Conversation starters, responses, and follow-up discussion about what you’ve read, seen, and heard. See Writing Prompts for how to begin.

Frank Sibley, “Aesthetic concepts”

On Thursday, November 21st, we’ll discuss:

  1. Frank Sibley, “Aesthetic concepts” and
  2. Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) and 5 Pointz

N.B. ALL students must post comments on the Sibley piece; you can reply to this post for that purpose.


Why Women Aren’t Funny!

This is the article by Christoper Hitchens that I was talking about: It is the same title.

It was published in The Vanity Fair magazine on January,2007. Some female comedians came together and responded to the article with another article on the same magazine called “Who Says Women Aren’t Funny?” This is that article:

After that, Christopher Hitchens responded back with a video titled, “Why Women Still Aren’t Funny.” This is the video:

Tell me what you think?

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Linda Nochlin, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”

On Tuesday, November 19th, we’ll discuss

  • John Berger, Ways of Seeing, pages 83-155;
  • Linda Nochlin, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”; and
  • Gould, pages 137-155.

N.B. ALL students must post comments on the Nochlin piece; you can reply to this post for that purpose.


Frances Berenson, “Understanding Art and Understanding Persons”

On Thursday, November 7th, we’ll discuss Frances Berenson, “Understanding Art and Understanding Persons” and Peter Schjeldahl, “Shapes of Things.”

N.B. ALL students must post comments on the Berenson reading; you can reply to this post for that purpose.


Sleeping Beauty illustrations

To accompany your Sleeping Beauty readings and marionette performance, here are some illustrations produced by the renowned illustrator Gustave Doré for the 1867 edition of Charles Perrault’s fairy tales:

La Belle au Bois Dormant - first of six engravings by Gustave Doré

La Belle au Bois Dormant - third of six engravings by Gustave Doré

La Belle au Bois Dormant - second of six engravings by Gustave Doré

La Belle au Bois Dormant - fourth of six engravings by Gustave Doré

La Belle au Bois Dormant - fifth of six engravings by Gustave Doré

La Belle au Bois Dormant - Sixth of six engravings by Gustave Doré


All images by Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Nose

Think about the opera as an adaptation of the story — Shostakovich not only translated from text to music to the stage, but also shifted the political context from the czarist bureaucracy to the early Communist period. What does that help you see?


Walter Benjamin

We’d like you to do something a little different for this reading, which we’ll discuss in class on Thursday, 10/31. Instead of posting questions online, post your comments and reactions before class – say, by Tuesday 10/29 – and read what your peers have written.

Then, come in to class with questions on which you’d like our discussion to focus.

You can find the reading, titled “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in the packet with Kramer’s “Classical Music and its Values.”


10/10 – Copland revisited, Kivy, and some more Sparshott

Week Seven continues with these texts, all of which you should now have:

  • “The Gifted Listener” from Music and Imagination, Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 1952, pp. 7-20.
  • Peter Kivy, The Corded Shell: Reflections on Musical Expression. Princeton University Press, 1980.  (selected chapters).
  • Francis Sparshott, “Aesthetics of Music—Limits and Grounds” (Parts 2 & 3,  pp. 51-98)

Because this is a heavy reading week, you get to decide whether to respond to these texts or those for Tuesday, which are in another post. Technically speaking, I believe groups 2 and 4 are responsible for kicking off the conversation this week by posting questions (in either place) — but if you have ideas or thoughts that you’re ready to post, don’t let the technicalities stop you!

See you in one place or the other,


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10/8 – Copland, Kramer, Sparshott

Coming up on Tuesday, October 8th, a discussion of “Fall for Dance” and Gould pp. 137-157 will be informed by your questions and comments on the following pieces:

  • Aaron Copland, What to Listen for in Music, Chapters 1-3;
  • Lawrence Kramer, “Classical Music and Its Values”
  • Francis Sparshott, “Aesthetics of Music—Limits and Grounds” (Part 1, pp. 33-49)

Because this is a heavy reading week, you get to decide whether to respond to these texts or those for Thursday, which will be in another post. Technically speaking, I believe groups 2 and 4 are responsible for kicking off the conversation by posting questions (in either place) this week — but if you have ideas or thoughts that you’re ready to post, don’t let the technicalities stop you!

