Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Digital Media as Folk Art

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First, a definition:

Folk art encompasses art produced from an indigenous culture or by peasants or other laboring tradespeople. In contrast to fine art, folk art is primarily utilitarian and decorative rather than purely aesthetic.[1] Folk Art is characterized by a naive style, in which traditional rules of proportion and perspective are not employed. Closely related terms are Outsider Art, Self-Taught Art and Naïve art.[2]

“As a phenomenon that can chronicle a move towards civilization yet rapidly diminish with modernity, industrialization, or outside influence, the nature of folk art is specific to its particular culture.”

We were talking today about the evolution of social media as a means of capturing hyperspecific memes and ‘inside jokes’ that have created a new notion of the self-via-the-selfie:

From 2006 to 2009, the term “MySpace pic” described an amateurish, flash-blinded self-portrait, often taken in front of a bathroom mirror. Self-portraits shot with cell phones, or “selfies”—cheap-looking, evoking the MySpace era—became a sign of bad taste.

Part of the élitist frisson of Facebook, launched in 2004, was that many users found it superior to MySpace as a matter of both technology and taste. If one of the defining forms of self-representation on MySpace was the blurry bathroom selfie, set against a page decorated with graffiti and flashing graphics, Facebook profile photos—on a starched-white and Ralph Lauren-blue background—announced a clean, well-lit model of orderly selfhood. The MySpace selfie suggested a striptease (many men posed with their shirts off, directing attention to their torso); Facebook profile photos were generally proper—even preppy—in focus, and well lit.

From MySpace to Facebook, social media these days have taken the selfie from Instagram, and onto Vine:

New software has also contributed to the selfie renaissance. For teen-age social-media users, who generally prefer on-the-go mobile applications, like Instagram and Snapchat, the self is the message and the selfie is the medium. The Instagram selfie, with its soft, artfully faded tones, has replaced the stern, harshly lit mug-shot style of years past. The small, square photo, displayed on one’s phone, invites the photographer and the viewer to form a personal connection. There is little space on Instagram for delivering context or depicting a large group of people; the confines of the app make single subjects more legible than complex scenes. A face in an Instagram photograph, filtered to eliminate any glare or unflattering light, appears star-like, as if captured by a deft paparazzo.

The newest, most popular modern form of mobile representation is Vine, an application from Twitter that allows users to record and post six-second video montages on an infinite loop. These clips are long enough to depict motion, but too short to reveal much beyond the video’s central subject. A new version of Vine, launched this past April, included a self-facing video setting. It was heavily promoted by the Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s first Vine selfies, which have become a semi-iconic, persistent series. In Dorsey’s videos, he stands still while the world moves behind him, captured in infinite loop. Wearing sunglasses and headphones, he appears at once immediately present, filling half the frame, and distant, absorbed in filming, like an auteur in control of the picture.

Dorsey’s Vines suggest that the selfie has come full circle, from a sign of the subject’s marginality to a sign of his or her social-media importance. In these videos, Dorsey is the center of the universe. Isn’t that, perhaps, what social media has been saying to us all along?

The villain that has emerged in this medium is the hipster

…the essence of the hipster is his or her (but mostly his) fascination with, or curation of, subculture arcana. There are many ‘types’ of hipster that tend to get lumped together when people talk about hipsters […] [b]ut one of the things they all have in common is the desire for a special kind of cultural knowledge, and a fierce protection of this knowledge once it’s obtained.

 

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What Makes a Hero? | An introduction to the work of Joseph Campbell

From Wikipedia, here is an introduction beyond the components of the Monomyth presented in the video:

As a strong believer in the psychic unity of mankind and its poetic expression through mythology, Campbell made use of the concept to express the idea that the whole of the human race can be seen as engaged in the effort of making the world “transparent to transcendence” by showing that underneath the world of phenomena lies an eternal source which is constantly pouring its energies into this world of time, suffering, and ultimately death. To achieve this task one needs to speak about things that existed before and beyond words, a seemingly impossible task, the solution which lies in the metaphors found in myths. These were statements that pointed beyond themselves into the transcendent. The Hero’s Journey was that story of the man or woman who, through great suffering, reached an experience of the eternal source and returned with gifts powerful enough to set their society free. As this story spread through space and evolved through time, it was broken down into various local forms (masks), depending on the social structures and environmental pressures that existed for the culture that interpreted it. The basic structure, however, has remained relatively unchanged and can be classified using the various stages of a hero’s adventure through it, stages such as the Call to Adventure, Receiving Supernatural Aid, Meeting with the Goddess/Atonement with the Father and Return. These stages, as well as the symbols one encounters throughout the story, provide the necessary metaphors to express the spiritual truths the story is trying to convey.

I think there is an interesting overlapping with our recent reading about Nietzsche’s notion of Self-Styling, explained here by Cameron Afzal

Self-styling compliments a naturalistic outlook, it doesn’t destroy it. Art will not replace religion, but it can provide partial cures for the nausea we are exposed to in a world of honesty and nihilism. While it may seem to be opposed to naturalism, self-styling is indeed the most pragmatic way to balance aesthetic satisfaction and naturalistic affirmation without compromising a scientific perspective by purporting to represent the self and the world as they exists, only as we might imagine them to be. 

What do you think Nietzsche would make of Campbell’s Monomyth? Or Campbell of the idea of “self-styling”? Are these two sides of the same coin, so to speak?

 

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Saving Art from Itself

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Greetings and Happy New Year, Philosophers!

I wanted to share a few links and the Conan joke above as a follow-up to our conversation today about the value, purpose and nature of art and beauty.

I saw this article recently in Slate Magazine, “Why the Art World is So Loathsome,” and I think it might provide a jumping off point for those of you wishing to take your pursuits during this week’s study of Aesthetics toward the more modern. I thought this laundry list of complaints about modern art might offer an opportunity to recalibrate and state what we might deem as art’s redeeming purpose, or necessity.

Freud said the goals of the artist are fame, money, and beautiful lovers. Based on my artist acquaintances, I would say this holds true today. What have changed, however, are the goals of the art itself. Do any exist?

How did the art world become such a vapid hell-hole of investment-crazed pretentiousness? How did it become, as Camille Paglia has recently described it, a place where “too many artists have lost touch with the general audience and have retreated to an airless echo chamber”?

The Slate piece links to another article that posits a solution to the dire situation that will no doubt entice at least one of our face to face participants:

For the arts to revive in the U.S., young artists must be rescued from their sanitized middle-class backgrounds. We need a revalorization of the trades that would allow students to enter those fields without social prejudice (which often emanates from parents eager for the false cachet of an Ivy League sticker on the car). Among my students at art schools, for example, have been virtuoso woodworkers who were already earning income as craft furniture-makers. Artists should learn to see themselves as entrepreneurs.

 
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