Philosophy 280: Aesthetics
Chapter 1: Fisher, Weitz, Gans, Hume
Midterm Exam Study Questions, Fall 2004
- What are clear cut examples of art? What are some clear cut examples of non-art? What are some types of activities that there is
likely to be widespread disagreement about whether or not they are art? What are some examples of art forms that Fisher claims
are just beginning to be included in the category of art?
- What are necessary and sufficient conditions? Give examples.
- Give an example of something that clearly has an essence and say what that essence is. Explain what it means to deny that art has
- Does Morris Weitz believe that there is an essence to art, that is, something that all and only art works share in common? If so,
what does he think it is? If not, how does he explain our ability to use the concept of art and our ability to distinguish art from
- Explain the idea that examples of art are tied together by family resemblances even though there are no common properties that all
and only artworks share.
- What is a paradigm case and how might this concept explain our ability to apply the concept of art? What are paradigm cases of
- Evaluate the following claim Fisher makes: Most art (1) is an artifact, (2) requires human skill, (3) involves creative activity, (4) is
embodied in a sensory medium, and (5) has an intended audience who assumes a special (aesthetic) attitude toward the artwork (6)
has a universal quality and allows for multiple exposures that don't diminish its interest to audience.
- Explain Fisher's response to the following claims about defining art and evaluate them from your own perspective: This is art if I
think it is (private definitions of art). Only artists have the right to determine what art is.
- As powerfully as you can, explain Herbert Gans' criticism that art is an elitist concept. In what way is Gans defending popular
culture? Evaluate Gans' views on these matters, from your own perspective. In what way is Gans a relativist about art?
- Explain and evaluate the following: "The 'art' of popular culture ("low art") embodies the values of escapism, mass production,
marketing, artistic anonymity, and audience domination. Traditional art ('high art') embodies the values of originality and
uniqueness, artistic freedom of expression, sophistication, and knowledge of the history of an art form. Both sets of values are just
- Evaluate: The Beetles as good as Beethoven.
- Evaluate the claim that all good art "must please the sensibilities of its audience." Can good art shock and disgust its audience?
Must all positive aesthetic qualities please the audience? Might one fail to find a work of art "pleasing" and yet still judge it as
- Fisher distinguishes between the description, interpretation, and evaluation of art. Using examples, explain the differences
between these three tasks of art criticism.
- Does it follow from the claim that art works do not have only one correct interpretation that any interpretation is as good as any
other? Why or why not?
- Explain and evaluate the "egalitarian view of art evaluation."
- Thought question: Does the fact that we often passionately disagree about the interpretation (and evaluation) of art undermine the
idea that the interpretation and evaluation of art is a merely subjective affair? Why or why not?
- Using examples, explain the distinction between primary and secondary qualities.
- Explain and then evaluate Hume's idea that aesthetic qualities are like secondary qualities.
- Does Hume believe that beauty is a mind-independent property of art objects that we judge to be of high quality?
- How does Hume provide an answer to the following question: If, unlike scientific judgment, artistic evaluation is not about facts in
the world, how can such evaluation/judgment be more than mere subjective/relative pronouncements with no better or worse?
- Does Hume accept the universality of aesthetic judgments? If not, why not? If so, how does he explain the divergence in aesthetic
responses people have to artworks?
Chapter 3: Aesthetic Value
- Explain and distinguish between historical value, functional value, and aesthetic value.
- What does Fisher mean by art-historical value? Does he think a work of art might be famous, influential and original and still lack
aesthetic value? Why or why not?
- Given an example of a functional value of art and explain how art's functional value may change over time even while it continues
to be aesthetically appreciated.
- Explain and evaluate Fisher's claim that aesthetic value of art is value the artwork has in-itself and that such value is must be
based on direct experience of the work of art itself.
- Why does Bentham say, "prejudice aside, pushpin is of equal value as music and poetry?" What is Bentham's account of aesthetic
value. Is this an acceptable account from your perspective?
- State and evaluate Putnam's view of the value of art.
Chapter 8: Art and Entertainment
- Explain and evaluate the view that sees art as a kind of entertainment.
