Aesthetics: Crash Course Philosophy #31

Crash Course Philosophy is brought to you
by Squarespace. Squarespace: share your passion with the world. At a museum in Denmark in 2000, artist Marco Evaristti debuted a work of art that involved live goldfish swimming around in vessels full of water. Sound pretty boring until I tell you that
those vessels were electric blenders. Evaristti named his display “Helena” and he invited museum patrons to turn on the blenders if they so desired. Eventually, at least one person so desired, fish were blended, and before long police arrived, ordering that the blenders be unplugged. The museum was charged with animal cruelty,
although those charges were later dropped. For his part, Evaristti said that his work
was designed to sort people into three categories: If you want to push the button, he said, you’re
a sadist; if the exhibit makes you feel upset, you’re
a moralist; and if you enjoy watching the reactions of
others, you’re a voyeur. But many people argued that Evaristti’s
goldfish blenders weren’t art at all. You probably have your own opinions about
that. But no matter what you think, works like Evaristti’s raise a lot of questions – about art and morality, and what standards we should use to evaluate art. And from there, new questions follow: like,
what does art tell us about ourselves? What does it do to us, and what purpose does
art serve in our lives? [Theme Music] You know who was super anti-art?
Plato. He believed that art plays to our emotions
rather than to our reason. And, if you recall Plato’s idea of the tripartite soul, he thought the rational part of the soul should always be in charge. So, art was problematic for him, because it encourages us to think with the spirited, or emotional, part of our souls. He also had a beef with art because, he said,
it depicts the imaginary as if it were real. And for a guy who was as concerned with Truth as he was, you can see why this might have been a problem. Plato was so concerned about the dangers of art that he actually advocated its widespread censorship. And, while you might disagree with him on that, you can probably at least agree with his sentiment that art is powerful. But…what is it good for? Well, let’s fast forward about 2400 years
for that. 20th century British philosopher R.G. Collingwood acknowledged that art is frequently used as an escape from life – a simple amusement, a distraction. But he also said that the best art, the art that really matters, is the stuff that changes the way we interact with the world. So Collingwood drew a distinction between
what he called amusement art and magic art. Amusement art helps the audience escape from reality, he said – diving into a no-stakes fictional world after a stressful day. But magic art is the stuff that helps the audience learn how better to interact with this world’s reality. A great example of this is Harriet Beecher
Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Beecher Stowe’s story helped change our national mindset about slavery, by making white readers see African Americans as human beings with whom they had a lot in common, rather than as a nameless Other who should
be thought of as property. Collingwood felt we should spend our time on magic art like that – the stuff that helps us live better, rather than simply running away from the world. But some people feel that his distinction
breaks down pretty quickly. A book or a movie that could be little more than an amusing escape for one person could spur another person to change their lives for the better. Think about your favorite fandom. Like, for some people, Harry Potter is pure escapism – a way to disappear into a fantasy where your troubles can be addressed with the flick of a wand. But for others, Harry Potter can help you
learn how to live. Lessons on the value of friendship, teamwork, loyalty, and stick-with-it-ness can be found among the horcruxes and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. So, art can help you be moral, or maybe encourage immorality, but there are plenty of other ways in which morality can intersect with art. Like in nasty, legal, copyright-y ways. For more on this, let’s head to the Thought
Bubble for some Flash Philosophy. In 2011, wildlife photographer David Slater was on a photo shoot in Indonesia, when a monkey named Naruto got a hold of his camera. There are disputes as to how, exactly. But in the process, that monkey took some
pretty sweet selfies. Slater later tried to claim copyright of the images, but was denied, because he was not the one who took the pictures – Naruto did. The photos are currently in the public domain, but the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Naruto, arguing that the monkey owns the rights, and any profits ought to go to him. Slater, on the other hand, says he should own the rights, because he was ultimately responsible for Naruto getting his camera and taking the pictures with it. By that logic, Slater claims, he was the artist, and Naruto was simply part of the medium used to create the art. Slater’s reasoning might resonate with those of you who, in our last episode, were in the camp that believed art required an intentional artist. In that view, Naruto can’t claim the pics, because he probably didn’t understand himself as deliberately taking self-portraits. But, arguably, Slater’s intention didn’t
shape the pictures either. He didn’t decide how to position the camera
or when to click the shutter. But he did decide to go to that particular location, knowing it was full of curious little primates with opposable thumbs that would make working a camera possible. So what do you think? Is there any artist behind these pictures? And if there is, who is it? Maybe it’s a collaboration, and Slater and
