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Your Term Project

Your project must include a written component, and may include other components if appropriate.  You should pick a topic questions, and explore it in some depth.  Choose a question from my list, or suggest another; the list is not complete!

There are several ways to do this assignment. One that works especially well for many students is to focus on a particular artist (musician, dancer, novelist, etc.) and explore the topic question in connection with that person's work. You can start with the artist, and let the topic question emerge as you work. You may also pick a particular philosopher of art and explore that person's aesthetics, again focusing on one or two of the topic questions. Another approach is to write an expanded critical essay, usually commenting on a body of work, and including a more thorough approach to one of the topic questions.

Projects for working artists

While being a working artist is neither a prequisite for this course nor a condition of getting a good grade, many of you are in fact working artists. You may wish to present some of your work as part of your project.  I encourage you to do so.  I will not grade you on your work; I leave that to art, music, dance, and other teachers.  I will grade you on your presentation of an issue in aesthetics.  However, your work may help you to address such an issue, or may powerfully illustrate a point. When this happens, the combination of the work and the written component make one project. In many cases this means that the written component can be shorter.   If you plan to take this approach, you should see me for guidance on how to make it work.

If your project lends itself to oral presentation, you are welcome to make such a presentation.  Again, I encourage this, and I will include the presentation in your grade.

Stages for your project include:

Project proposal: Tell me what you want to do, why you want to do it, what resources you plan to use, what you want to prove or show or discover or investigate. Remember that the more you tell me, the more I have to respond to. I encourage E-mail discussions of project ideas.

Project core essay (optional intermediate stage; if you give me this early, I will read it and give you feedback): This can be three pages or so. In your own words, write out the essence of your project. Include a sketch of the whole project; but give me two or three pages of solid text stating and arguing your central point. That will give me a good idea of what you're up to, and I can respond to it substantially.

Project rough draft: As close as you can come to the final product. But getting it to me on time is more important than having it complete.

Project final draft, with optional presentation: See above.

Topic Questions in Aesthetics

Here are some examples of term projects:

          Tara Timberman wrote a paper on Lacanian literary criticism, including a Lacanian analysis of Peter Schaefer's Equus.

           T.J. Vonderahe wrote and performed a composition for upright bass exploring different musical modes, and commented on the different expressive potentials of the different modes.  

           Jennifer Petrin showed examples of her work (flatware inspired by eating disorders), and against that background defended the view that there should be no division between fine art and craft.

           Mark Messenger made public service announcements ads featuring himself which explored the dilemmas and the distressing feelings faced by a commercial artist, and the relation of art to commerce.

           Chris Gaughan made the case for mathematical proofs as art, attending to features such as elegance that tend to make both a proof and an art work good.


Darla Cassidy showed several of her paintings, as well as some by Barnett Newman and others, and talked about the aesthetic of abstract painting as displayed in this work.

Link to Darla's on-line exhibit.


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