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Course Syllabus for PHIL 0931102 - Aesthetics WI
Spring 2009 - Rowan University
Bunce Hall 321 - Monday and Wednesday, 3:15 - 4:30 pm
Professor David Clowney

Course Methods:  The course will consist of readings, some looking and listening assignments, class discussion and presentations, visits to various exhibits, concerts, and performances, and regular writing assignments, both graded and ungraded.  Graded assignments include two short essays in criticism and the preparation of a term project in philosophical aesthetics, to be designed in consultation with the instructor.  Ungraded assignments include five event reports, a reading response paper every week, and various in-class writing exercises.  Your grade will be based on the quality of your critical essays (40%), the quality and regularity of your class participation and reading responses (13%), your attendance at five events, each documented by a one page response (10%), and the quality of your final project (37%). 

Course Policies:  In my ideal educational world, there would be no grades.  Teacher student relationships would be voluntary, and they would be individually negotiated according to the interests of the student and the professor.  We don't live in that world.  In the world where we do live, I find the following policies, to be necessary, and I expect you to adhere to them. 

            You must meet all deadlines and complete all assignments.   Missed deadlines may be penalized by as much as a letter grade.   Papers more than a week late will not be accepted unless you have negotiated an extension in advance.  Final projects will not be accepted without prior review of a rough draft. 

            I expect regular attendance, both at class sessions and at our first Friday excursion, and other such events.*   The class needs your contribution, and you need the discussions and experiences that happen when we meet.  You are allowed three absences; after that your participation grade will suffer.  Meanwhile, please make every effort to submit your work on time even if you must be absent. All work must be sumitted electronically through Blackboard. I don't need hard copy unless you are having trouble with Blackboard, and even then I prefer that you e-mail your paper to me.

* Note: I am flexible about scheduled activities outside of normal class time, since you were not aware of them when you signed up for this class and made your schedule for the semester.  If you can't make an outing, let me know, and we'll make other arrangements. 

          Stay in touch!  If you can't make class or are having trouble with an assignment, e-mail me, or make an appointment and come see me.

Class starts promptly at 3:15, and ends at 4:30.  Come on time and stay until class is over.

Online Component:  The course syllabus, a list of concerts, exhibits, and other events, sample critical essays, course lecture notes, images, sounds, and as much else as I am able to prepare, will be available on line.  Start at my home page (, and click on Aesthetics. You may communicate with me by e-mail ( I will communicate with you using your Rowan e-mail account. It is your responsibility to check this regularly, whether or not it is the account you normally use. If you like, you can set it up to forward your mail to the account you do use.

We will be using Blackboard as an instructional tool in certain parts of the course. Your Rowan username and password will give you access to MyBlackboard, and from there you will have access to this class. Assignments and some handouts will be posted there. You will submit all your assignments there; I will only collect hard copies of assignments if there are problems with Blackboard. You may also use the Blackboard Discussion tool to discuss certain of your assignments with each other and help each other to improve them before handing your rough drafts to me. I'll give further instructions for this in class.

Course Outline:  The course will develop along several axes simultaneously.  We will pay attention to several arts, namely painting and sculpture (about four weeks worth); music (also four weeks); and a mixture of theater and dance, photography and film, and fiction and poetry during the remaining weeks of the semester.  We will view, read, or listen to particular works (including student works), and we will discuss issues in philosophical aesthetics and the philosophy of the arts raised by the works or the media they represent.  We will also read and discuss essays by several philosophers and critics about the arts.  We will discuss a number of topics, including those raised by the list of questions on the last page.  We will attend First Friday in Philadelphia's gallery district on February 6th, and may attend some concerts and other arts events.  We will also have an in-class concert, and some guests.

Course Texts:

S.D. Ross, Art and Its Significance (NY: SUNY Press, 1994); an anthology of readings by philosophers and artists.

Honore de Balzac, "The Unknown Masterpiece" and "Gambara", Introduction by Arthur Danto. (NY, 2001, New York Review of Books Classics). We will read the first of these two novellas, "The Unknown Masterpiece", by this great nineteenth century novelist, and the introduction to it by philosopher of art and art critic for The Nation magazine Arthur Danto.

Carl Wilson, Let's Talk about Live: A Journey to the End of Taste (NY: Continuum, 2007).

Also, some photocopied essays, to be handed out from time to time (and available on Blackboard). 

