Intro to Philosophy

Aesthetics: the Philosophy of the Arts

Professor David Clowney Rowan University

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Topic Questions

Here is a partial list of questions - for the course and possibly for your project. You will certainly think of others; please share them with me and the class:

  • Do criticism and theory make any contribution to art? Why not just experience the art and forget about the theory and the criticism?

  • The word 'art' originally meant 'skill', and sometimes it still does (the art of cooking, of massage, etc.) But now it has another meaning (roughly, painting, sculpture, music, dance, film, poetry, fiction, installations, performance art, etc.). Does art of this kind have to show skill?

  • Is it possible to define art, or to say what makes art different from non-art?

  • Why do people care about this question? Would the question be easier to answer if 'art' meant 'skill'? ( A hint about "defining" something like art: When a word has a use in a language, its meaning cannot simply be 'up to you'.  Even the meaning of "delicious" is not up to you in that way, although your tastes won't be exactly the same as anyone else's. But just repeating the dictionary doesn't help much, either.  What other options might you have?)

  • Should we recognize a sharp distinction between fine art, commercial art, popular art, and craftwork?  Are these distinctions made in every time and culture?  And if not, how did they develop in our culture?

  • What (if anything) do the (fine) arts have in common?

  • How do different arts (e.g., poetry and music) accomplish similar things when they work together (e.g., in a song)?

  • What are the unique possibilities and limits of particular arts? (For example, what can film do that other arts cannot? What can it not do easily, that other arts can?) How do these possibilities and limits affect the project of "translating" a work from one medium to another (e.g. from book to film, or from poem to music)? How do the differences and similarities between different arts affect a project that combines several arts? (These questions are usually most fruitful when you are considering particular examples.)

  • What is a symbol?

  • How does art mean?  How does the answer to this question differ with the different arts? (e.g., painting, music, dance, poetry). Is the dimension of meaning essential to every fine art?

  • How do the different arts express emotion (if they do)?

  • What's the status of aesthetic standards?  Do they simply express individual or cultural tastes?  Is there anything objective about them?

  • What's the nature of aesthetic properties?  (E.g., beauty, integrity, unity, mood, expressiveness, etc.)  Are they in any sense "objective"?  Or are they simply "in the eye (or ear) of the beholder"? What do they have to do with the senses?

  • How do the arts relate to: Spirituality?  Morality?  Emotions?  Economic power and class structure?  Philosophy?  Culture and cultural development?

  • What's the relationship between the arts, biology and psychology? For example, is there a biological or a universal psychological basis for our love of music and dance? For our association of certain colors with certain emotions?

  • What's the relationship, if there is one, between appreciation of art works and appreciation of nature?

  • Can animals be artists?

  • Is there any special connection between art and gender, or between art and sex or the erotic?

  • How important is performance to art? Is there anything like performance in the non-performance arts?



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