The puzzle of virtual art

If I recall correctly, Arthur Danto considers the example of an art deco bronze cat which is chained to the railing on a landing in the student center. This might, he says, be a recent artwork composed of a readymade bronze cat, a chain, and a pad lock. Perhaps a commentary on domestication. Nevertheless, the artwork is just the cat itself. Someone chained it to the railing when it was installed in the student center, so that nobody would walk off with it.

Similar examples arise in gallery contexts: It may be unclear whether two objects are one composition or two works simply installed near to one another. A toolbox might be left behind by a worker and a utility box may just be hardware that’s part of the gallery, or these things might be works or parts of works in the show.

I have seen these puzzles mostly raised in the context of ontology, to pose the question of what constitutes a work of art. Yet, it seems to me, there is an important issue in art appreciation.

Suppose, to return to the original example, that one finds it rewarding to consider the chain and cat together. They are visually interesting, let’s say, and one is lead to reflect in interesting ways on domestic animals and public spaces. It’s rewarding in just the kinds of ways that reflecting on an artworks is. Suppose furthermore that considering just the cat on its own is not especially rewarding. It is not an inspired sculpture, and it is of limited historical interest. One gets more out of considering the chained cat as if it were art than in considering the actual artwork.

What should we think about this? Several possibilities:

First, one might say that considering non-art as if it were art is perverse and confused. It is either a conceptual or moral failure. I find this implausible.

Second, one might say that the rewards of reflecting on the chained cat show that it must be art after all. We are supposing that nobody explicitly meant it to be art. We could say that the staff member who chained the sculpture had an unconscious intention to make art. Or we could say that one makes it art just by engaging in the rewarding as-if art experience of it.

Third, one might give up the idea that artworks are especially important to art appreciation. What matters are objects which can be encountered and interpreted in as-if art ways, regardless of whether they are actually art.

AI ai ai

I recently commented on the fact that machine learning with neural networks now regularly gets called “AI”. I find the locution perplexing, because these machine learning problems have success conditions set up by engineers who defined the inputs and outputs.

Here is another headline which doubles down on the locution, discussing AIs creating AIs. Yet having a neural network solve an optimization problem is still machine learning in a constrained and specified problem space, even if it’s optimizing the structure of other neural networks.

Brave new age of robot overlords this ain’t.

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Bunflow is more tan than Caring Tan is

Swatches
Algorithmically-generated designer colours (from post by Janelle Shane)

There is a lot of buzz about AI and the prospect that computers will soon be doing something hugely different than what they’re doing now. It’s apprehension of what Ray Kurzweil calls the singularity, except that people don’t call it that much anymore.[1]

Under the headline An AI invented a bunch of new paint colors that are hilariously wrong, Annalee Newtiz discusses the result of training neural networks on Sherwin-Williams decorator colour names. The original work was done by Janelle Shane, who recounted it in a Tumblr post.

Some whinging below the fold.

Continue reading “Bunflow is more tan than Caring Tan is”

Works of rock

I just finished reading Charles Bartel’s article “Rock as a Three-Value Tradition” (JAAC, Spring 2017) which develops on his 2013 post at Aesthetics for Birds.

“A concern for songs— however ontologically thin—and a concern for live performances—however ephemeral—is no less central to the rock tradition than recordings.”

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Useful for me now

[It is a mistake to give] an absolute meaning to the epithet useful, which, in truth, has no more meaning if taken by itself than the words high, low, right, and left. It simply designates a relationship and requires a complement: useful for this or that.

I am teaching Simone de Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity in my Existentialism class, and I’m struck again by what a great book it is. She elaborates the notion of Bad Faith with much greater clarity than Sartre. There are parts of the book that make me rethink myself and my present situation.

This is striking partly because of context: We spent weeks on Heidegger, who does phenomenology is the most abstract way and only has eyes for metaphysics. Then we spent weeks on Sartre, who dabbles in ethics and has some rich examples but never finds his way around to the ethical question. Sartre writes in Being&Nothingness (in a footnote!) that “the description of [authentic existence] has no place here.”

And now we’re discussing de Beauvoir, whose task is “to consider human life as a game that can be won or lost and to teach… the means of winning.”

Philosophy of emoji 😎

Over at Aesthetics for Birds, there’s a post about the philosophy of emoji. It’s mostly provocation, posing some issues, but it doesn’t make a direct connection to art. So, in the comments, I casually mention my work-in-progress paper on emoji art.

It’s a sufficiently cutting-edge topic that a number of the sources that the AfB article links to were not available when I finished my paper and sent it out scouting for rejection notices.

Philosophy of science under pluralism

First day of the Philosophy of science under pluralism conference at the Pittsburgh Center for Philosophy of Science. Saw lots of old friends, met lots of new ones, gave a talk on natural kinds.

Perhaps the winning quote of the day, from Stuart Glennan: “A lot of pluralism is just [that] you’re talking about different things.”

The picture was taken by Michela Massimi.

Words plotted thusly

Via Daily Nous, I came across a free set of text analysis tools by Voyant. You can paste in a passage or point it at some URLs, and it will chop it into words and phrases.

I let it chew on my book, and one of the products was this graph of word density:

word density

It looks all sciencey, like the kind of think that prop people might put on a screen in the background of a lab scene. It isn’t very informative, though. The curve has “species” dipping below zero, even though it occurs at least once in every segment.

I learned that “natural”, “kind”, and “kinds” make up about three percent of the words in the book. That three percent was, I suppose, the easiest part to write.