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 ber 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 start reading the Wilson book right away, and keep reading it in small doses until April 8, when we will discuss it. It's much easier than most of our readings, but you still can't expect to read it all in a few hours! A chapter a week, starting this week, should do the trick and might give us some extra material for class discussion before April 8.

How to submit your assignments on Blackboard. Click the menu item called "Assignments" on the menu sidebar on the left of the Blackboard home page for this course. (If the sidebar is really thin and shows icons but no text, click the arrow on its right side to expand it.)  Scroll down until you see the assignment you need to submit. The 13 reading responses are the last on the list, so you probably won't even see the first one (due Monday) until you start scrolling down.

For January 26th, 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, submit it to Blackboard before class begins, and come to class prepared to discuss. 

Our topic for the introductory sessions (1/21 and 1/26) is the relation between the universal elements common in the arts, which often earns them the name of a universal language, and the historical and social origins of our common distinctions between "fine art" and other arts (craft, popular art, commercial art and design, entertainment, etc.). These distinctions and the baggage that comes with them are fundamental to the modern idea of art. Rather than argue about whether to accept them, we will look at their historical origin and social function. Next week, we will discuss the topics of art as representation and of art and morality.

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'll receive comments from me and two classmates, and hand in a final draft about a week later. I prefer that you write about something new, that doesn't have a lot written about it yet. But there are other options. See class discussion.

- 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.

- Presentation related to your final project. 5-10 minutes, sign up.

Course Instructional Staff: You and I!  I mean this seriously.  Many of you are working artists, and you have more expertise in your artistic field than I have.  Some of you are health and exercise science or psychology or communications or business majors, and by now you know more about some parts of your chosen field than I know. Sometimes that knowledge will be relevant to our study of the philosophy of art. On the other hand, I have more expertise in philosophy than you do, and after teaching this course for many years I've also picked up a lot of knowledge about the arts. By sharing our knowledge, our experiences, and our questions, we will produce an exciting and worthwhile course.  You are as essential to this result as I am.

My office is on the third floor of Bunce Hall, in the Philosophy and Religion Department's part of the building (Bunce 315).  My office hours are Monday and Wednesday, 10:50 a.m to 12:05 p.m.  I am available at other times also if necessary.  Please come see me! You are welcome to drop by any time; but if you want to be sure we connect, please make an appointment (that goes for office hours as well as other times). My e-mail is Feel free to e-mail me with questions or to tell me anything I should know about.

Deadlines for Written Assignments:

First critical essay                2/11 (rough draft), 2/18 (final draft)

Project proposal                  2/9

Second critical essay         3/4, 3/11

Project rough draft               4/13

Project presentations          1 or 2 per class, starting 2/16

Project final draft                  5/4

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.  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.

Doing the reading, viewing and listening assignments:  The readings, the virtual gallery tours, and all listening and viewing assignments are an essential basis for class discussion.  You are expected to come to class having done them, and prepared to participate in class discussion on the basis of them.  You are expected to refer to them in your two critical essays and your term project when they prove relevant.  In order to ensure these results, you will prepare reading, looking and listening responses. These are short summaries (a paragraph to a page) of each required reading, viewing or listening assignment, together with your reactions to it.  You must post these to Blackboard each Monday before you come to class (so include the previous Wednesday responses with your Monday one; but please don't wait til Monday to read that material! That defeats one of the purposes of the assignment, which is to get you ready to participate in class discussion based on the readings).  You get one point for doing each writing assignment. As long as you are making some effort to understand and react to the readings, the only way you can lose credit is by not doing them.  I will check Blackboard to make sure that you are keeping up.  Completing these responses makes up 13% of your grade (to put this another way, not doing them will drop you more than a letter grade). 

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.  The views expressed in the assigned selections are 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 you won't get much out of this if you have not first struggled to understand them for yourself).  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.  Reading guides for most of the readings are posted in the "Reading Guides" folder in Blackboard, or on the course website under "Course Aids". Most authors also have an entry about them on the course web-site.  Make things easy on yourself; use these aids before tackling the readings. 

Writing your critical essays:

The peer review sheet (on Blackboard, under Course Content) is a good quick guide to what I expect on these 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.  Some of these ways include:  telling readers enough about a work to help them decide whether it would interest them; drawing readers' attention to particular aspects of a work that they might otherwise miss; placing a work in relation to the other works of the artist or of other artists, or in relation to historical or cultural trends; seeking to answer questions of philosophical aesthetics like those listed below in connection with examination of the work in question.

