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Scottish Aesthetics Forum 2020-21 End of Year Review

Amidst the challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, we at the Scottish Aesthetics Forum have found ways of adapting to restrictions with a robust programme of online talks and a work-in-progress workshop for postgraduates. In what follows, we summarise the activities we hosted during the 2020-21 academic year. There were two notable adaptations we underwent in the past year. Firstly, we moved our base of operations from the University of Edinburgh to the University of St Andrews. We are grateful to the University of Edinburgh for hosting our talks over the past several years. Practically speaking, since we had no in-person events this year, this shift did not have any significant ramifications. We are looking forward to seeing how this change affects our ability to promote and host events once in-person talks recommence this coming academic year. As part of this transition, we launched a new website that provides easy access to information on past and future events (https://www.scottishaestheticsforum.com). Secondly, we held all our events on Zoom. This meant that we were able to invite speakers from across Europe and North America, which resulted in particularly rich programming. Also, our audience sizes tended to be significantly larger than they have been for in person talks. The recorded talks were also later posted on our Facebook page where they remain accessible for future viewing (https://www.facebook.com/scottishaestheticsforum).
Our list of invited speakers and their topics included:

  • Emily Brady (Texas A&M): Aesthetics and the Climate Emergency
  • Caterina Moruzzi (Konstanz): What Is the Point of Machine Art?
  • Jason Leddington (Bucknell): Picture: The Impossible
  • Sherri Irvin (Oklahoma): Policing, Racialization, and Resistance: An Aesthetic Analysis
  • Aurosa Alison (Politecnico di Milano): The Aesthetics of Charles Rennie
    Mackontosh: The Great Culture of the Senses

Both the invited speakers and audience members seemed to appreciate the accessibility of the Zoom format. In particular, the talks by Brady, Irvin, and Alison were an opportunity for participants from diverse backgrounds and academic disciplines to fruitfully engage with perspectives from philosophical aesthetics.

In addition to our traditional series of talks, we organised and hosted a Zoom work-in-progress workshop for postgraduates in aesthetics working in the UK. This was a two-day, pre-read workshop. Because there were fewer opportunities this past year for postgrads to present their work in person at traditional BSA-sponsored conferences, we hoped that this workshop would offer postgrads a chance to receive feedback from their peers and to socialise. The participants and their topics included:

  • Christopher Earley (Warwick), Understanding through Contemporary Art (comments by Claire Anscomb)
  • Alice Harberd (UCL), Genre and the Threat of Arbitrary Artistic Value
    (comments by Celia Coll)
  • Federica Mure (Goldsmith), The Surfacing of the Image within the Ground of
    Painting: Walter Benjamin’s Zeichen und Mal
    (comments by Anna Migliorini)
  • Jeremy Page (Birkbeck), The Authority of Experience (comments by Clotilde
  • Lauren Stephens (Liverpool), Existential Aesthetics (comments by Eleen Deprez)
  • Sailee Khurjekar (Warwick), Bulbs, Breasts and Bodies: An Examination of
    Food Aesthetics in Judy Chicago’s and Miriam Schapiro’s Womanhouse

    (comments by Tom Baker)
  • Irene Martínez Marín (KCL), Akrasia and the Structure of Aesthetic Rationality
    (comments by Lisa Bastian)
  • Alex Fisher (Cambridge), Fiction, Ethics, and Virtual Action (comments by Jamie

While most of these talks were in analytic aesthetics, a couple took a more continental approach (Stephens, Mure). This juxtaposition was mutually informative. In addition to the discussion of the participants’ papers, we set aside time for informal virtual mingling including coffee hours, happy hours, and a pub quiz. We received positive feedback from all involved, including this message from one of the participants:

The past two days were fantastic. Since I started my PhD a few months before the pandemic started, this was really the first event where I’ve actually been able to meet other graduate students working on aesthetics outside of [my department]. I don’t think it is too dramatic to say that it really broke down the desperate sense of isolation that had been building over the past year and a bit. I came away from each day with so much energy and excitement about the work everyone was doing.

In short, the Scottish Aesthetics Forum had a successful year given the various challenges we faced. As we go forward, we are considering a hybrid format incorporating both Zoom and in-person talks. This will allow us to continue to reap the benefits of hosting notable speakers from around the world as well providing a forum for those working within reasonable traveling distance of St Andrews. We invite you to visit our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/scottishaestheticsforum and our website https://www.scottishaestheticsforum.com for up-to-date information on future events, for recordings of previous talks, as well as for a link to subscribe to our newsletter.

We are deeply grateful to the BSA for your continued support and we hope to see you
next year, whether virtually or in person.
Clotilde Torregrossa
Tom Baker
Eric Studt