proportions. Hindley, the woman, has been totally merged with Hindley, the monster. Her particularity has been subsumed as a two-dimensional stereotype by having her photo treated with obsessive media attention by being repetitively linked to that same hated stereotype.

Comment: Useful in classes focused on depiction and representation.

Artworks to use with this text:

Marcus Harvey, Myra (1995)

Despite Harvey's attack on reflex reactions to Hindley and his verbal protest to the contrary, his portrait has further incited public outrage and denied her a chance of fair treatment. There's a clear discrepancy between what the artist has said in interviews and what the painting appears to express.

Chakrabarti, Arindam, and . Ownerless Emotions in Rasa-Aesthetics

2011, In Ken-ichi Sasaki (ed.). Asian Aesthetics. National Univeristy of Singapore Press.

Summary: Chakrabarti explores the possibilities of rasa theory via the question of whose emotion is experienced when an audience relishes a work of art. Chakrabarti argues for the existence of a “centerless non-singular subjectivity” according to which the special emotions savored in aesthetic experience do not have specific owners. These personless sentiments indicate an ethical relationship between aesthetic imagination and moral unselfishness.

Comment: This text could serve as both an overview of rasa theory in Indian aesthetics, as a basis for comparative work in cross-cultural aesthetics, as well as comparative philosophy.

Related reading:

  • Abhinavabhāratī. Abhinavagupta. In Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharatamuni: Text, Commentary of Abhinava Bharati by Abhinavaguptacarya and English Translation. M.M. Ghosh (ed.). Delhi: New Bharatiya Book Corporation, 2006.

Chambers, Emma, and . Face to Face: Representing Facial Disfigurement

2010, in: Richard Sandell, Jocelyn Dodd, & Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Re-presenting Disability: Activism and Agency in the Museum, London: Routledge, pp. 179-193.

Summary: In-depth analysis of how the Saving Faces exhibition challenges stereotypes of disabled people as dependent invalids or exotic specimens. Discusses the artist’s rejection of experimentation in favour of a painting style that is as ‘straight’ as possible (and so makes for an interesting contrast with the use of cubist painting in Anita Silver’s essays). Also draws attention to the interaction between artist and sitter and to the process of portraiture.

Comment: Useful in discussing portraiture, as well as depiction and representation in general.

Artworks to use with this text:

Mark Gilbert, Saving Faces (2000)

Gilbert was artist-in-residence at the oral and maxillofacial surgery department of a London hospital. His brief was to illustrate what is, and also isn't, possible with modern facial surgery; and to capture the emotional journey undertaken by patients in ways that standard clinical photography cannot.