- What is Fisher's evaluation of this view? How does Fisher uses a piece of music written by Mozart to illustrate his worry about
equating art and entertainment.
Chapter 2: Fisher, Tolstoy, Public Subsidies for Art
- Explain Fisher's claim that art's high value is an unquestioned and unexplained assumption. Is Fisher right about this? Do you
believe that art has extremely high value? Why or why not?
- Give a plausible example of how the high status of art is used to justify immoral activity on the part of artists.
- Fisher argues that the value of the results of art should be roughly comparable in importance to the value of the resources used in
creating art. Explain what this means. Do you think he is right?
- As powerfully as you can, explain Tolstoy's criticism of (or challenge concerning) art in "What is Art?" Describe some of what
Tolstoy sees as the costs of art. Respond from your own perspective to Tolstoy's criticism/challenge.
- Explain the "business model" of art where art is seen as an "entertainment business" (e.g., like sports and other leisure activities).
Explain why Fisher believes that Tolstoy's challenge to art can't be answered by looking at art as an "entertainment business,"
justified as are other entertainment/leisure activities by the free choice of the participants.
- What is a public good? Give examples. Is art a public good? Why or why not?
- According to Fisher, who are the main subsidizers of art?
- In what way is art publically subsidized in our culture? Present the strongest argument you can against the public subsidizing of
art. Present the strongest argument in favor of such subsidies. Do you believe art should be publicly subsidized? Why or why not?
- If the value of art is fundamentally in the pleasure it produces for audiences, can one justify public funding for the production of
art? Why might one think one cannot? On this conception of art's value, could one justify much Avant Garde art? Why or why
- What is "commercial art?" Is it important for artists to have the freedom to pursue "non-commercial art?"
- Do you believe that the public art grants should be awarded without political considerations being used to evaluate their
worthiness? Why or why not?
- What is public art? Describe the controversy surrounding Richard Serra's "Tilted Arc." Why is public art more controversial than
other kinds of public subsidies of art?
Chapter 4: Art and Morality, Wilde, and Gass
- What are "earthworks?" Give some examples. What are some criticism of such art and do they have any merit?
- Do you think artists have any moral rights to control what happens to their art even after they have sold it? What are some
examples of controversies about the treatment of art that raise this issue?
- What are some examples of recent "censorship" of art in this country? Is withholding public subsidy for controversial art a kind of
censorship? Explain the arguments on both sides of that issue. Do you favor censorship of any type of art? Are you in favor of
there being no legal limits on artistic freedom? Explain why or why not?. Do you favor censorship of pornography and/or
- Explain the distinction between legal censorship and moral censure. Can one oppose legal censorship of art and yet favor moral
censure of it?
- Explain and evaluate some of the objections that have been raised about wildlife photography.
- Explain the choice Winston Churchill made for art over morality. Do you agree with his decision? Why or why not?
- Can art be blasphemous? What are some artworks that are plausibly considered to be blasphemous? Are they? May art be
suppressed because it is blasphemous? Could blasphemous art be high quality art?
- Explain the moral criticism that some have leveled at the music of Wagner. Is this criticism justified? Is the banning of Wagner's
music in certain places justified?
- Discuss the relationships between art and morality. Is art morally neutral? Do artists have special moral obligations? Are artists
and art above morality (and the law)?
- What is nihilism? How does nihilism resolve the dispute between art and morality.
- Describe Oscar Wilde's views on the relation of art and morality. Does he think that the subject matter of art is ever positively or
negatively charged? Does he think it is ever appropriate to morally evaluate works of art? Does he believe artists should take a
moral point of view in their art, or that artists ought to try to make positive moral contributions to culture and society? What do
you think about these issues? Do you agree with Wilde?
- Explain and give an example: The morality of what art is about is not the morality of the art.
- Some claim that art is like technology in being morally neutral and only the uses to which it is put are morally assessable. Explain
and evaluate this claim.
- Do you believe that it is possible for an immoral act to no longer be immoral when it is performed as art? What are some examples
where the artists involved might accept this claim?