See you in one place or the other,



Can you tell the difference between modern and toddler art?

Take this fun little quiz to find out!



The High Cost of Cheap Art

In Raymond Williams’s piece “Culture is ordinary,” he writes :


But why, says Sir George Mammon, should I support a lot of doubtful artists? Why, says Mrs. Mink, should I pay good money to educate, at my expense, a lot of irresponsible and ungrateful State scholars? The answer, dear sir, dear madam, is that you don’t. On your own – learn your size- you could do practically nothing. We are talking about a method of common payment, for common services; we too shall be paying. (p. 90)



How does Raymond Williams consider art to be something that is for the common good? Is art a “common service” that should be paid for with a “method of common payment”? Should every artist that creates art be sponsored? Who should decide what art is worth public funding?


9/26 – Tolstoy

The reading for Thursday, September 26th is “What is Art” by Tolstoy.

Reply to this post with your comments and questions! Groups 1 and 3 are in the lead this week, so please do write in early.


9/24 – Williams and Cortazar consolidated

Hi, all! For Tuesday, September 24th, the assigned readings are these:

  • Gould, How to Succeed in College, pp. 74-105.
  • Herbert Read, “A Definition of Art”
  • Raymond Williams, “Culture is Ordinary”
  • Julio Cortazar, “On Receiving the Ruben Dario Award”

Since some of you have already posted about Williams and Cortazar, I thought it might help to combine those posts here — both in preparation for Tuesday’s discussion, and as a model for Thursday’s.

Please feel free to add comments and questions here! To create a new thread, use the box at the bottom; to respond to individual comments, just click one of the “reply” links instead.


Is Culture a connotation of privilege and elitism?

       In “On receiving the Ruben Dario Award” Julio Cortazar states that “Culture here (Nicaragua) does not have the usual connotations of privilege and elitism which it has on so many circles” and because Culture is integrated into the everyday vocabulary of the people, the masses are more interested in the affairs of their country and are able to “understand complicated speeches and appreciate art.” Do you agree that culture has a connotation of elitism and elegance? If so, does stripping it of its connotations and integrating it into our everyday vocabulary help us attain a state of mind where we strive to learn and grow as a person?

Williams states that Leavis thought that the industrial society has deliberately cheapened our natural resources whereas, William argues that any aspect of culture that denies the value of an industrial society is really irrelevant. Do you agree with Leavis teachings that traditional culture has been degraded due to the industrial society or with Williams that industrial society has given people more real freedom to dispose of our lives?

Raymond Williams felt oppressed by a teashop in Cambridge because the people there insisted that culture is the difference of behavior and speech habit, and showed that they had culture.  Both the authors of  “Culture is ordinary” and “On receiving the Ruben Dario Award” disagree that culture is limited to a certain number of “educated” people and that culture is an intellectual attainment. In your opinion does a person have to be educated to be cultured?

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The Name of This Post is Secret

“Culture is Ordinary” by Raymond Williams argues (like the title states) that culture and the arts are not only found in the teashop of “cultivated” people but also in the lives of ordinary people.

1)   These “cultivated” people use their positions as the “educated” to remove art and culture away from the masses. Almost like the masses are uneducated and cannot benefit from the art. Williams asks how and why some “call certain things culture and then separate them from ordinary people?” Can anyone benefit from art or do you need to have some education in art to truly enjoy it?

2)   “So when the Marxists say that we live in a dying culture, and that the masses are ignorant, I have to ask them where on earth they have lived.” With which side do you agree more: with the Marxist who believe that culture is fading and the masses are uneducated or Williams?

3)   What is education? “The Times sell nearly three times as many copies as in the days of its virtual monopoly of the press.” Is reading a newspaper truly the way in which people learn?

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“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

In the article “The Beautiful and the Ugly are One Thing, the Sublime Another; A Reflection on Culture,” Diamond begins to describe the fine line between the definitions of “beauty,” “ugly,” and the “sublime.” He states that “what is beautiful today may be an embarrassment tomorrow,” so does that give beauty a true meaning, much like the inconspicuous meaning of art?

