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.
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).