Congratulations to Jack Bassett and Mathew Rabon for each winning a competitive grant from the Summer Undergraduate Research Fund. Jack will be mentored by Andrew Alwine of the Classics department and Matt will be mentored by Jonathan Neufeld of Philosophy. The project descriptions are below.
Jack Bassett: Aesthetic Innocence? Ancient Views on the Relationship between Art and the Political Animal
Last year the members of a band in Russia called, “Pussy Riot”, were imprisoned for making provocative statements during an unapproved concert in a Russian Orthodox Church. This act of “Aesthetic Disobedience” has been praised as a courageous political protest, but the question arises as to whether this is a legitimate use of artistic license. What is the role of art within the context of politics and society at large? This project seeks to investigate the nature of art’s effect on government and that government’s constituents. Aesthetic Disobedience’s bent toward political activism and protest is nothing new. In ancient Greece playwrights such as Aristophanes expressed political dissent openly, and it is my position that looking at his works and others, as well as the philosophical and political responses,such as those by Aristotle and Plato, to this type of art can cast a light on the potential problems and moral conflicts that arise. It is my intent in pursuing this topic to find parallels between early aesthetic dissidents and their modern descendants. The crux of the conflict on how art is viewed is based on two disparate ideas about man’s place in political society. On the one hand, the Greeks viewed art as inextricably intertwined with the political and social fabric of life, while on the other hand we moderns view art as occupying an autonomous sphere. And, in fact, maybe we moderns are the ones who need to modify our views on art and consequently man’s position in the public sphere.
Matt Rabon: Resonant Loop: A Definition of Art that Survives the Multiple Ontologies of Music
What IS an artwork? The reason for asking the question is also the cause of the question’s difficulty: there is a staggeringly diverse set of objects and practices that we group under a single concept Moreover, it is not clear how to distinguish artworks from ordinary objects that they (sometimes exactly) resemble. On the one hand, it is tempting simply to say there is no accounting for such a motley bunch. On the other, it often matters very much that we specify why something is art. For example, is this thing a sculpture or a piece of industrial material? If it is the latter, then it is taxed one way, if the former, another. Is this photograph art or not? If not, then we can call it obscene and prevent it from being displayed. If so, then we can’t. Is this community center the headquarters of a political party or is it a long-term performance project where actual members of the community (who participate in political actions) are part of the work? If it is the latter, then it can receive tax exempt donations from a non-profit museum. If the former, not. Each of these questions is based on a real example. The question of our project, then, is far from merely philosophical: is it possible to unite all of what we take to be art under a single definition that is flexible enough to explain them all? If not, how do we classify and identify diverse objects in practical settings?