David L. Hildebrand, Ph.D., Philosophy

Fall 2014 Phl 4220 Philosophy of Art


PHIL 4220/5220

Fall 2014 TTH 11-12:15 p.m.

Dr. David Hildebrand

Course Description: This course presents an introduction to the philosophy of art and aesthetics. In part, this means familiarization with a variety of methods but it also means considering all sides of the communication that is art: the creative process of artists, the object-events created (or "artworks"), and the audience's ability to experience, interpret, and evaluate art. In the course of this survey, a variety of problem-areas related to art will be considered: for example, what is a work of art? What is taste or beauty and who determines and justifies those standards? How is meaning conveyed by works of art and what methods of interpretation best reveal meaning? What is an aesthetic experience and why is it special? What are the social, political, and philosophical roles of art products and art criticism in contemporary society? Our attempts to grapple with these theories and problems will utilize as much actual art as possible through multimedia technology and, hopefully, field trips to local art sites.

Essential Learning Objectives (ELO’s):


I. Critical thinking. Critical thinking is a habit of mind characterized by the comprehensive exploration of issues, ideas, artifacts, and events before accepting or formulating an opinion or conclusion. In the case of art and aesthetics, this means looking and observing before describing, describing before interpreting, interpreting in multiple ways before evaluating. In short, we need to remain open to the entire dimension of the aesthetic as an integral part of the philosophical process of investigation.


II. Inquiry and analysis. Inquiry is a systematic process of exploring issues, objects or works through the collection and analysis of evidence that results in informed conclusions or judgments. Analysis is the process of breaking complex topics or issues into parts to gain a better understanding of them. 

In aesthetics, this means exploring works of art of many kinds and gaining as much historical and critical knowledge as possible about those works before using them as the subject-matter or focus of philosophical analysis of their qualities, ontology, style, and meaning.


Component Objectives:

Critical thinking, inquiry, and analysis are actually complex skills which require a number of other skills. These include: 


(a) familiarization with main issues and their importance; 

(b) comprehension of relevant arguments offered by various philosophers; 

(c) analysis of the arguments by pointing out where they lack evidence, make an unreasonable leap, hold a false assumption, etc. (d) demonstration of (a) - (c) through spoken and written language; 

(e) verbalization, the ability to summarize a philosophical position, without notes, using your own words leading, ideally to original criticisms of the position;

(f) conversation/debate. Ability to discuss issues in a focused and informed way with others in the class. This will involve listening closely to their points, then responding in a way that moves the discussion ahead.

Texts: Available at Auraria Textbooks. Also, if you desire, online (see, for example, http://used.addall.com). If you buy your book online, make sure (1) that it is the correct edition, and (2) that you have it in time for class.



  1.  The Philosophy of Art: Readings Ancient and Modern Ed. by Alex Neill (Author), Aaron Ridley
  2.  Puzzles about Art: An Aesthetics Casebook (Paperback) by Margaret P. Battin (Author), John Fisher (Author), Ronald Moore (Author), Anita Silvers (Author) (Bedford/St. Martin's, 1989); ISBN-10: 0312003072; ISBN-13: 978-0312003074

Recommended: The Art Book (Phaidon Press)

Online. Occasionally there will be readings or resources at one of the following places: 


Canvas/Website: There are two online sites related to this course. Familiarize yourself with them right away. Both will offer you access to information about the course such as study questions, announcements, grades, extra credit assignments.

The first and most important one is our course Canvas site: https://ucdenver.instructure.com/. On this page are LOGIN INSTRUCTIONS. Please make sure you enroll right at the beginning of the class.

The second site is my home page at http://www.davidhildebrand.org. Here there are a variety of general study tips and resources in philosophy.


Readings: It is expected that you have done the readings before we discuss them. As you read, copy out important points and questions you have onto a separate sheet of paper. (These will help you with your short reflection papers.) You may also want to note problem passages (e.g., with a "?" or "Q.") in your text as you read. These are good points for class discussion. You should come to each class able to discuss the main issues of the reading and you could be asked during class to present the main points to the class. If I find people are not prepared, I will start giving quizzes to test basic understanding. Your well-prepared participation is crucial for a successful class. Please see the tips section of my website. 


Very important: please set aside about 10 minutes shortly before class to look back over (skim-review) the readings and whatever you have written for that day.

