Course B. Philosophy of Art
Tuesdays, 1:00-2:30 p.m.
Instructor: Sanford Goldberg, Professor, Philosophy
This course meets on Tuesday afternoons beginning on September 21.
This course will focus on the philosophical questions raised by art. What is art? Is there anything distinctive of the experiences we have when observing an artwork? Is beauty an objective feature in the world, or is it all in the eye of the beholder? What does it mean to say that a work of art “has a meaning,” and how can we tell what a work of art “means”? When it comes to producing or appreciating a work of art, what is the significance of such things as genre and artistic tradition? What is the role of creativity, technology, and science in the production and appreciation of art? How has the artworld changed over time, and how does this affect both the creation and the appreciation of art today? Are there moral constraints on what should be produced as a work of art? Should art speak to the politics of our day? The ambition will be to raise these questions in an effort to enhance our appreciation of all that goes under the name “work of art”. We will also spend time focusing on particular arts: theater, film, literature, music, and painting.
Sep. 21 Aesthetic Experience and Judgments of Taste
Daily life is full of occasions in which we offer judgments of taste: we judge something to be beautiful or ugly, charming or grotesque, awe-inspiring or chintzy, sublime or absurd. Are these judgments objective, or is beauty (or ugliness etc.) in the eye of the beholder? If we call the type of experience associated with such judgments “aesthetic experience,” what makes an experience distinctly aesthetic? Finally, what does all of this have to do with art?
Sep. 28 What is a “Work of Art”?
In this session we address the challenge of defining “art” and “work of art.” We explore the main theories and characterize their virtues and drawbacks. We discuss distinct kinds of works of art, and how the variety might pose problems for the general definition we seek. Finally, we conclude with remaining questions that derive from our attempts at definition, including metaphysical questions (As a work of art, what, exactly, is Beethoven’s 9th symphony?), epistemological questions (How can we tell if something is a work of art?), and questions of aesthetic value (“That’s art? My kid can do that!”)
Oct. 5 Aristotle’s Question: Why Are We So Moved by Fiction?
Some works of art – film, theater, literature – present us with fictions: narratives that are just stories, not meant to be taken as factual. When these stories are well-presented, they often move us deeply. But this can seem curious. After all, we know that the stories themselves are not real events. Why, then, are we so moved by them? This lecture addresses this question. It aims to shed light both on the nature of these works, but also on the nature of our emotional responses to them – and by extension, the nature of our response to artworks more generally.
Oct. 12 On the Significance of Genre in the Production and Experience of Art
One salient characteristic of works of art is genre: in film we speak of dramas, comedies, thrillers, and horror movies; in literature we distinguish historical fiction, science fiction, crime, romance, and fantasy; in painting we differentiate portraits, landscapes, still lifes, historical paintings, and religious paintings; in music we think of pop, jazz, R&B, classical, and rock. What is the significance of these categorizations? Is it of merely marketing interest, or does it go deeper? How, if at all, do these categories affect the production and experience of the relevant arts?
Oct. 19 Philosophical Questions about Painting as an Art
This is the first of four consecutive lectures that will focus on a particular type of art, focusing on what makes it distinctive and what philosophical questions it raises. Here our focus is on painting. Among other things, we will explore the following questions: How does the two-dimensionality of a painted surface determine the prospects for painting as an art? What is the role of pictorial representation in paintings? Can some paintings be more “true to life” than others (and what would this even mean to say)? To what extent does fidelity to ordinary perception (and perceptual experience) affect the standards of painting? When it comes to painting, what are the relevant aesthetic categories of assessment? What role do paintings play in our attempt to understand visual culture more generally?.
Oct. 26 Philosophical Questions about Theater and Film as an Art
This lecture explores philosophical questions that arise in connection with theater and film. Our main question will be: how do theater and film exploit the features of their respective media to “tell” the stories they tell, and how does their doing so affect their significance as works of art? In the course of discussing this we will also have occasion to explore various questions such as: how theater and film differ (e.g. theater is live, and so it makes sense to speak of the particular performance one saw, whereas film is a recording); what it means to say that an actor portrays or represents a character; how the script itself relates to the ultimate film or play; and how conformity to (and sometimes violation of) the norms of filmmaking and playwriting can be an integral part of the story that is told in a film or play.
Nov. 2 Philosophical Questions about Literature as an Art
This lecture explores philosophical questions that arise in connection with literature. Here our main question will be: how do writers exploit the features of the written word to “tell” the stories they tell, and how does their doing so affect their significance as works of art? Given that literature, like film and theater, indulges in fiction, how does storytelling in literature differ from storytelling in film and in the theater? Why it is that many people have strongly negative reactions to filmed versions of their favorite novels? And wherein, exactly, is the (artistic and aesthetic) power of the written word?
Nov. 9 Philosophical Questions about Music as an Art
In this lecture we will focus on philosophical questions arising regarding the curious case of music. We will begin by noting how music is importantly different from the previous arts that we encountered: music is primarily an auditory form of art; and, while a piece of music exists in time, it is unclear that there are any distinctly spatial features to music (though of course where one hears music will affect one’s listening experience!). We will go on to note how live music shares features with theater (one observes a particular performance), and how recorded music shares features with film (one observes a recording of a particular performance). How do these features contribute to music as a work of art? Can we ever describe music itself as representational? Focusing on music that lacks lyrics, are there pieces of music that nevertheless tell stories? And for music that involves lyrics, how does the combination of the two combine to constitute the meaning of the piece of music?
Nov. 16 Art, Morality, and Politics
Plato famously worried about artists, and he banned them from his ideal state. His reason for doing so was that he wanted to ensure that the ideal state was a just state in which all citizens acted virtuously, and he worried that art could only confuse people, or lead them to have false opinions, about what was just and good. In this class session we will explore the intersection of art, morality, and politics. After giving several examples of works of art whose content or message is immoral or unjust, we will discuss how to approach such works. Can it ever be OK to enjoy a work of art whose content is unjust or immoral, or is this an example of the very sort of danger Plato worried about? What, if any, role should politics have in the production of art? What arguments can one offer in defense of views in this area?
Information is subject to change. Full course and policy descriptions are available at www.nualumnae.org
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