You may do any of these things in your two critical essays; however, you must also use your essay as a springboard to address some question in the philosophy of the arts. Where appropriate, you should interact in some way with the readings.

The following formula will usually help you produce a good and readable piece of criticism (I've included the extra bits needed for this class).  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.
  • Comment briefly on the strengths and weaknesses of the work.
  • Discuss any aesthetic issues that the work raises for you.

Preparing your final project: Your project may be an extended essay in criticism, in which you develop some point in the philosophy of the arts.  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.  Other options are also allowable; check them with me.  If the project allows for classroom presentation, you may present it to the class, as well as giving me the written portion of it.  Please note that I will not be grading your project as art, but rather as philosophy of art (aka aesthetics).  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 final project: As part of your project, you will present to the class for between five and ten minutes on your project topic. I will circulate a sign-up sheet on February 4. Slots are available from February 16 through May 9. If you are an early presenters, you will be expected to tell us what your project will be about, 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: you will be expected to present a class-friendly version of your project (of course it will answer the questions above).

Topic Questions (a partial list - for the course and for your project). Note - many of these questions will become more manageable, and often more interesting, if you ask them about particular works of art that you are thinking about. There are also many other more specific topic questions that arise in connection with particular arts:

  • Do criticism and theory make any contribution to the arts? 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.) Does fine art, at present, have to show skill?
  • Is it possible 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'?
  • What (if anything) do the (fine) arts have in common?
  • Should we recognize a sharp distinction between fine art, commercial art, popular art, and craftwork, such that what belongs in one of the last three categories is excluded from the first?  Are these distinctions made in every time and culture?  And if not, how did they develop in our culture?
  • Is it possible to define 'art'? If not, why not, and if so, how would you go about doing it?  (Hint: 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 what you think is delicious may be quite different from what many other people like. But just repeating the dictionary doesn't help much, either.  What other options might you have?)
  • Case by case, how are the different arts like each other, and how do they differ. 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 an interdisciplinary project? (These questions may be most fruitful when asked in a very specific context.) 
  • 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 art?
  • How do the different arts express emotion (if in fact 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"?
  • How do the arts relate to: Spirituality?  Morality?  Emotions?  Economic power and class structure?  Philosophy?  Culture and cultural development?
  • What's the nature of aesthetic intelligence, and how does it relate to other sorts of intelligence?
  • Can animals be artists?
  • Is there any special connection between art and gender, or between art and sex or the erotic?
  • What's the relationship between the arts, biology, and psychology? For example. is there a biological or a universal psychological basis for our love for music and dance? For our association of certain colors with certain emotions?
  • How important is performance to art?
  • What's the relationship between appreciation of art works and appreciation of nature?

Course Schedule with Assignments, Week by Week

Note: where course lecture pages exist on the website (i.e., for at least the first five weeks of the course) you are required to view the images, listen to the sound clips, and read the narrative as part of your preparation for the class.

1/21: Introduction: Orientation, handouts, class policies and assignments, website. Discussion: some human universals. The universality of the arts.

1/26: Introduction: Arts, Fine Art, craft, popular art, etc. View the images and read the narrative on the course website for the two "Introduction" pages. Read Shiner, The Invention of Art, Introduction (handout).  Start reading Wilson, Let's Talk about Love, read a chapter a week until April 8. Additional viewing assignment: National Museum of African Art (Smithsonian) , focus on "The Diversity of African Art" and "The Uses of African Art". Discussion of Art and craft, commercial art, popular art, traditional art, etc. Where did we get these distinctions, and what should we make of them? 

1/28: Art and representation.  Read Plato, Republic (selections from book X, in Ross, pp. 32-44, also from Book VII, "The Allegory of the Cave", (handout) and a bit from Aristotle's Poetics, in Ross, pp. 70 - 74. View the images and read the narrative on the corresponding course lecture pages on the web-site.

2/2: Representation and the power of Image: Art and Morality.  Read Plato, Republic, selections from Books II and III, Ross pp. 9-32; Ion and Symposium (selections) in Ross, pp. 45-63; Aristotle, Poetics, Ross pp. 66-74.  Recommended: start with entries on Plato and Aristotle on the course website, under Philosophers, artists and critics on art. Viewing assignment: Michelangelo (on Artchive) or Giorgio Vasari or another Renaissance artist of your choice. See the “Arts on Line” section of the course web-page to find your way to these artists on line.  And don’t forget the library; art books have much better images than your computer does! 

