Intro to Philosophy

Aesthetics: the Philosophy of the Arts

Professor David Clowney Rowan University

Course lecture pages
Course Guides
Reading Guides
Writing Guides
Topic Questions
Philosophers, artists and critics on art
Arts on line
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Graded Assignments:

- Two critical essays, each on some work of art that interests you. Each of these will be submitted as a rough draft. You will receive comments from a classmate, and also from me. To get the two points on your rough draft, you must identify the classmate to whom you provided comments. I will return comments to you, you will revise and submit a final draft.

- One final project: see description below. There are many ways to fulfil this assignment; see the website for a longer description and some examples. Rather than make the requirements too narrow, I've chosen to make the process interactive, and help you define your project in stages. This means that I must see your proposal and your rough draft.

- A presentation related to your final project. 5-10 minutes, one or two per day beginning October 1, sign up.

- Seven reading reports, each worth 4 points.

A word to the wise: Graded assignments get more or less points depending on their quality. You can't do well in the class without doing them well. However, 17 points out of 100 in this course come from ungraded assignments: event reports, rough drafts and proposals. You get one or two points for doing each of these, and lose points for not doing them, regardless of their quality. If you blow off the ungraded assignments, your highest possible grade is a B-.

Reading, Viewing, and Listening Assignments will be made week by week.  Other assignments will be due periodically. See Week by Week below for a list of these asssignments with their due dates. They will also be posted on Blackboard. You are responsible to know what they are, and to keep up with them, whether or not I announce them in class. Please note that the class schedule is likely to change. If it does, just keep submitting reading reports each week, covering the readings we are actually doing that week, whether it matches the questions in Blackboard for that date or not. I will adjust due dates to match the flow of the class, even if Blackboard says you are late. For September 1 and 3, familiarize yourself with the course web-page.  Read the introduction to Larry Shiner's The Invention of Art., and do the viewing assignment on African Art listed in the syllabus. Write about a page summarizing these readings and exhibitions, bring it to class as prep for discussion, and keep it on hand for the first reading report. When assignments are due, use the Blackboard Assignment tool to submit your work. Click "show all" in the bottom right hand corner of the screen to make sure that they are all there. Then scan down until you get to the assignment, open it and submit. You may type your response directly into the submission area (actually easier for me), or you may attach a readable file (.doc, docx, .rtf, .pdf).

Our topic for the introductory sessions (9/1 and 9/3) is the distinction between "fine art" and other arts (craft, popular art, commercial art and design, entertainment, etc.). This distinction and the baggage that comes with it is fundamental to the modern idea of art. Rather than argue about whether to accept it, we will look at its historical origin and its social function. We will also consider what common arts-related practices and propensities are universal in all human cultures. In the week of September 14, we will discuss the topics of art as representation and of art and morality.

Deadlines for Written Assignments:

First critical essay               9/15 (rough draft), 9/22 (final draft)
Project proposal                   10/1
Second critical essay           10/20, 10/27
Project rough draft                11/17
Project presentations           1 or 2 per class, beginning 10/1
Project final draft                  12/10
Reading reports           9/10, 10/18, 10/29, 11/10, 11/19, 12/8
Event reports      All are due 12/10 (but you don't have to wait until then)

Preparing for class:  Each class session, we will be discussing a topic for which you will prepare by doing an assigned set of readings, as well as by reviewing the course lecture pages for the day, reading the narrative that goes with the images or sounds, and doing some other looking and listening. Start with the narrative on the course lecture pages, then do the readings, and use the reading guide. You will also look for additional examples from various arts that will illustrate the topic, or confirm or refute or expand one of the claims made by an author, or otherwise contribute to the semester's conversation about philosophy and the arts. Please take the looking and listening part of preparation as seriously as you take the reading part, and vice versa.

Getting the most out of the readings: You will find some of the readings difficult to understand. That's because this is a course in the philosophy of art and art criticism, and philosophical writing and thinking is hard intellectual work.  Sometimes philosophers make it harder than it needs to be.  But even the best and clearest writers will still give your brain a workout. Critical discussion about the nature and meaning of the arts, such as that contained in the papers I have assigned, is an essential part of the cultural context within which the arts have their meaning.  I have found the workout worth it; I hope you will too! I will take time in class to clear up the murky parts (but this will not work if you have not first struggled to understand them for yourself). Reading guides for most of the readings (usually power points) are posted in the "Reading Guides" folder on the course website. Many authors also have an entry about them on the course web-site.  Make things easy on yourself; use these aids before tackling the readings. I will not usually assign more than 50 pages a week; often I will assign much less than this amount. I will not assign more than an hour's worth of listening or viewing assignments for any one class.   

Writing Criticism:

The peer review sheet (on Blackboard, under Course Content) is a good quick outline of what I expect in your critical essays. Here are a few more helpful hints:

There are many ways to write criticism well, depending on the audience, the purpose of the criticism, and the vision and goals of the critic.  By including the following elements you can usually produce a good and readable piece of criticism, and unless you have specific permission to do something different I expect to find all of them in your essay.  After that, it's practice, familiarity and insight!

  • Give specific details about where or in what venue the work was seen or heard or performed, and say how readers can have access to it.

  • Describe the work well enough that your reader can understand the rest of what you say, and can tell whether he or she is interested in hearing/seeing more. 

  • Describe any unique features of the work.  Say what general categories the work fits into, if it seems to you to fit any such categories, and indicate how it compares with other work in this category.  Tell us anything else important about where the work comes from, who made it, and its place in the world.

  • Tell us what draws you to the work, or turns you off. Do this by describing the aspects of the work that make you feel that way, rather than by telling us how you feel!

  • Comment briefly on the strengths and weaknesses of the work, if you have not already done so.

  • Discuss any aesthetic issues that the work raises for you.

Preparing your project: Your final project will be the equivalent of a ten page (or longer) term paper. It will have a written component, which may or may not be that long, depending on its other components. Your project may be an extended essay in criticism, in which you develop some point in philosophical aesthetics.  It may be a piece of straight philosophical aesthetics, like some of the readings. It may be the presentation of a piece or a body of your own work, with comments on how that work relates to themes we have read about and discussed in class. If you want to do this, be sure to talk to me first. Please note that I will not be grading your project as art, but rather as aesthetics (philosophy of art). Other options are also allowable; check them with me. You must present your project to the class, either in one of its planning stages or as a finished product.    Make sure you do the rough draft; this is the only way that you will be sure we are on the same wavelength about the expectations you must meet.  The following list of topic questions should give you some ideas.  Check the web-site for a list of specific projects you might do, plus some examples of successful past projects.

Presenting your project: As part of your project, you will make a 5 or 10 minute presentation to the class on your project topic. Slots are available from October 5 through December 14. Early presenters will be expected to tell us what you are working on, why it interests you, what questions you are trying to answer, where and how you will look for the answers, and why your project is an example of philosophy of the arts. Later presenters will be expected to present a class-friendly version of your finished project (of course it will answer the questions above).




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