Naruto should split the profit. I bet one of them would be willing to take
his cut in chom choms! Thanks, Thought Bubble! One of the first people to really consider
the philosophical questions of art was Aristotle. Unlike his teacher, Plato, Aristotle was generally
pro-art, because he saw it as useful. He believed our bodies need to experience a full range of emotions in order to stay in balance. He argued that, if we haven’t been sad in a while, or had a good adrenaline rush, we can start to crave those feelings. And when we don’t – or can’t – experience the full range of emotions in our actual lives – art can step in and do the job for us. When we finally do experience these sensations we’ve been yearning for, we feel a pleasurable release that Aristotle called catharsis. And while John has often insisted that Aristotle
was spectacularly wrong about everything, Aristotle’s theory of catharsis does a beautiful job of resolving a little conundrum in aesthetics that’s known as the Problem of Tragedy. This is the weird puzzle of why people voluntarily
walk into a theatre, clutching a box of tissues, fully prepared to bawl their eyes out for
two hours, having paid for the privilege. I mean, really, why is the tearjerker even
a thing? According to Aristotle: catharsis. A scary movie or a tearjerker can allow us to express strong negative emotions in a safe context, and the emotional purge that comes with the experience feels really, really good. No doubt, when it comes to evoking emotions
in us, art can be extremely effective. But how does it manage to do that? Why is art so good at making us feel? When you think about it, it’s actually pretty weird that we get so emotionally invested in characters that we know to be fictional. Why do we cry real tears over the deaths of
our beloved characters? Why do invest time and energy in “shipping”? These questions fall under another problem that art poses for us, one that aestheticians call the Paradox of Fiction. Contemporary American philosopher Kendall Walton explains why we can be moved by things that aren’t real, by arguing that the emotional responses we have to fictional events aren’t real either. Instead, he says, we experience what he calls “quasi-emotions,” basically emotion-like responses that can be triggered by fiction, but don’t exist or function on the level of true emotions. Now, as evidence for this, Walton points out that people don’t respond to scary movies as they would to real-life terror. Like, when we’re watching a scary movie, we don’t run out of the theatre and call 911 like we would if we saw a real person in danger. But other thinkers, like American philosopher
Noel Carroll, disagree. Carroll argues that we can have real emotional
responses to fictional characters and situations. Our emotions don’t have to correspond to external reality, in order for the emotions themselves to be real, he says. So we can feel just as strongly for the loves and losses of our favorite characters as we can for the plights of our friends and family. Now, it’s time to think back to Helena,
and the goldfish in the blenders. Helena raises questions about the relationship
between morality and art. And here, there are two main schools of thought. Some people, called autonomists, maintain
that art and morality are entirely separate. So if something is done in the name of art,
it’s basically immune from moral scrutiny. It’s almost like artists live and work in
some kind of protective morality-bubble. So, in the autonomist view, Evaristti did nothing wrong in putting goldfish in a situation where they were likely to be pulverized, because he was doing it in the name of artistic expression. But, there are others, known as aesthetic moralists, who argue that morality and art are interconnected, so any moral stain connected with a work makes
a work aesthetically flawed. In this view, even if Evaristti’s aesthetic concept was superb, the fact that he expressed that concept through immoral means – in this case, the wanton destruction of goldfish life – that counts against the overall aesthetic value of his work. Art is often designed to challenge our beliefs
and our values. And most of us agree that this can be a good
thing. But, are there limits? We often give artists credit for amazing works of art that inspire positive change in the world, like Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But if a work inspires bad actions or bad
attitudes, is the artist to blame for that too? As in most areas of philosophy, there’s plenty more about aesthetics that we could explore if we had time. But as we move onto the next segment of our course, I hope you’ve found that aesthetics – one of the less well-known areas of philosophy – is worth your attention, as you continue to interact with art in your lives. Today we learned about R. G. Collingwood’s view that art is best when it helps us live better lives. We learned how Aristotle’s concept of catharsis can resolve the problem of tragedy, and we studied the paradox of fiction. We also thought about the debate between autonomism and moralism. This episode of Crash Course Philosophy is made possible by Squarespace. Squarespace is a way to create a website, blog or online store for you and your ideas. Squarespace features a user-friendly interface, custom templates and 24/7 customer support. Try Squarespace at for a special offer. Squarespace: share your passion with the world. Crash Course Philosophy is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel to check out a playlist of the latest episodes of shows like: Gross Science, PBS Idea Channel, and It’s Okay to be Smart. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in the Doctor Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of these awesome people and our equally fantastic graphics team is Thought Cafe.


