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Art Theory: Introduction to Aesthetics (Online Short Course)

Art Theory: Introduction to Aesthetics (Online Short Course)

Central Saint Martins
Taught by
Theo Carnegy Tan


Behind every artwork and every movement there is an idea that defines it and constructs it on a level above the visual. Philosophers and critics as well as other artists have long sensed this and tried to define it, inspiring much discussion and creating the field known as Aesthetics. This field that deals in the philosophy of art is interested in fundamental questions such as; What does art mean? Is it actually important, or useful?, all things that any admirer of art must have asked themselves at one point in their lives.

As well as these overarching questions, thinking about art in this way allows us to study the specific motivations and meanings behind individual artworks and movements, too. Throughout this course we use the works of artists from all periods, from Symbolism to the Contemporary, to explore and understand some of the most important questions and ideas about art. Each lecture involves a set of images and certain texts that students will be asked to read before each session and discussion is encouraged throughout.

Some of the philosophers we will be engaging with include, the Ancient Greeks, the Romantics, Nietzsche, the Theosophists, Karl Marx, Theodor Adorno, the Postmodernists and many more. No previous experience is required but some dedication to reading and note taking is needed. This course will interest students and fans of philosophy, art or any critical creative practice that are keen to expand their perspectives in the world of art.

Course Level - All Levels

You should take this course if you want to:

  • Expand your appreciation and understanding of art
  • Explore a new element in art analysis
  • Broaden your study and fields of interest
Please note: This course is for students aged 18 and older

What will I gain from the course?

  • Comprehensive overview of the most important ideas about art Biography and assessment of key thinkers in aesthetics
  • New mode of artistic analysis
  • Understanding of concepts and ideas behind movements and artworks
  • Practical critical thinking and skills
  • Theoretical criticism and argumentation skills

Topics Covered:

  • What is Art? (Greek Philosophers and Early Ideas about Art)
  • Is art useful? (Utilitarianism, Is the enjoyment of art useful?, Are the arts educational?)
  • What is beauty? (Beauty and the sublime in art. German Idealist philosophers and Romantic thought. What are the characteristics of beauty?)
  • Philosophies of Modernism pt.1: Spirituality (Philosophical-spiritual trends amongst abstract artists of the 1900s-1930s. Mondriaan, Klee, Kandinsky, Theosophy and more)
  • Philosophies of Modernism pt. 2: Modernity (Futurism and Fascism in Italy and beyond. What can Futurist art and writing tell us about the sentiment of the age? What philosophies did they follow?)
  • Psychology and Surrealism (How did Freud and his followers influence a generation of artists? The Surrealists, the Unconscious and the Dream, the Uncanny)
  • Art and Revolution (What were the effects of Marxism on artists? Can art reflect political philosophy effectively? The Situationists, Cobra Group, Muralists and Socialist Realism)
  • Popular Culture (What is popular culture and does it have a philosophy? How has it affected art and how have artists reacted to it? Theodor Adorno and the Frankfurt School, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and more)
  • Postmodernism (What philosophic roots does Contemporary Art have, if any? Why is this period more difficult to pin down philosophically? Jean Baudrillard, Derrida and other Postmodern philosophies in the art world)
  • Postmodernism Continued (How does the contemporary treat the past? Is there such a thing as style anymore? Concluding thoughts on past weeks and a look at current Philosophies of art, such as Object Oriented Ontology.)

Why choose a CSM Online Short Course
Our online learning short courses allow you to experience Central Saint Martins wherever you are in the world. Additionally all CSM Online Short Courses include

  • Live sessions with expert
  • Lesson recordings
  • Practical assignments
  • Personal feedback
  • VLE with course content
  • Forums for support
  • 3 months online access
  • CSM Certificate upon completion

Visit Frequently Asked Questions for further details about preparing for your online course, including any equipment you need.

Please note that all courses are taught in UK time. To compare times, please check World Time Buddy.

Tutor Description

Theo Carnegy-Tan is an arts academic and journalist from London. He graduated with First Class Honours from Westminster in MA Cultural and Critical Theory. He has previously worked at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art and Zaha Hadid Architects.  He currently writes critical articles and reviews for Times Quotidian, Be-Art and Blue Labyrinths.


Online Short Course Materials

To take part in the Online sessions you will need:

  • An up-to-date web browser (we recommend Firefox or Chrome)
  • The latest version of Java installed on your device
  • Microphone and headphones (a headset with a microphone function is recommended)
  • Webcam
  • Strong Internet connection via WiFi or ethernet; 2G, 3G or 4G will not be sufficient

Course Specific Materials

Please bring with you to the first session:

  • A pen 
  • A notebook

If you would like to read in advance of or during the course, the following titles are a recommended reading list but please note they are not required:

  • Moshe Barasch, Theories of Art 1 & 2
  • Monroe C. Beardsley, Aesthetics from Classical Greece to Present
  • Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (essay)
  • Marshal McLuhan, The Medium Is the Message (essay)
  • Clement Greenberg, Avant-Garde and Kitsch (essay)

Available dates