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1997 ASA Annual Meeting
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October 29-November 1, 1997, Santa Fe, New Mexico

It was at the 55th Annual Meeting of the ASA that philosophers had
to literally adjust to a very high altitude. Beginning with an opening
reception at the Joshua Baier and Company Gallery – a gallery
specializing in native American arts and artifacts – the tone was set
for the intersection of cultures. During the four days of the
conference a good number of themes toward the borders of traditional
aesthetics sere explored: these included sessions on the artworld in
cross-cultural context (including a talk from a representative of the
Santa Clara pueblo); a session on the aesthetics of outsider art
(relating expression theories to contemporary folk art, questioning the
very definition of outsider art, and assessing the relations between
native American crafts and Euro-American aesthetics); and a session with
the artist Judy Chicago and the critic Lucy Lippard at the Cline
LewAllen Contemporary Gallery. And in conjunction with a visit to the
newly-opened Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, we heard from two leading O’Keeffe
scholars on her work, work that provides an occasion for reflection on
the distinction between a painter’s association with place and a
painter’s evocation of place, reflection on the relation between the
representation of landscape and the representation of the body – in
short, the space between geography and physiognomy. O’Keeffe’s art,
complexly intertwined with the photography of Alfred Steiglitz (whose
photographs of O’Keeffe can themselves be taken as one grand
persona-constructing project and whose photographs themselves underscore
O’Keeffe’s anthropomorphic vision of the landscape by photographically
capturing the geography of the body), moves paint and flesh in a
conceptual sense closer together, just as Steiglitz narrows the gap
between lens and epidermis.

But the conference was by no means focused exclusively on the
themes arising from or associated with the Southwest; we also heard
far-reaching sessions on the role of constraint in creativity, on
metaphor in poetic expression, on the logic of interpretation, on the
significance of cognitive science for aesthetics, on pragmatism, on the
relations between gender, representation, and power, on artistic
definition, on the relations between aesthetic and ethical questions, on
disability and the construction of collective identity, and on the
interrelated concepts of imitation, depiction, and resemblance. And we
heard sessions devoted to the work of individuals, including Emerson,
Wittgenstein, Gerhard Richter, and sessions on new books by Stanley
Cavell and Peter Kivy (the former on the Hollywood melodrama of the
unknown woman, the latter on the distinct differences between the
philosophies of the various arts), as well as sessions exploring
too-little examined areas in recent work: these included multiple
sessions on tragedy and aesthetic issues arising from the theater;
landscape, memory, and painting in Asian art; and the fairly unusual
topics of the aesthetics of blood (extending into postmodern
mortification and culturally-endorsed self-mutilation) in contemporary
art (some participants were at least minimally prepared for this by
Halloween the previous night) and, in a different session, the varying
employments of blue (including discussions of Kristeva, of Keislowski’s
Blue, and of other chromatically-inspired artistic manifestations).
Sessions explicitly relating aesthetics to politics were heard
(including a session on Auschwitz and evil), and more traditional
ongoing investigations in the field were also represented in numerous
sessions, including matters of artistic appreciation, the aesthetics of
music, eighteenth-century aesthetics, aesthetic education, and another
installment of our ongoing Socratic self-examination on the status and
role of aesthetics in the modern academy.

All-in-all, it was a conference in which we saw the many and varied
participants simultaneously (1) expand the boundaries of the field, (2)
extend and deepen the more traditional or abiding issues within
aesthetics, (3) call our collective attention to heretofore
insufficiently examined genres and the questions particular to them,
and(4) respond to manifold questions arising from the very distinctive
cultural location of the conference. The sense of place and its
cultural expression was only strengthened in our final session, in which
we witnessed performances of “The Eagle”, “The Buffalo”, and “The
Butterfly” by The Tewa Dancers from the North, a native American dance
group that has taken the indigenous Southwestern aesthetic around the
world. Closing this session, the Tewa leader, Andy Garcia, in describing
his fundamental motivation to find a viable and sustainable way of
preserving his culture’s artistic heritage in late twentieth-century
America, implicitly showed one sense in which it is true to say that
ethics and aesthetics are one.

Garry Hagberg

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