Diamond then links the meaning of the “sublime” to culture, giving examples such as language and food, but how does one’s culture help them to reach a state of “sublime-ness?” It can be inferred that from living in one culture for an extended period of time, the small things that seem to amaze people from outside that culture seem mundane and ordinary to the people living in it, but do those differences between cultures define art, or do they simply add a new dimension to the already multivalent meaning? Is being amazed by these differences define the achievement of the “sublime?”

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Applications to culture as we know it

In Raymond Williams’ “Culture is Ordinary,” he discusses first what he believes culture entails. He then goes on to take issue with Marxism and Leavis’ teachings, two ideologies that he says deeply impressed him, before clearing four significant misconceptions on what culture is. All the while, he maintains a ground truth that all of his arguments come back to: culture is ordinary.

1) Williams describes himself as coming from a farming valley that he believes is part of an “old society,” in which there is a deeply rooted sense of community and in which money was often a limiting factor, such that few in his family could pursue a formal education because few could spare the “immediate work.” Williams states that he was never “oppressed” by his university, Cambridge. He never felt as if he came from a different world; he was never mentally or emotionally isolated by a supposed sense of grandeur. However, he describes a tea shop in which he did feel a sense of unwelcoming and dissimilarity. The inhabitants “had [culture,] and they showed you they had it.” Have you ever found yourself in a setting with a similar atmosphere in New York, or anywhere else? If so, where?

2) Williams states that Leavis taught that traditional culture has been superseded by an industrial state which “deliberately cheapen[s] our natural human responses.” This contradicts with Anderson’s belief that art can be found everywhere, including modern-day technology and water fluoridation. With whom do you agree? Has industrialization conquered art and literature, or has it simply given them a new medium?

3) Williams wishes for three things to improve overall culture and society, one of which is added provision for the arts and education. One of the conditions he asks this on is that in implementing these funds, there be no underlying motive for increasing consumption or state revenue. One must ask himself: is this probable or practical? Looking back to the issue of the Barnes exhibit, is it possible to spend money on art for the sake of the art, or will there always be an underlying motive of earnings?

4) In “On Receiving the Rubén Darío Award,” Julio Cortázar describes culture in Nicaragua, the country from which he received his award. He portrays the culture as the exact opposite of that in Williams’ tea shop: it is that of the ordinary man, with no restrictions and complete freedom to whatever one feels or wishes to portray. On which end of the spectrum would you place the culture of New York, or of America as a whole? Why?

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Art: Beyond the Experience of the Individual and it Role in Society

“Art and Civilization” by John Dewey

In this this chapter author John Dewey attempts to delineate the role of art beyond the experience of the individual, its influence on culture and its contribution to “civilization”. He writes, “Art is often distrusted because of its roots in imaginative creativity. A civilization’s art and culture is construed broadly in terms of its morals.” Hence, what Dewey really means to say is that art cannot be used as a source in the study of civilizations because of its inclinency to portray the author’s personal his or her own opinions and their understanding of morals.

  • My question to you is whether or not art can be considered a great resource in one’s intellectual arsenal to understand a civilization and its culture?
  • Or is it a deterring source, on which we cannot rely because of its strictly individualistic understanding of the civilization?

Author Dewey referred to Shelley’s theory that moral science only “arranges elements that poetry has created.” He also furthers his point by saying that “’intellectual’ products formulate the tendencies of these arts and provide them with an intellectual base.”

  • The question that follows this thought is to what extents do intellectual thoughts and theories influence art?
  • Is art intellectual or, in theory, an expression of the emotions of the artist and subject?
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What Really Is Art?

In American Muse, Chapter 1, Anderson puts forth the notion that “there is an enormous amount of art in America today — far more than is generally recognized by most people, scholar and nonspecialist alike.” He goes on to define art as “being made by humans whose elevated intellectual, creative, or bodily skills are recognized by others in their group; of being imaginatively created in an immediately, and directly sensuous, public medium.” If one applies Anderson’s definition of art to the music, paintings, sculptures, and other works that have been created in modern times by Americans, one can say that Anderson’s argument that art is alive and well in America is quite valid. However, do you believe that Anderson’s definition of art is flawed, and if so, how would you define art?