  1. The idea of copyright is to ensure that others don't steal your hard work because it is your way of making a living. Clearly Naruto the monkey had no intention of making a living out of the art, so he obviously won't get any of the profit from it. And it would be absurd if he did. But on that same hand, the photographer never took the picture either. So according to logic, the pictures should remain in the public domain. Though ultimately, it was up to the photographer to share them with others. And I guess it is by his agency that we are blessed with them.

  2. The goldfish thing could've been done so much better by just faking the outcome… That way you get the exact same reaction but you didn't do anything illegal.

  3. Cant help but think of Deidara from Naruto where he thinks an explosion is the highest form of art. Would be interesting to see someone do a vid on that

  4. No matter why you kill an animal, it will die the same way. Do you think it's going to have a more peaceful death knowing that someone's going to eat it?

  5. i'm doing a minor in aesthetics at uni and still had learned so much from just one short video.. amazing how you can compress knowledge into 10 mins :O thanks for the experience <3

  6. Hi everybody , I have a channel about philosophy . I am sharing philosophy chat series. If you watch my first video and give me an advice about philosophical method , I will be very happy 🙏❤

  7. It's animal cruelty, but also art at the same time. Art isn't always beautiful. Although it's bad, we can't deny that it was a form of art.

  8. if anyone stayed this long , that is because he loves philosophy , or he will pass an exam , WHAT ARE U ?

  9. Concerning the blinder. Put a little kitten in that blinder in place of the fish now ask how would that change our preception and why? one can argue cats are smarter, but I bet someone out there would still push that button. The point of this experiment- Weather we consider this art or science, is a more fundamental question of our core values as individuals. I'm convinced Art and Science is more related than most people realize and we don't need to shead blood to prove the point…if we're smart enough.

  10. You shouldn't kill living things in the name of art. If we absolutely have to kill an animal, we should kill it painlessly.
    Plus, if everything is ok if it's art, what's to stop some wackjob from killing people for arts sake?
    "I killed this homeless man to study societies response to poverty." No, you can't ignore rights for art.

  11. I'm surprised this doesn't mention Adorno's views on Aesthetics. Frankfurt's School refuted most of these arguments, at least a small mention would be fantastic.

  12. I'm beginning to think there can be an overlap between "art" and "social experiment," like in the goldfish example. The artist does the art to discover or demonstrate how people would react to it.

  13. I watched the plato episode from School of Life. The episode emphasizes that Plato sees art as a necessary component of a good life. It seems contradictory to what CrashCourse philosophy is telling me: Plato hates art!

  14. Can’t you use morals to make art better though?
    I mean like intentionally being provocative to create a greater emotional reaction.

  15. Art is not subjective because it relies on aesthetics which itself relies on mathematical principals of symmetry, patterns, entropy etc, which are all real.

    And reality is not subjective.

  16. Regarding Catharsis and Quasi-Emotions: These are two empirically testable things – and they were tested.

    Turns out the Catharsis hypothesis (which Freud adopted in a similar way) is wrong in the majority of situations: People dont get less angry when punching balls (so delinquent programs should look for other sports…also for obv reasons), are not less hungry when always watching food channels and so on.

