The L.A. Times is reporting (here) that Dennis Dutton, New Zealand-based professor of philosophy who founded one of the most important and accessible academic sites on the Web, Arts and Letters Daily, has died. His site, hosted by the Chronicle of Higher Education, is a compendium of all the current cultural chatter in, out of, and around the Ivory Tower and the arts world. Believing that intelligent criticism and debate could flourish on the Web, his most recent book was about the appreciation of beauty in relation to our development as a species: The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution (2009). From the obituary report:
Dutton was at times considered a contrarian; in our opinion pages in 2004, he wrote, "[Peter] Jackson's 'Lord of the Rings' represents the victory of special effects over dramatic art. ... I have never looked at my watch as often during a movie as I did in "The Return of the King." Toward the end, I found myself desperately cheering on the giant spider in hope of getting home early. Eat Frodo! Eat him!"
In February 2010, he gave a TED talk on the philosophy of art. "I try to figure out -- intellectually, philosophically, psychologically -- what the experience of beauty is," he began. Though most TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) talks feature the author speaking on stage, Dutton's video includes a collaboration with animator Andrew Park, illustrating his ideas of the hallmarks of beauty.
Dutton's work, contrary or inspiring, encouraged a multiplicity of ideas. "It's a grave mistake in publishing, whether you're talking about Internet or print publication, to try to play to a limited repertoire of established reader interests," he said in a 2000 interview with Salon.com. "A few years ago, Bill Gates was boasting that we'll soon have sensors which will turn on the music that we like or show on the walls the paintings we like when we walk into a room. How boring! The hell with our preexisting likes; let's expand ourselves intellectually.
He told the interviewer, "We'd love Arts & Letters Daily to be the meeting place for critical thinkers from all over the map."