Anderson focuses on the descriptive rather than the evaluative usage of the word art throughout American Muse. However, most people who look at art make statements such as, “Oh, that’s a beautiful painting” or “That doesn’t look lifelike enough.” Is it wrong to make such evaluative statements about art? Is there such thing as “good art” or “bad art?”

Dewey asserts that “art is a mode of prediction not found in charts and statistics, and it insinuates possibilities of human relations not to be found in rule and precept, admonition and administration.” However, Anderson appears to downplay this by assuming that “art and aesthetics in America have an objective reality, one that can be empirically studied.” Can one’s reaction to art be studied quantitatively, or is art something that cannot be explained in numbers?


Specialization of What Art Means to People

Richard L. Anderson paints a very rich, thorough, and descriptive picture of the word art in the perspectives of three ancient civilizations, a few 20th century philosophers and the general public throughout the centuries. There is a sense that art means differently in terms of culture to the ancient peoples of the Australian aboriginal, the Navajos, and the Yorubas in contrast with the more contemporary general public. Of course, the views of the ancient people on art, from what I gathered in “American Muse”, are drawn from their day-to-day life experience as well as their surrounding environment while the public’s or our opinion on art is guided by the thoughts of the philosophers. It is interesting to see the Navajos perceiving art as pervading every insignificant details of their lives demonstrated by the Navajo prayer that Anderson referenced to in the text. The Yoruba connects art with their culture “in sustaining fundamental beliefs and values” and of which the concept of harmony is included in daily living. The Australian Aboriginal simply uses art as a means of education, of growing up, and possibly religion (from the mentioning of rituals). Their views of art are in many ways simple and practical when compared to how we see art. Anderson refers to the centuries in which mankind has changed his view of art from art being “the exceptional skills associated with painting, drawing, engraving, and sculpture” in the 17th century through the 19th century to a whole abstract array of art in the 20th century and on.

1) Why is our perception of art always changing and complex in contrast to the understandable meaning art held for people of the ancient civilizations?

Anderson refers to the strategy of philosopher Morris Weitz in defining art in the majority of Chapter 1’s content. According to Weitz, a gray area exists, between what he deems as art and nonart, “to the degree that they possess the recognition criteria that characterizes artworks”, 2) how much do you agree with this statement? Similarly, most of us were left in a debate on Tuesday over whether a sketch of a person by a local Indian artist (who is conspicuously doing sketches for a living) should be deemed as art. Some of us feel that art is black and white, others maybe not. What are your thoughts?

In Chapter 2, Anderson takes us into the homes of three friends in a five minute video interview regarding the role art plays in their lives. Anderson’s wife, Kim, owns a home adorned by plentiful traces of art in a whole range of varieties. From the house’s exterior architecture, to its interior design, to paintings, furnitures, Kim’s attire, and etc, art can be clearly detected implicitly in Kim’s knowledge. Carmen, an elderly Mexican woman, doesn’t see art in her home in contrast to Kim. However Anderson convincingly defends this by remarking hints of art in the interior architectural features, to the furnitures, to the ceramic plaques, and more, all of which Carmen feels is not art to her as her definition of art is restricted to fine arts. Lastly, we are brought to Dick, the passionate auto-repair man, who conveys art in a down-to-earth manner through the sense of a car aficionado. Art is captured simply in his work environment, in the clothing, in the Volvo logo, graphic designs on his business cards, and more. Through Anderson’s eyes, we come to see how these three individuals understand and convey art. 3)With whom do you identify yourself in the notion as to which particular person’s perception of art does your definition of art fits closely in?

In many ways, art can vary between groups of people due to their occupation, philosophy, and ultimately, culture. Anderson’s project interview supports this namely in his interviewees’ designs and physical portrayals of their homes.

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Are these statements true? What is the significance of this?

In “Art and Civilization”, John Dewey says “the first stirrings of dissatisfaction and the first intimations of a better future are always found in works of art.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?

But art, wherein man speaks in no wise to man,

Only to mankind– art may tell a truth

Obliquely, do the deed shall breed the thought

What is the significance and/or meaning of this quote? Why might Dewey have chosen to conclude this way?