    And Quasi-Emotions have been shown to be identical to real emotions – with the difference that there is also is post-processing for emotions that does realize their fiction and this influences duration and behavioral consequences.
    As much as I love this series, such examples give me the nagging feeling we really shouldnt listen to philosophy the moment it touches anything that is empirically researchable. And the fact that philosophical hypotheses has been shown to be wrong so often in these cases also gives me some insecurity about the validity of philosophical claims that are not empirically testable…

  17. what the hell are chom choms? Until I watched Crash Course I'd never heard of chom choms. I hope I derive way more ongoing benefit from these fascinating videos than querying chom choms, if I don't I should probably question my ongoing existence.

  18. Does a moral stain in the conduct of the artist, even if it is unrelated to the piece of art itself, carry the same aesthetic flaw than a piece would have if it were presented in itself in an immoral fashion? Many great artists have been pretty terrible people, who have performed all sort of heinous acts. Even in our modern consciousness, we have dealt with exemplars of this problem such as Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby, Kerbin Spacey, Woody Allen… People who have been accused (and in some cases had those accusations proven) of truly grotesque personal conduct. Does a song like "Man in the Mirror", a TV series like "The Cosby Show", or films like "Manhatten" or "American Beauty" lose value as works of art if the flaws of the artist are shown to be this severe?

  19. In the introduction (where I stopped), I heard the voice of a moral imbecile. That's ethics, not aesthetics.

  20. So, the autonomist and aesthetic moralist views are about the morality of the art, and not the morality of the artist; is that correct? Is the argument about whether the artist was wrong to kill the goldfish, or is it about whether the work of "art" is morally tainted by the artist's actions?

  21. In my opinion, mentioning Schopenhauer would have been more than acceptable. Art, no matter how we define it, is an escape from how droll life is, especially when life is objectively negative. That is Schopenhauer’s view, and in some sense mine—not that anyone asked! But I say that as a disclaimer that Schopenhauer is my favorite philosopher, so I can’t be impartial!

  22. I know for a fact you can feel real emotion over a fictional character: Quentin Coldwater..2019 (seriously blend goldfish! that is like a horror scene)

  23. Obviously we don't respond to fiction the way we do in real life. I don't understand the philosopher who says we do. You don't cry the next day after a character who died in a movie, you're not traumatised like you would be if you saw a loved one shot etc.

  24. Regarding Helena, I think that art can work just like an argument. Just like criticism of a person does not invalidate that person's argument, criticism of an artist does not invalidate the artistic value of the artist's work.

    Thus, even if the artist's actions were bad, that does not mean that Helena is bad.

  25. how about video game? can we call it an aesthetic object or work of art as it can be a catharsis and the way of escapism? Btw, Video game also have aesthetic values too (music, and visual effect).

  26. omg I love philosophy! Need to write a dissertation for BFA and all I'm drawn to is philosophy, I think I'm going for MA in philosophy!

  27. At Standford, we used the equation Beauty = Aesthetics + Poetics. Generally, aesthetics equates to what is culturally deemed pleasant. Poetics is the method, or how, a thing works or is created or achieves its effects, that strongly favors unity of parts. Ugly art is devoid of aesthetics, for example. Blending of fish may be equivalent to ugly and artless. Ugly and artless spectacle.

  28. This is so extremely well produced, in multiple dimensions, not just production quality which is phenomenal. Sincerely, thank you!

  29. Hi crashcourse, thank you again for an informative video. I'm still confused though about the distinction between the philosophy of aesthetics and the philosophy of art. From what I've read, what you're explaining in this video is more specifically gravitated towards the philosophy of arts and not (more generally) of aesthetics. I think this is quite an important distinction to begin with, because the philosophy of aesthetics itself hasn't reached a conclusion to whether or not it should only be concerned with the "arts" or – more broadly – of "beauty" and "taste".