Course Requirements/Evaluation: Maximum points possible: 1000 points

Participation/presentation 100 points 

Short Writings (8 total; 4 done by 10/7) 120 points

Exam #1 1250-1750 words  250 points (due in class, 9/25)

Exam #2 : 300 points (due: 12/9, NOON)

grad students: 2500-3250 words 

undergrad students: 2000-2500 words 

Art Engagement Journal 1000 words 115 points (due: 12/9, NOON)

Museum Visit Essay 1500 words 115 points (due: 12/9, NOON)

Grades: There are 1000 possible points for this class. An "A" will be a body of work achieving at or above 930 points; an "A-" will be 900-929 points; a "B+" is 870-899 points, etc. Values for those letters, as well as the policies regarding other grades such as Incomplete, are available in the CU Academic Policies and Regulations section of the handbook. I have set out my standards of what a grade means on my FAQ section of my website.

Attendance: Attendance is required. Two unexcused absences over the course of the semester are permitted without penalty. Each additional absence will lower your final course grade, approximately 30 points per absence. (E.g., having a total three unexcused absences would lower a cumulative 900 point course average by 30 points (because the first two absences are “free”) to 870—effectively a reduction from an A- to a B+—and then each additional absence would take 30 more points off. And so on.  An excusable absence is a medical illness or emergency that is completely unavoidable. It is the student's responsibility to talk to me about excusable absences ASAP after the absence.


(1) Participation/Presentation/Quizzes: Course participation grades are not automatic. They are based on oral contributions to the collective learning experience of the class as a whole in terms of asking pertinent questions, answering questions correctly or, at least, provocatively, making insightful observations, and offering other meaningful expressions of interest in the material that help encourage learning. Shyness is not an excuse—oral participation is part of your evaluation. There will be ample opportunity for active and well prepared participation, which I value. 

I will measure your participation by a variety of components: informed dialogue, presentation of your short papers in class, participation in any group work, and your performance on any quizzes. It is possible, but not certain, that there will be comprehension quizzes given during the semester. These may be given in class or online. The point of them is to help give you a "reality check" on how well you're understanding significant issues in the class. Poor performance on quizzes will subtract from your final grade.


Important: part of this grade will be determined by your presentation of your short writings (see below): when called upon in class, you must demonstrate that you know what you wrote and why you wrote it; in other words, show clarity of thought, effective communication, and ability to field questions on your paper will all contribute to the participation portion of your grade. (I suggest looking over your short papers briefly before class to prepare.)

(2) Short Writings (8 total; 4 must be done by October 7.) The purpose of these assignments is to help you clarify your understanding of the readings and to help you think critically about the issues. Follow these instructions carefully, please.

What to write on critical reaction papers:

  •  6 of 8 short papers should be: one-page, typewritten reactions or questions about some specific issue which you find compelling in the readings. Your paper must not simply sum up the reading or repeat points made there. (I.e., no book reports, please.) Rather, you must try to raise a question or discuss some original insight. You may use these papers to demonstrate your application of a concept/idea in the readings to an experience you have making or experiencing art, but the connection to the reading must be significant (and not a mere "jumping off" point. See the website link "Writing short, critical papers" for further hints about how to write a good paper.
    •  The first paragraph should state in 1-2 sentences a summary of what the paper is about.
    • Only papers that are written on a reading or topic that will be discussed in the class immediately coming up are acceptable.
  • 2 of 8 short papers must be multimedia. I.e., accompanying 2 of your papers should be an image(s), musical excerpt, poem, objet d'art, etc. that illustrates or somehow comments upon an important idea or concept in the readings. You can expect to present this example along with your short paper to the class. Let me know ahead of time when you wish to do your presentations.

When to write short papers:

  • You must do 8 critical papers total and you may not hand in more than one paper on the same date. FOUR papers must be done by the course midpoint, October 7. Students who have not done 4 papers by this point will only be permitted to do 5 more papers.
  • You must come to class for a paper to be accepted.

Grading on short papers

  • Grade: This will be a "graded" assignment only in a loose sense; in other words it will be either S-satisfactory (full credit or 15 points) or U-unsatisfactory (half credit or 7.5 points). A zero (0) will be awarded if nothing (or next to nothing) is turned in.
  • TWO MAKE-UPS: If you get a Unsatisfactory on up to two papers, you may revise and resubmit them. The old grade will be dropped in favor of the revised paper's grade.

