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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 there is an idea that defines it on a level above the visual. Philosophers, critics and artists have long tried to define those ideas, inspiring much discussion and creating the field known as Aesthetics. This is the field where the most fundamental questions of art are in constant debate; What is art? Is it actually important, or useful? Why makes an artwork an artwork? What is beauty, and should artworks always be beautiful? Beyond being philosophical inquiries, these are all questions that most art lovers have asked themselves, too.

Thinking about art in this way allows us to put it into a larger conceptual framework, and often leads to questions that extend well outside of art alone. Throughout this course we use the works of artists from all periods, from Ancient Greece to the present day, using their art as ways of exploring the key issues of aesthetics. 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.

No previous experience is required but some dedication to reading and note taking is needed. This course will interest followers 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:

  • Learn about the relevance of philosophy to art
  • Add new dimensions to your art analysis
  • Appreciate the evolution of the concept of art across history

What will I gain from the course?

  • Overview of key issues and questions of aesthetics
  • Knowledge of core ideas from foundational thinkers in the field
  • Practical skills in criticism and applying the ideas we study
  • Feedback on your own art writing and analysis

Topics Covered:

  • The ideas of Plato and his attitude towards the arts; why were artists excluded from his ideal republic? Can art convey genuine knowledge, or is it deceptive?
  • What role does imitation play in the arts? Is it ever possible to create something entirely new?
  • The enlightenment aesthetics of Winckelmann and Lessing; what makes an artwork beautiful? How should artists achieve beauty in their works?
  • What are the fundamental differences between the arts, such as poetry and painting? Does one have an advantage over the other?
  • What role does expression play in the arts? How has expression been defined historically?
  • The modernity of Baudelaire and the Futurists; what is modern art? What does it mean to be modern, and how does an artist do it? Is it important that art is always new?
  • What relationship should artists have to the past? Should we reject the art of the past, or build on it?
  • The critical perspectives of Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin. What is popular culture? Why is it so often defined against fine art?
  • What effect do mass production and media have on the arts? In an age of photography and printing, what importance does the ‘original’ artwork have?
  • Clement Greenberg’s division between avant-garde and kitsch. Why are they opposed? What does it mean to be avant-garde?
  • Is kitsch necessarily a bad thing? How have artists responded to kitsch in their work? Is the divide between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art as simple as we think?
  • …And much more


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.

Please note: This course is for students aged 18 and older
Please note that Online courses are closed to all new bookings 48 hours prior to the course starting.

Tutor Description

Theo Carnegy-Tan is an arts academic from London, and he has taught Short Courses with Central Saint Martins since 2014. Previously has given a number of talks at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, and has worked in the archives of Zaha Hadid Architects and the Mucha Foundation. His writing has been featured in Another Gaze, MAP, and The Quietus among others


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