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ACE2460 Thinking and Talking about Art: An Introduction to Art and Philosophy

Started 7 Feb 2024

Sorry! The enrolment period is currently closed. Please check back soon.

Full course description

Course Overview:

Confronted with a beautiful work of art we are often left feeling amazed and overwhelmed. However, not long after this effect the tendency to think about the work of art sets in. It is not easy to think about an artwork, about why it was created, and why it has this effect on us. Philosophy has often come to the aid of those trying to think about artworks in this way.

This course is an introduction to the dynamic relationship between art and philosophy. This ‘and’ can be understood in a variety of ways, raising a series of questions: How does art use philosophy? Does philosophy help us appreciate art? How are art movements influenced by philosophy? Do artworks pose or even solve philosophical problems?

Despite it being imaginable that we can practice art independent of philosophy, and do philosophy without taking art into consideration, the history of both disciplines seems to suggest otherwise. Throughout history it appears as if neither side can leave the other alone. From philosophical warnings about the dangers of art, to explicit artistic inspiration drawn from philosophical notions, both fields have a long and tumultuous relationship with one another. This course introduces eight different episodes from this history.

The lecture series focuses on introducing artistic and philosophical problems that will help students engage with what the over-arching terms ‘art’ and ‘philosophy’ can mean. Spanning Ancient Greece, through 18th century aesthetics, 19th century art history, and extending into the contemporary era, this course will help provide students with a comprehensive understanding of how a vast variety of seemingly distinct practices can be understood as art.

The episode based lay-out of the course will allow students to not only get a sense of the broader issues — aesthetics, beauty, harmony, representation, expression — but also, through specific case studies, appreciate details of art practices not necessarily covered in other primers. These case studies include the motivations behind digital media art, noise practices, and conceptual art, offering a nuanced appreciation for the intricate details of various art forms.


Course Practicalities:

This course will run for 8 weeks on Wednesdays from 7pm-9pm from 7th of February until 27th March 2024.

Western Gateway Building, Room G14, UCC.

Closing date for applications: Monday 29th of January 2024.

Course Content:

Week 1: Art and Philosophy in Ancient Greece (John Thompson)

The course begins by exploring the intriguing connection between art and philosophy in ancient Greece. We will discuss Plato’s infamous proposal to “ban the poets” from his Republic. We will also take a look at ideas such as mimesis (imitation/representation) and harmony that have had a profound and enduring impact on the arts. Furthermore, we will examine how philosophical thinking and judgement influenced artistic practices in ancient Greece.


Week 2: The Origin of Modern Aesthetics (John Thompson)

This lecture is a discussion of the origin of aesthetics as a philosophical discipline in Germany and Britain of the 18th Century, through an examination of the thought of Immanuel Kant and Irish-born philosopher Edmund Burke. In particular we focus on their notions of the sublime. Aesthetics became the particular discipline of philosophy that deals with matters concerning the appreciation and judgement of sensuous forms, often though not exclusively taking art as its privileged object of discussion. 

Week 3: The Philosophy of Art History (Laurence Counihan)

What is the relationship between the disciplines of art history and philosophy? How does the one draw from and inform the other? Although art history and aesthetics both seek to examine the work of art, each discipline has a different set of questions which guide their study. This session explores the historical connections between these two fields, focusing on the philosophical theories which informed the emergence and development of art historical methods at the beginning of the 20th-century.


 Week 4: Art Criticism and Judgement (Laurence Counihan)

When encountering a work of art it is typical to arrive at a judgement on its quality. This judgement can occur consciously or unconsciously, and can be informed by rigorously strict criteria or more abstract ideas. The history of critical judgements on art is intimately entangled with the history of art criticism; a field whose main aim is to offer discerning judgements of quality. This session will trace the development of art criticism, from the 18th to 20th century, and will look at the differing ways in which judgement has been theorised. From here we will also examine the role of judgement in contemporary art criticism, and ask the question if it has any place in our modern world.


Week 5: Art as Philosophy? The Legacy of Conceptual Art (John Thompson)

In the mid-60’s artists looked to and used philosophy as inspiration for their work. In particular they asked the philosophical question: “What is Art?” The development of Conceptual Art comes out of this questioning, with artists using their artworks to offer different understandings of and solutions to this query. This lecture looks at these attempts at answer this question and the effect it has had upon art ever since.

Week 6: Aesthetics of Art and Technology (Laurence Counihan)

The ever-expanding role of digital technologies is one of the most significant developments of our era. As a result, it has become necessary, now more than ever, to think critically about the technologies which increasing condition almost every facet of our daily lives. This session will examine a number of 20th and 21st-century artists who seek to explore the role and function of technology in their work, with our discussion examining the relationship between nature and technology, the autonomy of technological systems, and asking whether or not it is possible for A.I. to create “true” works of art.


Week 7: The Philosophy of Music and Noise (Laurence Counihan)

Whilst sometimes perceived as being underrepresented in the visually-focused history of aesthetics, the role of sound plays a significant part in many philosophies of art. Drawing upon a number of writings which characterise the “sonic turn” in contemporary philosophy and art, we will focus upon the theorisation and aestheticisation of both music and noise.


Week 8: Theory and Contemporary Art (John Thompson)

Anyone who encounters contemporary art, whether in a gallery or a publication, immediately becomes aware of its intimate engagement with theory. From wall texts to gallery hand-outs and artists statements, the language used seems abstract and difficult. Why is this? Building upon previous lectures in the course that set up the longer history which contributes to this situation, this lecture will discuss the benefits and crutches of this relationship, hoping to create an appreciation of the problems faced by contemporary artists.


Course Lecturers:

This course will be delivered by a dual teaching team of John Thompson and Laurence Counihan.

John Thompson is an artist and writer on art and philosophy who is undertaking a PhD at University College Cork with supervision through the Department of French, Department of Philosophy and the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies. He is researching the history, practice and theoretical underpinnings of conceptual art.

His research feeds into his work in the arts and vice-versa. He also practices visual and sound art and has written art criticism and philosophy reviews for a number of publications, including the Journal Art HistoryEnclave ReviewVisual Artists News SheetCorridor 8 and Marx and Philosophy Review of Books. He has also been involved practically in art administration and organising as a co-curator at the Guesthouse Project (2016-2020), an artist residency programme based in Shandon in Cork City, Ireland ,as well as with communications management through SoundEye Press, Cork City.

Laurence Counihan is a writer and critic based in Co. Kerry. Currently a teaching assistant and PhD student (recipient of both CACSSS and IRC funding) in the History of Art Department at University College Cork, his research is located at the intersection of art history, media archaeology, and continental aesthetics. His essays have been published in Circa Art MagazinePaper Visual ArtEnclave ReviewVisual Artist' News SheetMirror Lamp PressHz JournalYearbook of Moving Image Studies, and in a number of catalogues for Irish visual artists and exhibitions.


Entry Requirements:

Applicants must be at least 18 years old at course commencement.

Contact Details for Further Information


Please note our refund policy as follows:
100% refund  if student cancels before course commencement
100% refund if student's course is cancelled due to insufficient numbers. 
If the student cancels after the first week of the course - full refund minus €50 processing fee 
If the student cancels after the second week of the course - no refund