(3&4) TAKE HOME EXAMS: There will be two take home exams required for this class.  The first will cover all material up to its due date. The second will be cumulative. NO late exams can be turned in without prior arrangements. You may email me at any time to discuss your progress on ALL assignments or we can discuss them in office hours. Only hard/paper copies of papers will be accepted. I will not print out your papers for you.

(5) Art Engagement journal: Over the course of the semester you will keep a journal on your ongoing relationship to a work of art. In your entries, you must engage with the work—view the work slowly and patiently or watch/listen to it from start to finish—4 times during the semester and record your responses to it on using the questions provided. Then, at the end of the semester, you must hand in these entries along with a summary that explains, concisely, the course and changes of your experience and interpretation of the artwork over the semester. See separate assignment hand out.

(6) MUSEUM PAPER: You will be required to write one short paper (1000-1500 words) about the phenomenological experience of a museum space and its impact on how one constructs the meaning of artworks. See separate assignment hand out.

Plagiarism/ Academic Dishonesty Plagiarism is a form of stealing. It occurs when an author uses the words or ideas of others as if they were the author's own original thought. (It may include word-for-word copying, interspersing one's own words with another's, paraphrasing, inventing or counterfeiting sources, submitting another's work as one's own, neglecting quotation marks on material that is otherwise acknowledged.) Plagiarism is often unintentional. It can be avoided by always acknowledging one's debt to others by citing the exact source of a quotation or paraphrase. Since plagiarism is such a serious violation of academic honesty, the penalty for it will be an automatic F for this course. 

Academic dishonesty is the intentional disregard of course or university rules. This may include (but is not limited to) collaborating with others when rules forbid or using sources/experts not permitted by an assignment. The CU handbook has a more complete description of plagiarism and academic dishonesty.

Access, Disability, Communication: The University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center is committed to providing reasonable accommodation and access to programs and services to persons with disabilities. Students with disabilities who want academic accommodations must register with Disability Resources and Services (DRS), 177 Arts Building, 303-556-3450, TTY 303-556-4766, FAX 303-556-2074. I will be happy to provide approved accommodations, once you provide me with a copy of DRS's letter. [DRS requires students to provide current and adequate documentation of their disabilities. Once a student has registered with DRS, DRS will review the documentation and assess the student's request for academic accommodations in light of the documentation. DRS will then provide the student with a letter indicating which academic accommodations have been approved.] 

Students called for military duty: If you are a student in the military with the potential of being called to military service and /or training during the course of the semester, you are encouraged to contact your school/college Associate Dean or Advising Office immediately.

Course Communication: In addition to announcements made and written handouts distributed in class, I may need to contact you between classes, which I'll do through individual and group email messages. One of the requirements for this course is that you maintain an email address, check it regularly for messages, be sure it is working, and let me know if you change your email address. You are responsible for any messages, including assignments and schedule changes, I send you via email. You also may contact me via email, in addition to seeing me during office hours or calling me.

Civility and Technology: Turn off beepers and cell phones during class. Text messaging, web surfing, and other electronic distractions may result in expulsion from class and will be counted against the class "participation" grade. Students who are speaking deserve your attention and respect as much as I do. Listen to one another. Adherence to the Student Conduct Code is expected.

Contact Information and Office Hours

Phone : 303-556-8558 E-mail: david.hildebrand@ucdenver.edu    Website: http://davidhildebrand.org

Office & Hours: Plaza M108, ​TTh 12:15 – 1:15 p.m. or by appointment.


Purpose: I strongly encourage you to participate by dropping by during office hours. We can talk about the class readings and lectures, exams and papers, your progress, or just philosophy in general. Note: If you are a student with a disability, I will make myself available to discuss appropriate academic accommodations. Before accommodations will be made, you may be required to provide documentation. Students with disabilities will be accommodated. Students with disabilities are required to register disabilities with the UCD Disability Services Office, and are responsible for requesting reasonable accommodations at the beginning of the term.

Please note: All course requirements are subject to change at the discretion of the instructor.

