Artwork:Tehching Hsieh 1986-1999, Tehching Hsieh, 1986-1999. “Endurance performance art”: life in spacetime.
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Here is the concept for the Project’s podcast. We wanted to know what philosophers and other academics think about the central themes of our project. So, we ask our guests three questions:
What does aesthetics tell us about human nature?
How does empirical research bear on their research projects?
What kind of experiment would you want to run on their research projects?
For various reasons, the plan for the podcast series did not take off. Still, all is not lost. We have now, finally, the last (and first) podcast episode, featuring Jim Hamilton (Kansas State University). Professor Hamilton specializes in aesthetics, especially on theater. In this episode, he tells me–amongst other things–an exciting idea that he has on empirically investigating theater audiences’ experiences.
The Experimental Philosophical Aesthetics and Human Nature Project is primarily funded by the European Commission’s Marie Curie grant, which explicitly includes the aim of facilitating knowledge transfer between academics and with the public.
Hence, in addition to–and, often, in connection with–our research projects, we have also embarked on a number of outreach efforts. This post focuses on our accomplishments on the impact front. (The previous year-in-review post focuses on our accomplishments on the research front.)
As mentioned in the previous post, we have collectively given eight research talks in many different places in order to share our research widely.
Even more excitingly, we gave two public talksabout coffee to members of the public that included an interactive experimental component. Aaron gave a talk and conducted an informal study on gustatory testimony. (See also Aaron’s paper on taste-imony, co-authored with Jon Robson.) I gave a talk and conducted an informal study on the interaction between moral and gustatory value. (See also our paper “Morality and Aesthetics of Food”, forthcoming in Oxford Handbook of Food Ethics.) These public talks were supported by Cultural & Creative Industries Exchange and with assistance from Amanosi Ekenimoh and Nick Watts.
Strangely enough, what made me the happiest about the Project in 2015 is not done by me (or Aaron).
Back in 2014, we hosted an early career workshop that aimed to bring together four senior scholars in philosophical aesthetics (Catherine Abell and Christy Mag Uidhir) and in experimental philosophy (Florian Cova and Jonathan Weinberg) along with seven junior scholars who are interested in the intersection of the two subfields. Our goal is to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas between all participants, and to help the junior scholars professionally.
So, I was most ecstatic to attend the 2015 American Society of Aesthetics Meeting, where Kris Goffin–one of the junior scholars at the workshop–presented two exciting studies that he and Florian Cova did on the phenomenon of guilty pleasures. Be on the lookout for these interesting findings to appear in print soon!
Intellectual work can feel lonely, even when you are working with others. Most of the time you work on these research projects that take years to see the light of day, after countless iterations and refinements. Sometimes, the research projects never even see the light of day, for one reason or another. Where did the hours go? The loneliness comes when it feels like there’s nothing new to share.
So, it can be helpful to take a step back, to remind yourself of what you have done that can, in fact, be shared. Here is such an attempt, to remind ourselves what we, the Experimental Philosophical Aesthetics and Human Nature Project, have achieved in 2015. This post focuses on the research accomplishments. (The next year-in-review post focuses on the impact of the Project.)
Overview Phase of the Project
The first phase of the Project surveys the philosophical aesthetics literature in aesthetics for topics that lend themselves to empirical investigations. This phase has resulted in four overview articles and one bibliography.
There are two articles on the phenomenon of imaginative resistance (Miyazono and Liao 2016; Liao and Gendler 2016). There is an article on the ethical criticism of art debate, as it relates to food (Liao and Meskin forthcoming, “Morality and Aesthetics of Food”, Oxford Handbook of Food Ethics). And there is a bibliography on imagination and belief (Ichino, Miyazono, and Liao forthcoming, “Imagination and Belief”, Oxford Bibliographies in Philosophy).
Most importantly, there is now an overview article that introduces the subfield of experimental philosophical aesthetics (Cova, Garcia, and Liao 2015). As I wrote in an earlier blog post, since this subfield of study is so new, my co-authors and I have chosen a somewhat unusual approach for this overview: in addition to describing the works that have been done, we are also previewing some works in progress and envisioning what the field could become.
