6 May, tbc
Associate Professor Jason Leddington (Bucknell University)
“Savouring the Impossible”
It is a puzzling feature of human beings that we are attracted to artworks that provoke negative emotional responses. Why are we drawn to what should, intuitively, repulse us? Tragedy and horror are paradigm cases, but similar questions are raised by works that provoke, say, disgust or moral outrage. This talk introduces and explores a new version of this old puzzle. My question is: why are we attracted to magic tricks? Magic is one our most consistently popular forms of mass entertainment. Consider the recent successes of performers such as Derren Brown, Dynamo, and David Blaine, as well as the ubiquity of magicians on talent shows such as America’s Got Talent (thrice won by magicians). But while philosophers speak fondly of the pleasures of knowing, successful magic performances present apparent impossibilities that provoke potent experiences of ignorance. So, why do people seek them out? I argue that recent work in the philosophy and psychology of so-called “knowledge emotions” can help us to resolve this puzzle. At the same time, in a surprising parallel, I show that it can also illuminate the appeal of a distinctive form of puzzlement especially dear to philosophers. Finally, I conclude by proposing an extension of this account to explain our attraction to another “art of the impossible”: the impossible figures created by artists such as Reutersvärd and Escher.
Nathan Wildman, Tilburg University
Wednesday 22nd January 2020, 5pm in Darwin Lecture Theatre 2 (DLT2), University of Kent
Many have offered various moral objections to video games, with various critics contending that they depict and promote morally dubious attitudes and behaviour. However, few have offered moral arguments in favour of video games In this paper, I develop one such positive moral argument. Specifically, I argue that, when it comes to some ethical knowledge, video games offer the only morally acceptable method for acquiring such knowledge. Consequently, we have (defeasible) moral reasons for creating, distributing, and playing certain, morally educating video games.
Wednesday 3rd April 2019, 5pm – 7pm
Exhibitions and Museums: When are They Art?
Marcel Broodthaer’s Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles (1968) confronted the public with an exhibition that criticized traditional museum practices by means of appropriating them. This work was explicitly intended to qualify as both an exhibition and a work of conceptual art. In this talk, I explore the hypothesis that the artwork status of some exhibitions might instead have remained, so far, unnoticed, even by their makers. To illustrate my view, I analyze the exhibition of pre-and proto-historic artifacts at Berlin’s Neues Museum and argue that such exhibition is a work of site-specific installation art.
Wednesday 13th March 2019, 5pm – 7pm
Three dominant theories explain how ethical properties determine aesthetic ones in artworks. Autonomism denies any determining relation. Moralism affirms one according to the valence constraint: ethical merits only ground aesthetic merits, ethical flaws only ground aesthetic flaws. Immoralism affirms one too, but denies the valence constraint. The question these theories answer, I argue, can be (and knowingly or not has been) read in one of two ways: the ‘counterfactual’ and the ‘as-such’ way. Each reading requires a different kind of answer: a counterfactual or an as-such theory, respectively. I argue that if one accepts the so-called qua problem, as-such theories run into a dilemma: they either rely upon dialectically unhelpful (if not question-begging) considerations, or else collapse into counterfactual theories. This leaves the counterfactual reading, to which I show immoralism is the obvious answer. The discussion has various significant consequences for the aesthetic moralism debate as a whole that I lay out at the end.
Professor Martin Hammer (Professor of History & Philosophy of Art, School of Arts)
“The Silent Kingdom of Paint”: Walter Sickert, Edward Hopper, and Virginia Woolf
Wednesday 5th December 2018, at 5pm in Grimond Lecture Theatre 3 (GLT3), University of Kent
This paper is built around a juxtaposition of two near-contemporary painters working in the early decades of the twentieth century, namely Walter Sickert and Edward Hopper, based respectively in Britain and the USA. Consideration of their remarkable but unexplored artistic affinities (alongside their divergences) raises the issue of whether these are coincidental, or whether we can (and need to) establish pathways of transmission. In parallel to this art-historical investigation, I want to employ their shared (and anachronistic) preoccupation with narrative imagery, to reflect in more philosophical terms upon how we as viewers negotiate such works, and why commentators insist upon projecting repetitive readings, within a quite narrow expressive range, onto works that can also be seen as ambiguous and open to quite different sorts of interpretation. Why do we interpret paintings as we do? An interesting route into this question is provided by the short text about Sickert by Virginia Woolf, published in 1935, which articulated thoughts about “the silent kingdom of paint” that apply intriguingly to both artists.
