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Art and Attunement

In this talk Professor Rita Felski (University of Virginia and Southern Denmark) reported at new research on how we engage with works of art across a broad range (including cat videos) and considered the puzzling question of why we are drawn by some pieces of music, art and literature, and not by others. Why do we prefer, say, Matisse to Picasso, or Joni Mitchell over Bob Dylan, and how can those preferences change quite sharply in a life-time? Drawing on an essay by writer Zadie Smith, in which she describes falling in love with Joni Mitchell quite by surprise one afternoon at Tintern Abbey while longing for a sausage roll, Rita Felski explored a range of explanations that have been given for these responses. She came to settle on actor-network theory as offering the most satisfactory explanation taking account of the many factors that come together when we turn to a certain book or choose a piece of music: education, temporality, and the relationships we have with other people and things.