Given Richard L. Anderson’s various examples, such as the Navajo and Yoruba peoples, do you agree with his assertion that “art is an absolute necessity”? Why or why not?




Education of Art, Morality and Viewing Western Civilization through the Eyes of Somebody Out of It.

1. Dewey concludes that education is too literal and excludes imagination. For this reason, he rejects teaching of art and implies that art should be understood and appreciated through the imaginative eye affected by human emotions and desires. Do you think he is right? If not, why not? Was taking all those art classes in high school a waste of time?

2. Art is the represent of a time, a civilization and a collective experience. Art is also imaginative and thus, the projector of what a civilization could be. Considering this, should art conform to existing moral system or try to set up a better one?

3.  How would the Navajos and the people of Yoruba view the western civilization today? Would they view us as full of art as Anderson suggests? Dewey said that even technology is art as they “determine direction of interests and attention, and hence affect desire and purpose”. Would the Navajos and people of Yoruba think so, considering the status art is given in their society?

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Moving The Barnes: Albert and The Art Experience vs. The Masses

In The Art Of The Steal, the economic impact of the Barnes Collection relocation was projected to be the equivalent of “three Super Bowls, without the beer”, benefiting the masses and injecting money into the city. However, this is exactly what Barnes and his immediate cohorts did not want this collection to become. Do you think that the Barnes Collection should be exhibited in the public and economic interest contrary to Barnes’ intentions, or should the will of but one man and his followers be respected?

Martin Filler portrays Albert Barnes as an “incompetent, out-of-control relative” in Victory! and compares the movement of the Barnes to a “desperate family’s intervention aimed at saving a shared inheritance from being irrevocably squandered.” Based on what we know about Albert Barnes in this reading, Moving Pictures, and The Art Of The Steal, is Filler’s argument about Barnes and his collection justified, and if not, what about his argument is flawed?

In Moving Pictures, Peter Schjeldahl describes how worthwhile a visit to the Barnes is in that “a lifetime of art-history lectures will teach you less about his [Cézanne’s] art’s quiddity, and why and how it matters, than an hour at the Barnes.” In understanding a work of art, how important are facts and dates as opposed to the experience of actually admiring that work of art and treating it as a “feast of the eyes?”


Underlying Intentions of the New Barnes: For Alfred or the Public?

Peter Schjeldahl’s “Moving Pictures” and Martin Filler’s “Victory!” certainly depicts the issue of the Barnes Foundation relocation from a different approach and angle.

Given Peter Schjeldahl’s need to write nearly a third of the article’s content on Dr. Alfred Barnes’s development in raising up an artwork display, aesthetic views on art and intentions in dedicating the Merion Museum for educational purposes, one would assume that the author has a complete knowledge and understanding for Barnes’s will to retain his art institution in Merion. In addition, he also remarks the transferring of Barnes’ collections “an aesthetic crime” and sees through this act as a political move to satisfy the “cravings of Philadelphian powers for a Center City tourist magnet.”

Yet, we find this assumption to be implicitly disproved by his approval of the Williams and Tsien’s construction of the new museum. Schjeldahl mentions that the new positioning of Matisse’s “Joy of Life” in the new building “looks bigger than I remembered, and, while still plenty radical, less confusing.” Furthermore, the author notes that the new installation of Barnes’ collections, while at first may have ignited concern for whether its integrity would be preserved, satisfactorily comments later on that it did “magnificently.”

Based on the gatherings of Schjeldahl’s opinions, (1)Does he really see the relocation as “an aesthetic crime”?  

Martin Filler, author of “Victory!”, introduces the relocation as a court order under legal requirements that the new building’s internal layout be identical to the old structure. However these conditions made people fearful that it would hinder the designers from putting a little originality. Essentially, the new Barnes’ design stemmed from “an invitational competition organized by Martha Thorne, executive director of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Already, the motive for this move is held in question: (2) What is the real purpose behind all this? 

(3) Most importantly, why did both authors avoid mentioning Dr. Barnes’ will in their articles?

Behind the reasonings of the new Barnes installation from both articles, it seems as if people must find ways to justify their opinions in order to accommodate to their selfish desire to display art in what they deemed as appropriate rather than how the founder of his own art foundation sees it.


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