Course help is available at my web address: http://DavidHildebrand.org


Reading, Topic, and Assignment Schedule

(subject to change; in each class we will confirm what is coming up)






Course introduction

Puzzle(s) : [PA]: 1-1, 1-2

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: What is beauty? Why is it important? What is art?  What influences do these have on you?

Art, the Individual, and Society: Can Artworks Tell the Truth?


Plato: Republic, Excerpts from Book III (386-398b), and Book X (595-608b) [NR] 

Puzzle(s) : [PA]: 5-1, 5-14

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: Do the arts have the capacity to improve or worsen our character? Is censorship ever justified? What's Plato's "problem" with poets' influence on society? Was Plato advocating complete censorship? Why or why not?


Plato: Ion [NR]

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: What is the relation between art and knowledge? What about Plato's view of artistic inspiration seems accurate? Does it help explain his view on the role of art in society?


Nehamas, "Plato and the Mass Media" (online) 

Boorstin “Extending Experience” (online)

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: Does Nehamas help clarify and "evolve" Plato's position by relating poetry to television? What explains the power of some arts to engage us? Does TV shape our character? Does it pose a danger or benefit to our way of life?





Beardsley: "The Arts in the Life of Man" [NR] 

Puzzle(s) : [PA]: 2-4, 2-21

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: Must art be judged morally? Perhaps "art for art's sake" is a better view of art's role in society? Moralism, aestheticism or something else?


Class Agenda TBA


Art as Natural Process, Human Expression, or Consummatory Experience: How do we Experience Artworks?


Paper topics for paper 1 distributed in class

Tolstoy: Excerpts from "What is Art?" [NR]

Puzzle(s) : [PA]: 2-17, 3-34

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: Art's special purpose is the communication of emotion for the benefit of humanity. How does this happen? Do you agree with Tolstoy that art can accomplish this? That art should accomplish this?



Dewey, "The Live Creature" (online)

Suggested: Hildebrand on Dewey (online); selection from Thomas Alexander's John Dewey’s Theory of Art, Experience and Nature: The Horizons of Feeling (online, 183-198) (Stop just before section II)


Puzzle(s) : [PA]: 3-20 

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: Introduction to Dewey's idea of art as a natural and special kind of human experience. How does aesthetic experience arise out of more everyday experiences we have? Why is it useful to consider the natural world of "live creatures" to better understand the human, cultural phenomenon of art and the aesthetic?


Guest Lecture: Dr. Margaret Woodhull (specialist in Art History and Ancient Art) on the museum experience.

READING: Duncan, “Art Museum as Ritual” (online)


How do museums shape our expectations and experience of works of art? What role do museums play in setting our evaluations and interpretations of art?

Artworks and Defining Art: What is an Artwork?






Dewey, "The Live Creature" (online)

Suggested: Hildebrand on Dewey (online); selection from Thomas Alexander's John Dewey’s Theory of Art, Experience and Nature: The Horizons of Feeling (online, 183-198) (Stop just before section II)


Puzzle(s) : [PA]: 3-20 


Introduction to Dewey's idea of art as a natural and special kind of human experience. How does aesthetic experience arise out of more everyday experiences we have? Why is it useful to consider the natural world of "live creatures" to better understand the human, cultural phenomenon of art and the aesthetic?



"Art and Artworks" (Pp. 1-27) [PA] 

Puzzle(s) : [PA]: 1-17, etc. from Chapter 1


Collingwood: Excerpts from The Principles of Art. (read 117-134) [NR] 


Puzzle(s) : [PA]: 3-34

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: What is an artwork? Is it a thing, event, something else? After reading the introduction to the question focus on a puzzle which you find particularly interesting and sketch out some comments and questions about the issues raised by it. What is the difference between art and craft? Between art and amusement?







Collingwood: Excerpts from The Principles of Art. (read 117-153) [NR] 

Puzzle(s) : [PA]: 3-34



FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: What is the difference between art and craft? Between art and amusement? Theory #1: Art is the expression of emotion. So...how is the work of art the expression of emotion? In what sense is this emotion different from other emotions? How is the expression specially imaginative?



Bell: "The Aesthetic Hypothesis," from Art. [NR] 

Suggested: Nehamas, "Art, Interpretation, and the Rest of Life" (online)

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: Theory #2: Art requires significant form. Bell believes he's found what is essential to a work of art? What is it and do you agree with Bell?