This year also brought the first major research publication of the Project. In “Aesthetic Adjectives” (Liao and Meskin forthcoming, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research), we report four studies that investigate the context-sensitivity of aesthetic adjectives. In short, we found that aesthetic adjectives behave weirdly, in ways that are not obviously anticipated by philosophical aestheticians or philosophers of language. This work continues the discussions initiated at the Project’s language of aesthetics workshop in 2014.
Aaron has articles published or in press on: imagination (Wiltshire and Meskin 2016), comics (Cook and Meskin 2015), taste-imony (Meskin and Robson 2015), the concept of art (Fokt and Meskin forthcoming, “Errors in ‘The History of an Error'”, British Journal of Aesthetics), and videogames (Meskin and Robson forthcoming, “Videogames as Self-Involving Interactive Fictions”, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism).
We are very excited about our upcoming conference Race & Aesthetics, primarily supported by the British Society of Aesthetics. We think this is a conference on a cluster of really important issues with an impressive set of speakers, and we hope you can make it.
However, in case you can’t make it to our conference, here is a list of other amazing events on race and on aesthetics happening in the region (interpreted quite broadly, in some cases). Feel free to send me a note if I’ve missed any!
Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies Public Lecture: Charles Mills. “Black Radical Liberalism (And Why It Isn’t An Oxymoron)”. May 21, Leeds. Room 12.25, Social Sciences Building, University of Leeds. 5pm-7pm with wine reception to follow.
We’re doing a couple of public talks that combine our love for experimental philosophical aesthetics and coffee, in association with Food&_.
01. what we talk about when we talk about coffee
Date: Wednesday, 25 February 2015 from 18:30 to 20:00 Location:Colours May Vary, Duke Street, LS9 8AG, Leeds
How much can you learn from others about what a cup of coffee tastes like? Join Aaron Meskin and Laynes Espresso for a discussion of the language we use to communicate about coffee. Tastings included. Alongside the tasting and discussion, Colours May Vary will be exhibiting a collection of Justin Slee’s photography exploring the Leeds coffee scene featuring Laynes Espresso, Mrs Athas, and Opposite Cafe.
Date: Wednesday, 18 March 2015 from 18:30 to 20:00 Location: Colours May Vary, Duke Street, LS9 8AG, Leeds
Join Shen-yi Liao and Laynes Espresso for a coffee tasting as Sam discusses the ethics and aesthetics of food and drink. Alongside the tasting and discussion, Colours May Vary will be exhibiting a collection of Justin Slee’s photography exploring the Leeds coffee scene featuring Laynes Espresso, Mrs Athas, and Opposite Cafe.
Experimental Philosophy Group UK invites the submission of abstracts for posters and papers to be presented at their upcoming conference. We welcome contributions from researchers (from all disciplines) who are engaged in or interested in the investigation of philosophical topics using empirical methods.
We especially encourage contributions that concern this year’s main theme, ‘Joining Forces of Philosophy and the Empirical Sciences to Tackle Social Injustices’. We intend to bring together philosophers, psychologists and social scientists whose research touches on the issue of social injustice — what it is and how it can be combated. The conference will provide a platform for knowledge exchange as well as networking and help establish new collaborative research projects. Contributions may include, amongst others, empirical research on discrimination (e.g., racial, gender or religious discrimination), social mobility and accessibility to public resources or philosophical analyses of terms like ‘justice’ or ‘fairness’.
Despite this focus, all high-quality contributions from the wider field of experimental philosophy are welcome. This may include submissions presenting recently completed experimental work, engaging with the work of this year’s keynote speakers, proposing new experimental work, discussing existing empirical studies, introducing novel approaches or raising methodological questions.
Submissions are encouraged from all levels of academia. Abstracts of up to 500 words are to be sent as PDF or Word documents to email@example.com by 31st March 2015. The subject line of the email should read ‘SUBMISSION [YOUR NAME]’. In the body of the email please state your name, affiliation and in which category (talk or poster) you wish your submission to be considered. Talks should be about 20 minutes long and will be followed by a brief discussion. Those whose abstracts for talks are not accepted will be automatically considered for a poster. Presenters should be prepared to obtain funding from their home department, or to fund themselves.
