David L. Hildebrand, Ph.D., Philosophy

17 SPRING - PHIL 4220/5220-001 Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art


PHIL 4220/5220

Spring 2017 Tuesdays 5 -7:50 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:


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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 15 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

  1.  Participation/presentation 100 points 
  1.  Short Writings (8 total; 4 done by 3/7) 120 points (1st 4 due 3/7; remainder by 5/2)
  2. Exam #1 1250-1750 words  250 points (due in class, 3/7)
  3. Exam #2 : 300 points (due: 5/9, NOON)
  • grad students: 2500-3250 words 
  • undergrad students: 2000-2500 words 
  1. Art Engagement Journal 1000 words 115 points (due: 5/9, NOON)
  2. Museum Visit Essay 1500 words 115 points (due: 5/9, 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. Because each class is equal to a week of material, only one unexcused absence over the course of the semester is permitted without penalty. Each additional absence will lower your final course grade, approximately 60 points per absence. (E.g., having a total two unexcused absences would lower a cumulative 900 point course average by 60 points [because the first absence is “free”] to 840—effectively a reduction from an A- to a B — and then each additional absence would take 60 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.


(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 March 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: http://www.davidhildebrand.org/teaching/tips-hints/paper-how-write-short-critical-response-paper/
    • The first paragraph should state in 1-2 sentences a summary of what the paper is about.
    • You may only write one paper per class. 
    • 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: The syllabus schedule affords students approximately 5 hours to spend in museums looking at art and museums, themselves. 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 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, Tuesdays 2-4 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)


Readings & Assignments

[NR]: Neill and Ridley The Philosophy of Art; 

[PA]: Puzzles about Art

[Online]: online reading on Canvas

Topics and Key Question(s)


Art, the Individual, and Society: Can Artworks Tell the Truth? Should art have a moral purpose? If so, which purpose?



Course introduction

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

What is beauty? Why is it important? What is art?  What influences do these have on you?


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

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

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]

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?


Review of Plato;

Nehamas, "Plato and the Mass Media" (online

Boorstin “Extending Experience” (online)

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

Does Plato have a point about art’s moral power — for good or ill? Should art be judged morally? Here’s some help for Plato. 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] 

Beardsley: perhaps "art for art's sake" is a better view of art's role in society? How should we approach art as a cultural phenomenon: via moralism, aestheticism or something else?


Art: Expressing Emotion, Creating Experience 



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

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


Tolstoy argues that 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 and even should accomplish this?


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

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

Collingwood also believes that art is unique (different from craft, amusements, etc.) and also concerned with communicating emotion. 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? How is Collingwood’s theory different from Tolstoy’s?


Dewey, "The Live Creature" (online)

Puzzle(s) : [PA]: 3-20 

Dewey's idea of art is broader and, I’d argue, deeper, than Collingwood or Tolstoy’s. Art is productive of both a natural and special kind of human experience — aesthetic 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?


Dewey, "Having An Experience" [NR]


Suggested: (a) Hildebrand on Dewey (online); (b) selection from Thomas Alexander's John Dewey’s Theory of Art, Experience and Nature: The Horizons of Feeling (online, 183-213)

What makes something "an experience" for Dewey and what is the relation between this special case of experience and art?


Artworks and Defining Art: What or When is an Artwork?




Paper topics for Exam 1 distributed in class

DEFINING ART: Essentialist Attempts:


"Art and Artworks" (Pp. 1-27) [PA] 

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

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?


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

Bell’s theory: 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?


Greenberg: "Modernist Painting." [NR]

Greenberg’s theory: 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?


DEFINING ART: Anti-essentialist Rebuttals

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


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


Goodman: “Art as Exemplification” [online]

Goodman’s anti-formalist thesis is we cannot define “what” art is but should ask, rather, when it is. In other words, we need to see how it is being employed or used, to understand its functions. That is how we can recognize instances of “art.”





Exam 1 due in class

DEFINING ART: Broadening the parameters to include the “art world.”

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

Puzzle(s) [PA]: 6-15


Dickie’s theory: 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

Suggested: Margolis, “The Importance of Being Earnest about the Definition and Metaphysics of Art” (online; on Weitz, Danto, Dickie, and more)


Danto’s theory: An “artworld” makes art, art. What's the "artworld" according to Danto? How does it effect a difference between artworks and everyday things?




DEFINING ART: Art as Imaginative Creations


Art as Make-Believe: Kendall Walton [online]

John Dewey: Art and Civilization [NR]

For both Walton and Dewey, the key to understanding art is to see it in terms of play and imagination. How does imagination figure in each theorist’s account of art?





DEFINING ART: As Cultural Production 


(a) Benjamin: Introduction to Benjamin [Wartenberg, online] 

(b)  “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” [online]

(c) Adorno: Art as Liberatory [Wartenberg, online]

Both Benjamin and Adorno were figures in the Frankfurt School, and they argued that the arts cannot be understood apart from the cultural, technological, and economic systems that surround them. Thus, analysis of “art” pulls us into much wider analyses of the cultural systems in which we live — and, often, suffer.





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


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

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]

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? In addition, 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?


Schopenhauer: “Art as Revelation” [online]

Schopenhauer operates from similar premises as Kant, but lays a special stress upon the sublime. What is the sublime and why does Schopenhauer think it significant?





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


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?


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

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

Attack on the very idea of the “author.” Barthes asks: What is an author and what authority does she have in fixing or limiting our interpretation of artworks' meanings?


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

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

Strong defense of the idea of an author. Hirsch asserts: 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

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?





Sontag, "Against Interpretation" [NR] 

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



A jeremiad against interpretation — not against its existence, but against what it does to art. Why is Sontag "against interpretation" of art? What other approach to a work of art could there be other than interpretation?


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


Last updated Jan 09, 2017 06:57:AM