PHIL 356: Philosophy of Art

PHIL 356-001: Philosophy of Art
(Fall 2018)

04:30 PM to 07:10 PM W

Krug Hall 19

Section Information for Fall 2018

  • Fulfills the requirement for a course in Continental Philosophy for the philosophy major.

What makes all the arts, such as painting, music, poetry, novels, and dance, art?  What exactly is distinct about art in contrast to whatever else people make or do? 

During the past one hundred years, relatively extreme developments in the arts suggest that artists themselves are directly exploring the question what makes art, art, in their work.  For example, standard features of specific arts disappear from artworks:  the most influential play of the century, Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett, has no plot; the tonal system of music for several centuries exhausts itself and is put aside by leading composers; recognizable subject matter drops out of painting.  Along with this, art directly incorporates content from daily life, such as newspaper clippings in collages on canvas made by Picasso early in the previous century, theater performances called “happenings” that have no script, for example, people actually living on a stage for extended periods of time, and the incorporation of what choreographers and dancers call “pedestrian movement” in dances, all of which raises  the question as to whether art can be extra-ordinary in any way that contrasts it with the content of daily life.  

Why does one prominent artist, Marcel Duchamp, stop making art and make known that this is itself an artistic gesture?  Why does another prominent artist, Ad Reinhardt, exhibit canvasses painted all black and make known that he is “painting the last painting”?

In order to get to the bottom of these questions, we will seek help in major philosophical analyses of art over the centuries including Plato, in the age of Greece, followed by Kant, at the point when the basics of the modern age become established, Hegel, in the first half of the nineteenth century, and Nietzsche, in the second half of the nineteenth century, Heidegger, in the first half of the 20th century and Merleau-Ponty, in the second half of the 20th century.

As we proceed, we will address such questions as:  the significance of historical shifts in arts; the relation between art and beauty; the relation between art and truth.  We will view and/or listen to videos of plays, reproductions of paintings, sculptures and architecture, recordings of music, and a particularly influential film, “Last Year at Marienbad,” directed by Alain Resnais and written by Alain Robbe-Grillet (who became a leading author of what is called “the new novel”).


Course Information from the University Catalog

Credits: 3

Basic problems that arise from an inquiry into meaning and value of art and our response to art. Limited to three attempts.
Recommended Prerequisite: 3 hours of PHIL or permission of instructor.
Schedule Type: Lecture
This course is graded on the Undergraduate Regular scale.

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