Confirmed keynote speakers: Kimberley Brownlee (University of Warwick), Edouard Machery (University of Pittsburgh), Ron Mallon (Washington University in St. Louis)
Primary organiser: Andreas Bunge (Nottingham)
Co-organisers: James Andow (Reading), Bryony Pierce (Bristol), Robin Scaife (Sheffield)
Here is a brief overview of the conference aim and themes:
Nearly 100 years ago, the two founding giants of the academic field that became philosophy of race–W.E.B. Du Bois and Alain Locke–debated the proper social and artistic conception of black aesthetics. Since then, there has been impressive growth in both philosophy of race and philosophical aesthetics. Unfortunately, the advances in each of these philosophical fields seemed to have gone unnoticed by the other (with a few exceptions). Our aim with this conference is to reunite philosophy of race and philosophical aesthetics.
To return the spirit of Du Bois and Locke to contemporary discourse, we have invited philosophers who tackle philosophical problems related to race from diverse perspectives and philosophical aestheticians with demonstrated interest in race. We have chosen three intersections between race and aesthetics to focus on: psychology, politics, and methods.
A couple of weeks back, I attended FIVE, an event at Leeds Art Gallery that explored the museum’s collection from a post-colonial perspective. In addition to all its intrinsic rewards, the event also made me think more about some questions at the intersection of aesthetics and race.
Even before any words were said, two remarkable facts about the event stood out to me. First, the Leeds Art Gallery has clearly put in much effort to make the event accessible. Throughout all the talks and the Q&As, there were two British Sign Language interpreters present, which allowed the attendance and participation of Deaf, deaf, and hard-of-hearing members of the community. Second, and even more salient to me, all of the speakers embodied underrepresented perspectives. Perhaps this is not so surprising given the theme, but it is incredibly rare in the museum context, in the art world, and of course in academia as well.
What explains the underrepresentation and ghettoization of non-whites in the art world? Are racialized art curations—such as an exhibit that explicitly focuses on black artists only—ethically or aesthetically justified?
Learning about the museum’s collection from a postcolonial perspective actually heightened my aesthetic experience of them, albeit in unexpected ways. For example, a painting that I’ve long casually dismissed as an amateurish allegory actually became more interesting to me when I learned it was part of the British propaganda to justify their horrific actions in India. The painting featured a white angelic figure slaying the Bengal tiger. It is not the subtlest of all symbols, which makes it rather amateurish as an allegory, but perfectly appropriate as propaganda. What was previously an aesthetic flaw somehow ceased to be one, even though the painting is certainly more morally flawed for it. It was also striking to hear from a black speaker that her vivid memory of coming to the museum involves walking into this gallery that had only one painting featuring people of color, and only as colonial subjects.
How do artworks contribute to the experience of being racialized in contemporary society? For example, how might racist tropes in artistic representations—even when they are intended as subversive—contribute to the internalizations of stereotypes that are harmful to self-conceptions for members of subordinated racial groups?
The final talk of the event featured artist and professor Lubaina Himid discussing her painting Five.
There were many fascinating things she said about the painting itself, as well as her experience both as an artist and as a curator in the British art world. However, two remarks really stood out to me. Speaking about her painting, she noted:
How rare it is to see two black women in a painting at the same time.
In the same way that most Hollywood movies fail the Bechdel test, I would not be at all surprised if most art exhibitions fail this—we might call it—Himid’s test.
Then, speaking about museum collections from an artist and curator’s perspective, she noted:
If you want a diverse audience for your museum, then you need to have a diverse collection of artists.
Again, I think Prof. Himid is completely spot on. Unfortunately in my experience, most art institutions still fail egregiously in this regard.
Are there implicit racial biases that affect assessments of aesthetic virtues, such as creativity? What is the significance of such biases for philosophical assessments of aesthetic evaluation?
There were many insights from Prof. Himid’s talk that I cannot possibly reproduce here. But, just as a final note, her talk also made me think about an analogous situation that exists in academic philosophy. Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman and his colleagues have been making powerful social critiques about institutions within academic philosophy. For example, they have asked, reasonably enough, why is my curriculum white?. This effort has recently culminated in a project they call Dismantling the Master’s House, and I am personally really looking forward to its development.
An interdisciplinary research project on the connections between aesthetics, morality, and communication.