Art, Expression, and Personality


Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.

T. S. ELIOT, The Sacred Wood

Writing on Trees


Last Friday, I came across an installation that is part of the exhibition Walking in My Mind, currently on show at the Hayward Gallery of the Southbank Centre in London. It is a pop art piece called “Ascension of the Polkadots on the Trees” by Yayoi Kusama, a female Japanese artist. It consists of a group of trees dressed with a red plastic fabric with white spots of different sizes.

Every dressed tree has a warning on the ground: “Do not draw or write on the trees. This is an art work — respect it.” People have been ignoring this cautionary advice and have been writing on the fabric — a lot.

Does this make the work less valuable? Have these signatures, drawings, and writings tainted the work of art? “Ascension of the Polkadots on the Trees” has transformed the trees, giving them a new face. I am sure it made these woody enduring plants more noticeable to those who were used to their repetitive appearance to the point of becoming indifferent to their presence. Writing on these transformed trees is a response. In this context, it may even be construed as a reply to an invitation: here we are, changed, covered as if in plaster, and waiting for the acknowledgement of our intensified presence. Writing is therefore a means of marking that someone noticed them, seizing the opportunity to assert their own presence — “I was here”, that is what these written traces say. For a work like this, placed in a public space, this interaction has to be taken as a reverent reaction. Ignoring the warning signs is a way of not ignoring the art work.

Philosophising and Living


There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live, according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.


New Contemporary Aesthetics


The 2009 issue of Contemporary Aesthetics is up. It is a meaty volume that includes essays on performance, film and the unconscious, music and politics, limited editions and additions, intention and interpretation, and motifs and motivation.

Contemporary Aesthetics


On Art and Allusion, Nigel Warburton has been posting his notes for the course on contemporary aesthetics that he is teaching at Tate Modern. See also his notes for the previous course on modern aesthetics.

David Hume and Skepticism


The Philosophy of Language Institute, a research unit of the New University of Lisbon, will host a colloquium on David Hume and skepticism next week. The program includes papers on naturalism, religion, self-interest, and nature:


Bruno Pettersen (Federal University of Minas Gerais), “Hume e Debate Cético Contemporâneo”

Anice Lima de Araújo (Federal University of Minas Gerais), “Hume e o Naturalismo”

João Paulo Monteiro (New University of Lisbon), “Cepticismo Religioso, Falibilismo Filosófico”


Rui Romão (New University of Lisbon), “Hume, a Tradição Céptica e o Tema do Interesse Próprio”

Lívia Guimarães (Federal University of Minas Gerais), “Natureza e Artifício na Filosofia de Hume”

Art, Aesthetics, and the Sexual


During the next two days, the Aesthetics Research Group of the University of Kent presents a symposium on sexual imagery and themes in art. Confirmed speakers include:

David Davies (McGill University)
Susan Dwyer (University of Maryland)
Rob van Gerwen (Utrecht University)
Jerrold Levinson (University of Maryland/University of Kent)
Alex Neill (University of Southampton)
Elisabeth Schellekens (Durham University)

The Aesthetics Research Group at Kent


The Aesthetics Research Group (ARG) is an inter-disciplinary group based at the University of Kent. Its members come from the departments of Film Studies and of History and Philosophy of Art (School of Arts) and also from the department of Philosophy (School of European Culture and Languages). The ARG has a web page — with information about the upcoming two-day symposium Art, Aesthetics and the Sexual and access to audio and video recordings of previous events (including Professor Jerrold Levinson’s ongoing lecture series Key Concepts in Aesthetics).

The European Society for Aesthetics


Thank you very much to my fellow countryman Viíor Moura (Minho University, Department of Philosophy and Culture) for letting me know about The European Society for Aesthetics — of which I am now a proud member.

Key Concepts in Aesthetics


Key Concepts in Aesthetics is the unmissable Leverhulme lecture series to be given this term by Professor Jerrold Levinson at the University of Kent. It commences this Wednesday and the full schedule is as follows:

I. “The Aesthetic” (21 Jan., 5:15 p.m.)
II. “Beauty” (28 Jan., 5:15 p.m.)
III. “Art” (5 Feb., 5:15 p.m.)
IV. “Artwork” (11 Feb., 5:15 p.m.)
V. “Artform” (18 Feb., 5:15 p.m.)
VI. “Artistic Form” (26 Feb., 5:00 p.m.)
VII. “Artistic Expression” (18 Mar., 5:15 p.m.)
VIII. “Artistic Interpretation” (2 Apr., 5:00 p.m.)
IX. “Artistic Value” (9 Apr., 5:00 p.m.)

In Levinson’s words:

The aim of this series of lectures is to give listeners an idea of the role played by nine key concepts in the discipline of aesthetics, here understood primarily as the philosophy of the arts. In most of these lectures an attempt will be made to sketch the historical sources of the concept in question, with reference to the most important writings in the history of aesthetic thought, which will then be followed by a selective survey of current approaches to theorizing such concepts, in which survey the views of the lecturer can be expected to loom large.

The first such concept to be investigated, unsurprisingly, is that of the aesthetic, which gives its name to this field of inquiry. Under this rubric we will examine the numerous guises of the aesthetic, such as aesthetic property, aesthetic attitude, aesthetic attention, aesthetic pleasure, and aesthetic experience. Next we turn to the concept of beauty, preeminent among aesthetic properties, and one notably displayed by works of nature as well as works of art; here we will dwell particularly on the often conflicted relationship between beauty and art, especially contemporary visual art, and will also touch on the difference between beauty and sublimity. The problematic nature of contemporary art leads us naturally to the concept of art itself, and to the vexing questions of whether art can be defined and what the point might be of doing so. This will be followed by an examination of the concept of an artwork, in which the bewildering ontological variety of artworks will be to the fore, to be followed in turn by an examination of the concept of an artform, and the closely related ideas of genre and medium.

The remaining four lectures all concern concepts crucial to the understanding, appreciation, and criticism of works of art: artistic form, artistic expression, artistic interpretation, and artistic value. As regards form in art, a central question is what that includes or excludes, and what the importance of such form is for artist and spectator. As regards expression in art, which is an important component of the content of many artworks, we will first distinguish artistic expression from artistic representation, and then inquire into the scope, analysis, and importance of such expression. As regards interpretation in art, an initial concern will be to stress the diversity of kinds of artistic interpretation, and to underline in particular the difference between critical and performative interpretation in the arts; we will then address the thorny issue of correctness of interpretation, whether critical or performative, of a given work of art. We turn finally to the question of value in art, understood in the sense both of the comparative value of one work of art as opposed to another, and of the value of art as a whole. Coming full circle, we will suggest in closing the usefulness of a distinction between artistic value and aesthetic value, at least where the latter is understood narrowly.