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Issues in Contemporary Aesthetics (PH346-15)

Timing & CATS

This module is not running in 2017-18.

Module Description

Imagine you are in a gallery with a friend. You come across a circle of stones on the floor. You think it means quite different things, and perhaps even get into a row about it. Is one of you is right and one of you wrong? Are there right or wrong interpretations when it comes to art, and if so are they the ones that correspond most closely to what the artist intended or the ones that make the work most interesting? Or is it all merely “subjective”?

Now imagine that on your way home you witness some altercation between motorists. This kind of thing happens everyday in your city and you pass on, thinking little more about it. In the next morning’s newspaper you learn that a Venice Biennale winning artist, famous for staging scenes of urban confrontation to provoke reactions has been at work in your town, but it doesn’t state where. Did you unwittingly witness some avant-garde performance art, and if so how would you know? If you couldn’t distinguish it from everyday life, just what is that makes one angry confrontation road rage and another, seemingly just like it, cutting edge art? One obvious response is to look at context: is one in a museum or theatre space and the other not? But that is no help here.

Perhaps on reflection you are angry: people should not be toyed with in this way. What if you had intervened and inadvertently got hurt? You think this is a moral failing. But on doing further research learn that the artist is delighted by this kind of response and thinks it makes the work better. Can moral failings, if that is what they are, ever enhance artistic value? What if a work has obscene, pornographic, misogynistic or inflammatory racist content? Are ethical failings always also aesthetic failings?

This module considers these and other questions that naturally arise when we reflect on our experience of the visual arts, particularly the challenges of 20th Century “avant-garde” art that pushes the boundaries of what can be art.

Learning Outcomes or Aims

By the end of the module the student should be able: to understand and differentiate views on central issues in aesthetics, and offer relevant support for and critical responses to those views; to communicate clearly and substantively in speech and in writing on the questions addressed in the module; to isolate the important claims within readings, understand the structure of arguments, test views for strengths and weaknesses, make pertinent use of examples, and compare the substance of views consistently; to pursue and organize philosophical research using a range of sources (print and electronic media), documenting research carefully, and showing the ability to engage independently in philosophical debate.

Contact Time

In this module students must attend 2 hours of lectures and 1 hour of seminars per week.

Lectures for 2017-18


Seminars for 2017-18

Seminars start in week 2 and run for the rest of the term

There will be no seminars in reading week (week 6)

Please sign up for a seminar group using Tabula

Assessment Methods

This module will be assessed in the following way:

  • One 1,500-word essay (worth 15% of the module)
  • One 2,500-word essay (worth 85% of the module)

Background Reading and Textbooks

Please purchase these two collections, which will both be used extensively during the course:

  • Aaron Meskin & Steven Cahn (eds.) Aesthetics: A Comprehensive Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008)
  • Peter Lamarque, Peter & Stein Haugom Olsen, eds, Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art: The Analytic Tradition (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004)

Course materials

From October 2016 course materials will be available on Moodle. Simply sign in and select the module from your Moodle home page.

Module Tutor

Dr Diarmuid Costello

D dot Costello at warwick dot ac dot uk