PHIL 356: Philosophy of Art

PHIL 356-001: Philosophy of Art
(Fall 2022)

03:00 PM to 04:15 PM MW

Aquia Building 213

Section Information for Fall 2022

A number of developments in the arts during the last hundred years have involved the disappearance of features of art understood as indispensable to the medium, such as the disappearance of plot in theater pieces, the disappearance of tonality in classical music, and the disappearance of recognizable subject matter in paintings. What makes for the difference between artworks and everyday content of life has been called into question such as in some modern dance where everyday “pedestrian” movement is incorporated along with choreographed dance motion.  At one point the artist Marcel Duchamp stopped making art altogether and understood this as an artistic gesture.  In various ways, it appears that art has been questioning itself as to what it is, an activity long associated with philosophy exclusively.

        What is all this about?  In order to understand how we reached the point where all this takes place, we will go back historically to Plato, thought of as the culmination of the Greek period, and explore Plato’s philosophic response to art and to a factor long regarded as inseparable from art, namely, beauty.  We will see how this is consistent with architecture and sculpture from the Greek period.  Afterward, we will travel to the early modern age, with a stop in the Medieval period and look at the architecture of the cathedral as well as their stained glass windows.  When we reach the Renaissance, we will consider that perspective as developed in Renaissance painting marks a different way of orienting oneself in the world where we find ourselves as humans, and that this orientation, that first showed up in art, was actually an anticipation of a factor necessary for the development of modern science. The philosopher who helps us understand all this at the point when the early modern world is established is Kant, and we will study part of his Critique of Judgment, in particular judgment with respect to beauty.

        Following on from Kant, we will study a selection from Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics where we encounter Hegel’s conclusion that “art, with respect to its highest possibilities is, for us, a thing of the past.”  Is it possible that this is actually to account for the extreme developments in the arts noted above?  At this point we will turn to the philosophic works on art from two leading twentieth century figures, Martin Heidegger, who wants to re-open Hegel’s issue about art’s highest possibilities being behind us (The Origin of the Work of Art) and Maurice Merleau-Ponty whose philosophical response to art (Eye and Mind) helps us understand two movements in art in the early and late second half of the twentieth century, Action Painting (or Abstract Expressionist Painting}, and Minimalist Art, in which case the artists read Merleau-Ponty’s work (as reported by the Columbia University art historian and theorist, Rosalind Krauss).  Is this indicative of art’s ongoing potential for anticipating a new way of orienting ourselves in the world where we find ourselves as humans? (In addition to images of art mentioned above, further images as well as recorded music, a video of Waiting for Godot by Samuel Becket and the film Last Year at Marienbad will help to illustrate points in the course.
























Course Information from the University Catalog

Credits: 3

Examines philosophical theories that inquire into the nature, role, and value of art and that offer differing accounts of human beings’ response to art. Key issues include what counts as art, representation and expression, museums and institutions, the role of technology, the sublime, and the art/craft distinction. Attention will be paid to the social, cultural and historical conditions of both the production of art and of theories about art and its role in human existence. Individual sections may focus on particular artforms such as the visual or performative arts, film, the digital arts, earth and land art, or music, and/or include cross-cultural comparative analysis. 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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