Sociality and Identity
This chapter offers a comparative perspective on the relationship between the social and the aesthetic by contrasting the development of an Afro-modernist aesthetic of politics and music in American jazz improvisation of the 1950s and 1960s and the aesthetics of sensibilisation in the contemporary musical aesthetics of Mali. Both musical traditions are highly improvisational and virtuosic but articulate the connections among social, ethical, religious, and musical in different ways. In Mali, the idea of sensibilsation as an important activity for popular artists involves educating broad audiences about major issues of social, political, ethical, and medical concern through lyrics and performance styles that raise awareness through a combination of contemporary information and traditional modalities of expression. Race was the primary social variable examined and articulated in the social aesthetics of jazz in the 1950s and 1960s; gender, health, and economic aspirations provide the central points of social aesthetics in contemporary Mali. A comparative perspective on the aesthetics of improvisation provides insight into how processes of improvisation can carry a wide variety of relationships to the social.
Strayhorn’s Queer Arrangements
This chapter approaches questions of social aesthetics through a narrow focus on Billy Strayhorn’s work as a vocal arranger. Strayhorn’s work with singers merged the musical and personal in particularly gendered ways. Barg theorizes the gendered musical and personal terrain of his collaborations both for the paths of musical meaning toward which it might direct us and for how they mark what the historian Matthew Tinkcom has called, in a different but related context, the “queer labor” of gay male artists working behind the scenes in the entertainment industry. Strayhorn’s musical legacy presents an intriguing and distinctly queer paradox: he was a very active musical presence, and his compositions and arrangements were enormously influential, yet he remained largely anonymous in the public sphere. Strayhorn’s dissident sexual identity required that he work in the shadow of a collaborator, a distanced but empathetic space from which his voice could merge with and give shape to the voices of others. How, then, might we relate the queer conditions under which Strayhorn labored to his aesthetic practices as a vocal arranger and to the gendered labor and position of the singers with whom he worked?
What’s Love Got to Do with It?: Creating Art, Creating Community, Creating a Better World
This chapter argues that the view of art making and art appreciation that bell hooks develops in Art on My Mind is connected to the notion of an “ethics of love” that she develops in other writings through the concept of social aesthetics, and that her view of art making in many respects is a valorization of improvisatory practices. hooks is not widely acknowledged as an art critic, but she has woven aesthetic judgements and considerations into much of her writing. Because she is taken to be commenting on sociopolitical matters of race, decolonization, and liberation, however, her attention to aesthetics has sometimes been overlooked. Understanding social aesthetics to be a concept that occupies the space in which the aesthetic and the political overlap, the author shows that hooks’s attention to the beauty of everyday objects and crafts—her “aesthetics of the ordinary”—is a basic component of her project of making space within aesthetic discourse for the artistic practices and preferences of people who are not legitimized by an institutional theory of art and art making. This choice to contest the marginalization of the non-expert is distinctive of the philosophies of liberation within which hooks’s ethic of love is located.