2/4: Visit to the Dance Studio: Art and Experience, embodiment, expression (date subject to change; stay tuned!)

2/6: First Friday: Tour of Old City Philadelphia Art Galleries. Meet at 5 pm at the Larry Becker gallery, 43 North 2nd Street in Philadelphia. Galleries are open from 5 til 8 pm.

2/9: Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?  Read Hume, Of the Standard of Taste. It's in Ross, but I've posted an annotated edition on the web site, linked to the entry on Hume under Philosophers, Artists and Critics on Art. I recommend reading that version. 

2/11: From Taste to Aesthetic Judgment: The creation of fine art in the eighteenth century.  Read web-site entry on Kant, read “From Taste to the Aesthetic” in Shiner, The Invention of Art. Viewing assignment: TBA. Critical essay 1, first draft due.

2/16: Taste, continued. Read Kant, Critique of Judgment, in Ross, pp. 98 - 120, 130 - 138 (Warning: not for the fainthearted! Use the reading guide!) and Mattick, "Art and Money" (handout, available on Blackboard) pp. 39 - 45.

2/18: Art as Expression/Art as Experience.  Read Tolstoy, pp. 177-181 in Ross, and Nietzsche, selection from the Birth of Tragedy, in Ross, pp. 161-167. 

2/23: Art as Experience: Read Dewey, Art as Experience, in Ross, pp.l 204 – 220. Viewing Assignment: Works by Munch, Schiele, Klimt, Bacon, Frankenthaler, DeKooning, Pollack (or other Expressionists and Abstract Expressionists of your choosing) Critical essay 1, final draft due

2/25: Where do we go from here?  Western Art History: Modernism, Postmodernism, and the "End of Art". Read Hegel, "Philosophy of Fine Art", in Ross, pp. 143-161 or Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art

3/2: Where do we go from here?  Continued Read Danto, "The End of Art",  Gablik, "Has Modernism Failed?" (Class handouts) Use the course guides for help with these essays!) Viewing assignments: Dia website or - Spend an hour looking around and thinking about what you see. Project proposal due.

3/4: Musical taste and Western music history: from medieval & renaissance to classic: the invention of fine art (or “absolute”) music.  Listening Assignments (on web site).

3/9: Western music history part two: the modern revolution and post-modern pluralism.  Where do we go from here?  Listening assignments (on web site) & reading (Schoenberg, Glass, others) Critical essay 2: rough draft due.

3/11: Art and art education  Guest lecture - Dr. Lili Levinowitz from Music Education.

3/23: Musical expression and musical meaning.  Does music mean anything?  And if so, how?  Readings: Langer, "Feeling and Form", pp. 221-237 in Ross. Critical essay 2: final draft due

3/25: Musical Expression and musical meaning (cont.) Stravinsky entry on web-site; Jenefer Robinson, "The Expression and Arousal of Emotion in Music" (class handout). Listening assignments: Debussy, La Mer or Stravinsky, Rite of Spring; Bach Toccata and Fugue in C major.

3/30: Performance and improvisation.  Reading assignment: TBA. Listening assignment TBA.

4/1: Performance and improvisation: jazz concert in class. Live jazz concert with question and answer.  

4/6: Commercialism and the arts: the case of popular music.  Reading Assignment: Adorno, “On the Fetish-character in Music and the Regression of Listening”, in Ross, 539-548

4/8: Popular music (cont.)  Discussion of Wilson, Let's Talk About Love, led by the class (you bring relevant examples).

4/13: Literature and theories of interpretation, part I.  Reading assignments: Balzac short story "The Unknown Masterpiece", & Danto introduction. Project rough draft due.

4/15: Literature and theories of interpretation, part II.  Reading assignments: Hirsch, "Validity in Interpretation", in Ross, pp. 331-349, Gadamer, selection from Truth and Method, in Ross, pp. 349-383

4/20: Philosophy and poetry   The art of poetry. 

4/22: Poetry Day Readings and discussion.  Bring your favorites!

4/27: Philosophy at the movies: discussion of the art of film.  Reading assignment: Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproduction" Viewing assignment: The Age of Innocence (film by Martin Scorsese).

4/29: Philosophy at the Movies (cont.) Guest lecture by Joe Bierman from RTF department, with discussion to follow.

5/4: Project special presentations (continued during exam week on Saturday, 5/9 at 12:30 if needed).

5/4: Project final draft due.

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