Class Agenda TBA


Course midpoint

4 Short papers must be done by this point

Greenberg: "Modernist Painting." [NR]

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: Theory #3: Art is significant form particular to its medium. How does painting turn inward (self-reflective) as an art form, according to Greenberg? How does this extend or illustrate Bell's views on art?




Weitz: "The Role of Theory in Aesthetics." [NR] 


FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: No more theories! There can’t be a definition! Why does Weitz believe that there can NOT be an essential definition to art? 


Dickie: "The New Institutional Theory of Art." [NR]

Puzzle(s) [PA]: 6-15


FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: Theory #4: Museums make art, art. How do institutions of art (such as the art museum) make something a work of art, according to Dickie?


Danto: "The Artworld." [NR] 

Puzzle(s): [PA]: 6-16

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: Theory #5: An “artworld” makes art, art. What's the "artworld" according to Danto? How does it effect a difference between artworks and everyday things?

Taste & Beauty: Can you be right or wrong about what you call “BeautifuL”?


Korsmeyer: “Introduction” and “The Hierarchy of the Senses” from Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy (ONLINE)


FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: How have the different senses been ranked in philosophy and aesthetics over the years? What philosophical prejudices have lead to this and how has it affected how we view beauty and art?


Hume: "Of the Standard of Taste." [NR] 

Puzzle(s) : [PA]: 2-7

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: What is taste in art? Is it like gustatory taste? On what basis do we judge something as "beautiful" or "in good taste"? Are there “experts” in taste? If taste is an essentially subjective judgment, then what explains agreement in matters of taste?


Kant: "Analytic of the Beautiful." [NR]

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: Many believe that evaluations of things as "art" or "beautiful" are subjective. But Kant believed that such judgments possess objectivity. Why is this? What, in Kant's view, is psychological source of our sense of taste and beauty?



Kant: "Analytic of the Beautiful." [continued in NR]


Recommended: Edward Bullough, "Psychical Distance."[NR]

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: Kant, continued. Kant believed that judgments about beauty involved a kind of impartiality or distance from our desires and moral views. How does this work? In other words, what is “psychical distance”? How does it play a role in our perception of beauty?




Audiences and Critics:  How Does Interpretation Work and What Tests the Truth or Meaning of an Interpretation?


Wimsatt-Beardsley: "The Intentional Fallacy" [NR]


SUGGESTED: Read Almond, "Monstrous infants and vampyric mothers in Bram Stoker’s Dracula" (ONLINE) and then watch Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula.

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: How can we fix or limit our interpretations of artworks? In other words, can meaning, with all its subjective influences (time, place, personality, etc.), be understood as something not completely relative to audience response?


Simone Spinner, guest lecturer on the aesthetics of taste

Simone Spinner (Professor of Wine Studies, MSU, Denver)

Readings: TBA 

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: Exploration of questions of taste raised earlier in the course by Korsmeyer, Hume, and Kant. In particular, questions to be raised include, “Can wine be ‘beautiful’?” “How objective can our judgments about wine or food be--and why?” "Can wine--or any consumable thing--be 'art'?"


Barthes: "The Death of the Author" [NR] 

Puzzle(s) : [PA]: 5-12, 6-3

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: What is an author and what authority does she have in fixing or limiting our interpretation of artworks' meanings?



Paper topics for paper 2 distributed in class

Hirsch: "In Defense of the Author" [NR]

Puzzle(s) : [PA]: 6-6

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: The author is not "dead" and cannot be banished, according to Hirsch. Why do arguments against the authority of authors fail?


Fish: "Is There a Text in this Class?" [NR]

Puzzle(s) : [PA]: 6-3

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: Why does Fish think that it is contexts not intentions that establish the meaning(s) of an artwork? Is his view relativistic about what a work means?


Thanksgiving Break






Sontag, "Against Interpretation" [NR] 

Puzzle(s) : [PA]: 6-30

FOCAL THEME/QUESTION: Why is Sontag "against interpretation" of art? What other approach to a work of art could there be other than interpretation?


No class—After 1230: extended office hours/extra help


9 Final papers due:

DUE: (a) Art Engagement Journal, (b) Museum Essay, and (c) Final Exam Due by noon in Philosophy Department, Plaza M108, my mailbox.

Last updated Aug 10, 2014 06:34:AM