Stephen Snyder, Ph.D. firstname.lastname@example.org
This course will provide an overview of some of the major issues encountered in contemporary aesthetics, such as communication in art, embodied meaning, personification of art, expression and aesthetic self-reflection. Where relevant, the topics will also be explored from a historical perspective.
Over the centuries, art has inspired, engaged and sometimes enraged philosophers who examined, critiqued, and sought to define what is considered art. By way of these provocative writings, art has been elevated, banished, censored, and enhanced. In this course, short films and historical examples from the world of art bring to life the writings of the great philosophers, critics and art historians. Students will integrate these concepts through an in-depth analysis of topics relevant to aesthetics, emerging with a deeper understanding of the essence of the uniquely human endeavor called art.
Schedule of possible Topics
What is Art?
1. Art as mimesis
a. Introduction to aesthetics.
b. Lecture on Plato’s Republic, summary of Republic, books I-IX, the city soul analogy, censorship, the divided line.
c. Plato, Republic, book X. The relationship of the image to the real. Artwork as deception and the banning of the poets.
· Video presentation: Anamorphosis (the artificial perspective), The Brothers Quay, 1991.
2. Art as a subjective effect
a. David Hume, ‘Of the standard of taste’. The ideal critic.
b. Immanuel Kant, ‘Critique of aesthetic judgement’, §1-14, §16, §23-4, §28. The antinomy of taste. Disinterested pleasure, Unpurposive purposiveness.
· Video presentation: The Ossuary, Jan Svankmajer, 1970.
Art as Communication
3. Aristotle’s response to Plato
a. Aristotle, Poetics.Poetry in general, the origins and development of tragedy, comedy and epic, the nature of tragedy, plot, how tragedy can best achieve its function.
b. Plotinus, Enneads, I.6. The form in the image, the artistic genius.
· Video presentation: Leonardo’s Diary, Jan Svankmajer, 1972.
4. The content of art
a. G. W. F. Hegel’s Lectures on Fine Art, chapters 1-3. Art and history, art and philosophy, the object of art, and the end of art
b. Snyder, End-of-Art Philosophy in Hegel, Nietzsche and Danto, “Hegel: The End of Art as Truth Incarnate.”
· Video presentation: Ballet Mechanique, Ferdinand Leger, 1924.
Art and the Person
5. Art as escape/self-creation
a. Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, §52 vol. 1. World rejection, art as escape.
b. Friedrich Nietzsche, Art as saving illusion.
c. Arthur Danto, Nietzsche as Philosopher, “Perspectivism” and “Philosophical Psychology.”
d. Snyder, End-of-Art Philosophy in Hegel, Nietzsche and Danto, “Transformative Power of Creativity in Nietzsche’s Saving Illusion.”
· Video presentation: Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog), Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali, 1928.
6. Embodied meaning
a. Persons and art as embodied representations.
b. Arthur Danto, After the End of Art. The ‘Era of Art’, art as judgment, the narrative of art. Art becomes self-critical, purification of practice. Art criticism, embodied meaning. The end of taste, new artistic freedom, distinguishing art from reality.
c. Freedom of style: Art before and after Warhol’s Brillo Boxes.
d. Snyder, End-of-Art Philosophy in Hegel, Nietzsche and Danto, “Danto and the End of Art.”
e. Selections from Danto’s Transfiguration of the Commonplace and The Body/Body Problem.
7. Art today
a. Art today: Contemporary views on art and its embodiment.
By the end of this course, the student should have developed the ability to read and comprehend philosophical texts; an understanding of the main aesthetic theories presented and, if applicable, ways in which they can be compared, contrasted, and evaluated; the ability to appreciate both sides of a position and to tolerate disagreement and ambiguities; the ability to clarify sources of disagreement, to resolve ambiguity and overcome differences of viewpoint and theory as much as possible; an ability to formulate, criticize, and support philosophical positions as they are applied within the field of aesthetics and art history.
Subject Matter of the Course
Censorship of art. Four centuries after Greek tragedy was born out of Homer’s epic story of the fall of Troy, Plato sought to put an end to it by banning the poets from his ideal polis in Republic. The impetus behind Plato’s renunciation of the poets and their ‘inspired’ words is mixed. On the one hand, Plato placed works of art on the lowest rung of existence, at the lower extreme of the divided line, mere images of images “at the third remove from that which is.” On the other hand, Plato saw a powerful but menacing force in poetry. At a time when the oral tradition was being challenged by the written tradition, the learning passed on by the poets—and perhaps those who would place too much authority in their cantos—seemed to impede the higher learning seen in reason and the written word. Aristotle’s defense of poetry showed its value to the polis, arguing that its purpose and creation lay within the confines of reason. Yet, after two thousand years, art’s status remains questionable under the critical scrutiny of philosophy. Despite the commitment of romantic philosophers to raise the status of the artwork, in the last two hundred years the idea that art is at an end has emerged as a recurring theme.
The Nature of art. The question of art’s essential nature must be answered in order to account for the questions and claims posed by philosophers over the centuries. As Plato claimed that art was a distortion of the real, one must ask ‘what is art such that it is able to distort reality?’ If Aristotle claims that the aim of art is to effect catharsis, what is the nature of artistic expression such that it is able to mediate this effect? The neo-platonic account of material beauty suggests that art can sensually reveal the truth to those who have the insight to perceive it. This places art above a degraded copy of reality, as Plato viewed it. Nonetheless, the thinkers of the German aesthetic tradition, who sought to redeem art in the eyes of those claiming it evoked subjective feelings unworthy of the status of knowledge, only succeed in showing art to be a lesser form of cognition. Are philosophers asking the right questions as to art’s nature? Heidegger asks, ‘What is truth such that it is disclosed in art?’ But would the inquiry into art’s nature be better served by the question ‘What is art such that it discloses truth?’
Ontology of art. The appearance of Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes on the New York art scene provided Arthur Danto with an epiphany: without the visual cues differentiating art from non-art, the only way to tell art objects from objects of the everyday is through a theory of art provided by what he calls “the artworld.” Danto postulates an essentialist theory of art, arguing that all artworks entail the following attributes: 1) art must be embodied and 2) art must have a meaning. Danto claims that this definition is valid for all art objects across time. But the meaning embodied in the artwork must be historically indexed. Can Danto, who borrows the Hegelian model of historic change, maintain the separation of his essentialist claim from the artwork’s historical link to the meaning?