Philosophical society talks artist’s role amid political and social unrest

Draven Jackson

Staff Writer

“The Armchair,” a discussion group centered on philosophical premises, hosted a forum discussing the artist’s role in an atmosphere of prominent social dissent and divisive political ideologies.

Beverly Leach, lecturer of art and design, was the speaker during the forum. She says her choice of talking about art and dissent was inspired by the social unrest of the nation right now.

“When Dr. Valentine asked me if I would speak to the Philosophy Society, I decided I wanted to link together different kinds of art in a way that would be thought-provoking and topical,” Leach said. “We just had a new president elected and it’s hard to get past that right now, and we are all thinking about and talking about it.”

Leach chose the painting “The Intervention of the Sabine Women” (shown in banner photo on front page), by Jacques-Louis David, as the design for the promotional flier. However, she added a twist.

Leach said the reason for the pink pussyhat on the woman in front is because she was invited to speak at the forum just days after participating in the women’s march.

“I was thinking about my own role as an artist and this image came to me,” Leach said. “What I find intriguing about this painting is that it is a strong, central female figure, and I just saw her as me and the woman’s march.

“I thought that by adding the pink hat, it ties in the past and the now and a woman’s role, which is important, as my talk I’ll be giving is from my own female perspective.”

During the forum, which had a packed room of students, Leach presented photos of the woman’s march and spoke about how each person is an artist with different forms of art, and all forms of art are interconnected.  She also spoke about how art is constantly touching people’s lives, like through posters, which are commonplace.

Leach showed various pieces of art she found to be personally inspiring, such as objects taken from protests, which were showcased in the exhibit “Disobedient Objects” at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

She also presented various other pieces, such as the “Scramble for Africa” by Yinka Shonibare, which shows the conference in Berlin in 1884 where the European countries gathered together to decide how to “slice and dice” Africa; the AIDS Memorial quilt that was spread over Washington DC in 1987; and multiple paintings by David that were created in support of the French Revolution. Afterwards, she showed a few of her own pieces created in response to the 2010 BP oil spill.

After Leach’s presentation, the forum was open to questions and discussion.

One of the questions regarded how society can find a common ground between liberal ideologies and conservative views. Leach said the common, every day person has to act as the intermediaries and create a common ground between the two ideologies if there is any hope for society’s future.

A discussion developed about the need to create a more inclusive society. Leach talked about how people should be able to voice their views and opinions without fear of being looked down upon or cast out, regardless of whether they are democratic, liberal, republican, conservative or anything in between.

Valentine, an assistant professor of philosophy and religion and the faculty adviser for the Philosophy Society, said the topic of “art and dissent” is, in part, inspired by the positive aspect of protests around the globe, which is the creation of new art.

“I think that it is excellent and goes along with the general idea of philosophy, which is to question the premises and sort of fearlessly ask questions that aren’t necessarily the subject of regular conversations,” Valentine said.

Valentine also said the topic for the forum, art and dissent, generally follows philosophical ideals.

“We take a lot of things for granted, and philosophy intentionally goes after those preconceived notions and attacks them,” Valentine said. “So art and dissent, as she is going to discuss it, I think is going to be doing a similar thing of showing how the artist can intercede in those kinds of conversations as well.”

So far, the Philosophy Society has already hosted multiple discussion groups with varying topics, such as the ethics of artificial intelligence and existentialism.

“All subject fields are connected at some point, and the place they would be connected would be philosophy,” Valentine said. “Because this is such a wide ranging subject, we want to offer talks where you get to see another application of it that you might not have seen in your classes.”

The discussion group, named “The Armchair,” was created by the vice president of the Philosophy Society, Jayasoorya Suriyanarayananan, a sophomore biology major from Chennai, India. He says the reason the discussion was created was to fulfill a request that the Philosophy Society provide events that would be “academically and philosophically rigorous.”

“Most events I view on campus initiate conversation but don’t really get into said conversation, and so most events just skim the surface. . .” Suriyanarayananan said.  “What we want to do is be the antithesis of that, and we want to explore our topics as much as possible within the time constraints.”

He said the reason the discussion group is named “The Armchair” has to do with philosophical thinkers.

“Philosophers and the classical thinkers sat in an armchair, thinking and modeling the world around them while continuously questioning that model,” Suriyanarayananan said.

The event, sponsored by the Philosophical Society, was held in the International Arts Center and was open to all students.

The event lasted about an hour, but students were encouraged to continue to discuss amongst themselves and come to the next discussion group.

The next “Armchair” event will be scheduled for March.

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