    It would be much appreciated if you could clarify this question. Thank you again :))

  30. In the current climate, the argument about "moral taint" is very, very serious — especially when it involves the personal conduct of the artist. The evolution of social mores has placed formerly-admired works of art in questionable positions today. The most obvious example that comes to my mind in Woody Allen's film from the late 1970s "Manhattan", in which he plays a middle-aged man in a "relationship" with a high school student (played by Margeaux Hemingway). Now, we would probably find that squicky as heck today, but it looks even worse given Allen's own history as a serial predator of young women (and possibly worse). It becomes hard to justify the praise the film had formerly generated, although many parts of it have undeniable beauty (like the way it is photographed and the use of the music of George Gershwin). Does Allen's personal history taint his films, some of which are still viewed as masterpieces?

  31. As for the thought-bubble question, that’s largely a question of whether or not you view Naruto the money as a person. If the photographer would have been taking pictures inside of a populated area, and someone ran up and stole his camera and took a bunch of pictures, then that person that stole the camera wouldn’t hold the legal copyright. In fact, they’d probably be guilty of a crime.

    And this is why PETA is inept. I love animals and think they deserve ethical treatment and rights. But PETA goes way past that, and into extremism. And they make everyone else who cares for the ethical treatment of animals look bad.

    Also, it’s not the photographer’s fault for getting his camera taken in a forest filled with curious primates, any more than it is the fault of the victim of a crime, just because they were in a high crime area. They know they’re placing themselves at risk, but that doesn’t make them responsible for the crime that victimized them.

  32. To answer the question at the end, if art leads to bad actions, this cannot be blamed by the artist. Just as the example was given about Harry Potter, the perception of the art is entirely up to the one viewing it. Like most scenarios, influence may greatly lean towards a certain action, but that action is only done by the person's choice.

  33. What if the animal had been a monkey? So, you can do a thought experiment: In the blender, you put anything from an electron to bacteria, to insects to a monkey. At what point does morality kick in? What is art? at a minimum, you want to communicate with some other. So, is literature, or, the grounds for literature a simple letter from one parent to their kids elsewhere? Is the letter the ground for literature? If you are dealing with an other are you not to be considerate of this other? What makes "the art world" a place where you may allow yourself anything with an audience, or, the fish for that matter? If a parent writes a letter to his son is there a point in the interaction where "anything would be allowed"? This are issues that relate to autonomy, responsibility, and freedom, and art, I believe, cannot escape them if it is a mode of relating to other humans

  34. Literraly the best philosophy teacher ever. not the literally that is used by humans that you talked about in meaning & language of humans as an exaggeration but literraly in its litteral meaning, it is said by nihilist that the world may has no meaning, but my sentence has a true correct inarguable meaningful sence, you which is the entity I define as the organic complex that convey some meanings through some throat vibrations and telecommunication, "are" which means to exist, to be in a state of something , "literally" which means that the sence here is about what should be understood from the words out of all the context, " the best philosophy teacher" which can be understood easily, no need to clarify more.

  35. I believe that the emotions that we feel with art come about because we find ourselves relating to it, and imagining ourselves in it. For example we feel sadness at the loss of a fictional character because we (at least subconsciously) relate it to losing someone we truly love. So, in my opinion the the fake tears thing is BS, but you're all welcome to your own opinion.

  36. 5:16 he said chom choms instead of bananas 🤣
    And i was like wait i have heard this word somewhere
    Only those who have been watching this entire series would understand

  37. I gather an audience in an art gallery, handing them hammers, cans of spray paint, and utility knives. I tell them: "Now, feel free to break windows, slash canvases, and deface the walls with graffiti."

    I didn't kill anything, but I generated many thousands of dollars in property damage…Did I also create art?

  38. there is a major flaw in the autonomous view of art.

    If "art" and "morality" are totally separate, then I could kill someone, use their blood and bile to make a portrait with their skin as the canvas. frame it with their entrails, and create a stand with their bones. Take the entire piece, name it "the utility of humanity" and since it's art, I wouldn't be able to be judged on moral grounds for the fact that I killed someone in order to create it.

    Even if I was imprisoned for murder, I could still say "I did nothing wrong" and I wouldn't even be lying because everything I did, I did as art.

  39. disappointing video. made no mention of what aesthetics is actually about. which is beauty. dont think you even used the word once.
    should have read more on Kant regarding this subject.



    Learn to pronounce


    a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty.

    the branch of philosophy which deals with questions of beauty and artistic taste.

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