- Do you believe it ever makes sense to morally evaluate works of art? To morally evaluate the artist who created a work of art? To
morally evaluate the audience's response to art?
- Explain the issue about whether the morality of art is relevant to its quality and how this is different from the question of whether it
is ever appropriate to morally criticize art.
- Using an example, explain the following position: It makes sense to morally evaluate art, but such evaluation has nothing to do
with the quality of the art. Is this a coherent position? Do you accept it? Why or why not?
- Can a great work of art express repugnant moral ideals? What does William Gass think about this? What does Fisher think about
this? Do you agree with either Gass or Fisher?
- Use Gass' dinner with the Nazi example to help explain his views about the relation between the morality of art and art's aesthetic
quality. Is this a fair analogy?
- What is Fisher's argument to show that the morality of a work of art can negatively affect its quality?
- What is Noel Carroll's argument to show that the morality of a work of art can negatively affect its quality?
- How do Oscar Wilde and William Gass differ on the question of the relation of art to morality?
- Is a joke less funny because it is immoral? Is this the same type of question as whether a work of art loses some quality because it
Ch. 5, Avant-Garde Art, Dickie's institutional theory of art
- Describe sculptor Tom Otterneff's "Shoot Dog Film." As best you can, defend this as a work of art.
- How does the work of Photographer Spencer Tunick (mass nude pictures) illustrate the notion that artists have special rights?
- Describe in some detail the work of Marcel Duchamp. What values of traditional art has his work questioned?
- What is "conceptual art?" Give some examples.
- Can a person be a work of art? Describe a work of Ben Vautier that explores this issue.
- Describe some of the art of Carl Andre and explain how calls into question traditional artistic values?
- Describe some of the artwork of body/performance artist Chris Burden. Are his performances art? Why or why not?
- Describe one piece of the composer John Cage.
- Describe some examples of avant-garde art that attempt to undermine the distinction between art and life.
- Describe some of the work of the conceptual artist Tehching Hsieh. In particular, describe the work "Roped: Art-Life one year
performance 1983-1984." Evaluate this piece. Is it interesting? What sorts of things was Hsieh trying to do with this piece? Do
you think this should count as art? Do you think it should count as good art?
- Is Jonathan Yegge's sexually explicit art piece at the Art Institute of San Francisco bad art or not art at all?
- Define and describe some of the goals that Fisher attributes to avant-garde art. What are some criticisms of or worries that pertain
to such art?
- Why is it paradoxical to criticize avant-garde art for being ugly, repulsive, confusing, or pointless?
- Make a list of ten conventional artistic values that avant-garde art tries to call into question and illustrate these ten with examples
of the work of avant-garde artists\
- What does George Dickie think about the following argument? Since you can't define (or find a common essence to all) plays, or
novels, or dances, etc., it follows that art can't be defined.
- Dickie claims that people have been looking in the wrong place for a common property to all art. Where have they been looking
according to Dickie and where does he suggest they should be looking?
- State and explain Dickie's institutional theory of art. How does his theory explain how Marcel Duchamp's ready-mades can be
- Use Dickie's example of an object placed either in Chicago's Field Natural History museum or in the Chicago Art Institute to
illustrate his institutional theory of art.
- How does Dickie respond to the objections to his theory that some artworks are never appreciated and that some are never
- On Dickie's view, must artists be the ones who confer the status of candidate for appreciation on their artwork? Why or why not?
Can artists confer this status?
- According to Dickie, how is being an artwork like being married through common law?
- According to the institutional theory of art could a piece of driftwood be an artwork? Why or why not?
- How would the institutional theory of art deal with the apparent paradox of numerically distinct but qualitatively identical piles of
bricks being art when they are created by an artist and placed in a museum, but not when they are created by a bricklayer's helper
and placed on a construction site?
- How might Dickie respond to the criticism that the institutional theory of art embraces a subjectivist view of art according to which
if someone believes that something is art that makes it art.
- According to Dickie, are there objects that are appreciated but are not art? Is this a problem for his theory?
- Does Dickie believe that there is a relationship between something being art and it having positive aesthetic value?