Professor Sonia Sedivy (Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto)
Aesthetic Properties, History and Perception
Monday 12th November 2018, at 5pm in Darwin Lecture Theatre 2, University of Kent
If artworks and their aesthetic properties stand in constitutive relationships to historical context and circumstances, so that some understanding of relevant facts is involved in responding to a work, what becomes of the intuitive view that we see artworks and at least some of their aesthetic properties? This question is raised by arguments in both aesthetics and art history for the historical nature of works of art. The paper argues that the answer needs to take philosophy of perception into account. The principal development that has shaped philosophy of perception in the last thirty years—explaining perceptual experience in terms of contents that represent that such-and-such is the case—is directly relevant to key arguments for the historical nature of art because contents can represent complex kinds and properties. Conceptual realism is especially well-suited for explaining perception of artworks and aesthetic properties because it emphasizes that forms of understanding— in the sense of capacities, abilities and techniques—are involved in perceptual engagement with individual objects and instances of properties. To make this case, the paper examines influential arguments for the historical nature of art and aesthetic properties by Arthur C. Danto and Kendall L. Walton; and examines art-historical discussions by Michael Baxandall, Linda Nochlin and T. J. Clark. The paper argues that the aesthetic properties of an artwork depend on human intentional uses of properties, colours and contours among them, and such uses may themselves be aesthetic. The Wittgensteinian notion of use is contextual and historical, and uses are perceptible.
Why Film Studies Needs More Fine-Grained Emotion Terms …and Why Phenomenology Might Help
Dr Julian Hanich (University of Groningen)
Monday 15th October 2018, at 5pm in the Lupino Screening Room, Grimond Building, University of Kent
In this talk I will make a threefold proposal: I claim that (a) film studies, due to an overly strong focus on a few standard emotions, lacks a fine-grained lexicon of emotions spectators experience when watching films, that (b) it would be beneficial for research conducted in the field to introduce more granular and well-defined emotion terms and that (c) the specific subfield of ‘phenomenology of emotions’ might help. Drawing on my previous studies on different forms of fear, disgust and being moved, I will try to elucidate why the phenomenology of emotions has specific resources to contribute.
Dr Julian Hanich is an Assistant Professor of Film Studies in the Department of Arts, Culture and Media at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands.
The Norms of Realism and the Case of Non-Traditional Casting
Dr Catharine Abell (University of Manchester)
Wednesday 3rd October 2018, at 5pm in Grimond Lecture Theatre 3, University of Kent
Realism is a property that representational artworks can exhibit. This paper is concerned with realism in perceptual narratives: narrative representations that convey their contents at least partly perceptually. It addresses the conditions under which realism constitutes an artistic merit in a perceptual narrative by identifying the artistic norms of realism that govern them. By providing accounts of these norms, it enables the identification of errors in our evaluations of realism. To demonstrate the evaluative errors to which we are prone, it focuses on the practice of non-traditional casting, cases of which are often claimed to violate norms of realism. It identifies a variety of errors in judgements of instances of non-traditional casting’s conformity to the norms of realism. It explains the source of these errors, some of which are relatively systematic and widespread. It then provides a general specification of the resources and skills required correctly to evaluate perceptual narratives according to their realism.
Tuesday 13th February 2018, at 6pm in Keynes Seminar Room 11, University of Kent
According to the causal theory of photography (CTP), photographs acquire their depictive content from the world, whereas paintings and drawings acquire their depictive content from their maker. CTP is widely affirmed, by philosophers, film-theorists and early pioneers of the photographic medium. A persistent worry about CTP is that it leaves no interesting role for the photographer in the production of their pictures and, as a corollary, is incompatible with an aesthetics of photography. In this talk, I do three things. First, I amend CTP with Fred Dretske’s distinction between triggering and structuring causes. Second, I argue that CTP so amended is far from incompatible with an aesthetics of photography, but illuminates two aesthetic interests we may take in such pictures, focussing on photographic portraiture and street photography. Third, I show how reflection on the aesthetics of photography serves to support aesthetic anti-empiricism: the view that the aesthetic value of artworks consists, either wholly or partially, in achievement rather than sensory pleasure.
Dan Cavedon-Taylor is currently a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Southampton. His research focuses on philosophy of mind and aesthetics. Some of his most recent publications include: ‘Reasoned and Unreasoned Judgment’ (British Journal of Aesthetics 2017) and ‘Photographic Phenomenology as Cognitive Phenomenology’ (British Journal of Aesthetics 2015).