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Art and Mind & Race and Philosophy Guest Speaker, Adriana Clavel-Vazquez (University of Oxford)
Controlling (mental) Images and the Aesthetic Appreciation of Racialized Bodies
The aesthetic evaluation of human bodies is part and parcel of our everyday lives. Not only do we judge Francesca Hayward’s elegance as Odile in Swan Lake, but we take notice of a stranger’s beauty while walking down the street, or even a colleague’s scruffiness as they walk into a meeting. These evaluations concern human bodies treated as aesthetic objects, objects that invite certain responses or attitudes as a result of being perceived as having specific aesthetic properties. Unfortunately, aesthetic evaluations of racialized bodies favour white individuals. How can we explain this common aesthetic disregard for non-white bodies? This is not simply a problem of aesthetic norms designed to favour white bodies. Aesthetic evaluations depend on aesthetic properties: how we aesthetically evaluate an object depends on the aesthetic properties we regard it as having. And we perceive aesthetic properties. In this paper I argue that racial stereotypes impact how we perceive aesthetic properties because of top-down influences on perception. In particular, I argue that racist mental imagery we have acquired through our interaction with aesthetic practices structures the way we perceive non-aesthetic properties of bodies so that aesthetic properties are brought into perceptual presence.