Feminist philosophy of art: correcting the imbalance

Orlan between her fifth and sixth successful operations, feb. 1991.Germaine Greer has recently commented on what she perceives to be the failure of an exhibition of female artists named elles@centrepompidou to achieve its intention “to restore women to their rightful place in art history.” The show, which is currently on display in the Centre Pompidou, showcases sculpture, photography, video works, architecture and design from 200 female artists (including works by Orlan, pictured left). The collection is the result of five years of deliberately spending 40% of the acquisitions budget of the Musée National d’Art Moderne on artworks by female artists. Greer criticises the show’s limited sampling of works for not doing justice to each the female artists. Not only that, the collection gives the false impression that women are well represented in the art world. Greer also highlights the possibility of the audience perceiving (again falsely) a stagnation in women’s art with body art works on show from multiple generations of female artists.

The philosopher A.W. Eaton describes the feminist philosophy of art as a category in which all participants share the goal of “ending women’s subordination in the arts and discourses about the arts.” Questions investigated by philosophers in this area include: How does sex or gender influence art production and art reception? Should sex or gender influence art production or reception? Do the current theories of art only offer a male perspective on art? And if so, what should be done to correct the imbalance? Clearly given Greer’s comments on the premature celebration of the place of women in art history, which is still very much male dominated, the project of feminist philosophy of art is still an important area of investigation.

Germaine Greer’s comments can be found here.

The elles@centrepompidou exhibition website is here.

Related articles:
Feminist Philosophy of Art
A.W. Eaton , University of Illinois at Chicago
(Vol. 3, July 2008)
Philosophy Compass

Sherlock Holmes: A Case of (Sexual) Identity

Robert Downey Jr has recently caused a number of movie executives distress by intimating that the fictional characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson may have been not only roommates but also lovers. Robert Downey Jr, who plays the character of Sherlock Holmes in Guy Ritchie’s latest film, responded jokingly to David Letterman’s questions about the possibility of a homosexual relationship between Holmes and Watson.

Some Warner Bros. executives have been reported as being wary that Downey Jr’s comments may affect the perception of Holmes’ sexual orientation, bringing an unintended new aspect to the movie plot. More recently the executor of author Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary estate, Andrea Plunket, has threatened to withdraw permission for a Sherlock Holmes sequel if the homosexual theme is developed. She claims that this interpretation of the characters is not true to the spirit of the books, by which she means that Holmes was intended by Conan Doyle to be heterosexual.

With this situation there potentially are inconsistent characteristics being applied to the single fictional character, Holmes, between the original stories of Conan Doyle and the Downey Jr’s portrayal. How is it possible for one entity to be simultaneously heterosexual and homosexual?

In addition to this recent problem there is another well known inconsistency that occurs in Conan Doyle’s own books. In “A Study in Scarlet” Dr Watson’s war wound is in his shoulder but in “The Sign of Four” Watson claims that his war wound was in his leg. Is it possible for one being to have the same wound in two different locations? If so, how do we characterise this kind of being?

Stacie Friend examines the nature of fictional entities in her article “Fictional Characters” which describes and evaluates a number of different theories that attempt to explain the peculiar nature of fictional beings.

More on Andrea Plunket’s threat to pull the plug on the sequel here.

A video of Robert Downey Jr’s interview with David Letterman can be found here.

Related articles:
Fictional Characters
Stacie Friend, Birkbeck College, University of London
(Vol. 2, February 2007)
Philosophy Compass

“Beautiful” artwork wins the Turner Prize

The 2009 Turner Prize has been awarded to the painter Richard Wright. Wright’s winning work is a site-specific wall painting with gold leaf applied using a medieval technique. Dr Stephen Deuchar, director of Tate Britain, summing up why Wright was selected as this year’s winner said “in the end we just all felt that it was because it was a really beautiful work of art.” Poet Carol Ann Duffy reaffirmed the status of Wright’s untitled work as beautiful, as did Alan Yentob (Creative director, BBC) and Anouchka Grose (psychoanalyst and writer.)

The repeated description of Wright’s work as beautiful stands out because beauty is not usually a term that is applied to Turner prize winning pieces. In 2002 Culture Minister Kim Howells described that year’s nominees as “cold, mechanical, conceptual bullshit.” The connection of the Turner prize to conceptual art seems to have left many prize commentators unable to describe Wright’s work using any perceptual aesthetic terms other than “beautiful” (however I should mention that 2001 Turner prize winner Martin Creed did not use the term beautiful and instead repeatedly described both the 2009 show and the works as “nice.”)

Fortunately philosophical aesthetics treats beauty as one of its prime subjects and also engages with many other aesthetic properties like integrated, delicate, graceful, and splendid, all of which may also be used to describe Wright’s work. Given Wright’s win an examination of the nature of these aesthetic properties and of aesthetic taste looks set to be a worthwhile pursuit even for Turner prize enthusiasts.

You can view reaction to the 2009 Turner prize winner here.

Related articles:

£1.99 - small The Structure of Aesthetic Properties

By Rafael De Clercq , Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

(Vol. 3, July 2008)

Philosophy Compass

£1.99 - small Taste and Objectivity: The Emergence of the Concept of the Aesthetic

By Elisabeth Schellekens , University of Durham

(Vol. 4, August 2009)

Philosophy Compass

Global search for the new seven wonders of the natural world

Milford_Sound_NZA new global survey aims to find the new seven wonders of the natural world. From an original pool of over 440 locations from over 220 countries the New7Wonders Foundation has recently released the list of 28 finalists. Finalists include the Amazon Rainforest, the Dead Sea, Milford Sound, Kilimanjaro and Great Barrier Reef. Project organizers anticipate over 1 billion votes will be counted when the final results are released in 2011. Continue reading “Global search for the new seven wonders of the natural world”