Chapter 9: Art as Representation
- Give examples of artworks that are plausibly seen as representational and some that are not plausibility seen as representational.
- Must representations of beautiful objects be beautiful? Why or why not? Discuss.
- Using examples, explain how the notion of progress in the visual arts depends on the notion that such art is should be
representational in a realistic sense.
- How might someone argue that colored movies with sound are intrinsically better movies than black and white movies without
sound? Or that photography is an improvement over painting. Assess these claims
- Must all art represent? Must everything that represents be art? Use examples in your response and describe Fisher's views on
- What are the three mechanisms of representation that Fisher considers? Explain how they work.
- Why does Fisher think that representation understood as imitation/resemblance does not explain how literature represents? Assess
- Why does Fisher think that representation understood as imitation/resemblance does not even explain pictorial representation?
What are some of the problems he raises to make his point here?
- Explain the idea that some representation depends on convention and not resemblance.
- Explain the reasons for and against the idea that representation in art is determined by the artist's intention.
- Discuss Plato's criticism of art (that art conveys no knowledge and that it unfortunately stirs up our emotions). How does Aristotle
respond to these criticism (according to Fisher)?
- What is Aristotle's catharsis account of the emotions involved in appreciating art.
- Can emotions convey insight, knowledge?
- If a work of art has content, meaning, purpose and point and if there is something it is about, does that mean it is representational
in an important sense? What does Fisher think about this?
Chap 10: Formalism
- Explain the idea of those who claim that art is (or should be) an autonomous realm.
- Explain the ideas behind the slogan "art for art's sake."
- Does viewing art as representational compromise the autonomy of art?
- Does a formalist interpretation of art compromise the autonomy of art?
- Does a commitment to art's autonomy lead one to formalism? Why or why not?
- Discuss the distinction between form and content of an artwork. Give examples in which the same form holds two different
contents and where the same content is embodied in two different forms. Why is Fisher skeptical about the independence of form
- Define formalism as a philosophy of art. According to formalism what roles do representation, expression, and form play in an
artwork, understood as art?
- According to Clive Bell's version of formalism, art provokes aesthetic emotions. How are aesthetic emotions different from "the
emotions of life?" According to Bell, what about an artwork provokes aesthetic emotion?
- Why does Bell think that formalism (unlike the representational and expressive theories of art) explains how great art appeals to
viewers in widely divergent cultures?
- Why does Bell think that the best observes don't understand the subject matter/content of artworks?
- How does Fisher use Francesca's Flagellation of Christ (p. 254) to criticize formalism?
- What is "media formalism?"
Chap 11: Expression Theory
- Explain the expression theory of art. What makes something art according to this theory?
- How might the institutional theory of art and the expression theory of art disagree on whether or not something is art?
- State and then explain Tolstoy's "causal-communication" theory of art as expression. What are its three key features? Discuss
problems with each of these.
- What would Tolstoy's theory of art say about the following example? Dana is angry at his friend Tony, so he slaps Tony in the
face in order to make him angry.
- According to Tolstoy, what is required for an artwork to be successful?
- In what way is Tolstoy's theory of art egalitarian and anti-elitist?
- Does Tolstoy accept the traditional masterpieces of art (e.g., the works of Shakespeare and Bach) as genuine art? Why or why not?
- Does Tolstoy's expression theory of art view an artwork as of intrinsic value or merely of instrumental value? Explain.
- According to Tolstoy, how is art similar to and different from speech?
- Explain the expressive property theory of art. How, if at all, are emotions of the audience or the artist relevant to this theory?
- Using examples, explain how the similarity theory accounts for art's expressive properties.
- Fisher raises two objections to the similarity theory of the expressive properties of art, both of which use the contrast between art
and nature. Explain these objections and evaluate them from your own perspective.
- What point is Collingwood making when he criticizes Tolstoy's theory of art as promoting "psychological craft" rather than the
expression of emotions?
- Explain Collingwood's "formulation theory of expression."
- What are "negative emotions"? What is the problem of negative emotions? How might one solve this problem?
- How could a formalist like Bell respond to the problem of negative emotions?