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Kant, Reed, and the Aesthetics of Stools

By Miles Bryan '13 on June 17, 2013 12:24 PM

Chilton GregoryOne of the highlights of Reunions '13: Reedfayre was Alumni College, a multi-disciplinary series of conversations and outings for Reedies of all ages. Aesthetics was the theme of this year's Alumni College #2 (which took place after Reedfayre), and school opened bright and early on Monday morning with a conference on Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment (1790), led by Jan Mieszkowski [German 1997–].

Mieszkowski started the conference with a question that is central to Kantian aesthetics: what does it mean to say that an object is beautiful? Naturally the gathered Reedies—including Harry Travis ’69, Lowell Weitkamp ’58, Carole Maxwell Stuart ’63, Monica Mayper ’73, and Chilton Gregory ’60—turned to the objects at hand: the stools they had built by hand under the tutelage of master woodworker Gary Rogowski ’72 the previous day. The group agreed that Chilton’s stool was particularly attractive, but Kant’s claim that a true aesthetic judgment was devoid of all interest provoked skepticism in some of the conference participants. Evolutionary biology, the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, and rose gardening were topics in the fiery debate on beauty and genius that followed.

In the afternoon the debate over aesthetics carried over to the kitchen, where the James-Beard-award-winning chef Diane Morgan ’77 took the same group of scholars through a series of recipes. Other sessions included:

  • Reed scriptorium director Greg McNaughton ’89 discussing the calligraphy of  Lloyd Reynolds [English & art 1929–69] and Robert Palladino [art 1969–84].

  • Morgan Luker [music 2010–] leading a session on the nature of sound.

  • Craft-liquor distillery pioneer Steve McCarthy ’66 sharing his wares with the group.

  • A walking tour of Reed’s campus focusing on its design history, led by alumni director Mike Teskey.

After that, most Reedies bid campus a fond farewell, but a few of the diehard thought they might stick around. Reunions '14 isn’t for almost a year, but classes start in August . . .