Final Exam Study Questions
Aesthetics, Spring 2006
*I have occasionally put an asterisk next to a question when I was thinking it was particularly
important or likely to find its way onto the exam. (But no promises.)
I construct these questions by going through the notes and making questions based on them. One way to answer these questions would be to go through the questions and notes sequentially and focus on those parts of the notes which I have turned into questions.
Stecker, Ch 5: What is Art?
- What is a functionalist classification/definition of art? Identify and then explain the four
functionalist definitions of art that Stecker identifies. What makes them functionalist
- How does the family resemblance account of the nature of art differ from functional
definitions? (Hint: is family resemblance an "essentialist" account of art's nature?)
- What is the general problem with these types account of art that Stecker identifies? Do
you think he is right?
- Is Duchamp's Fountain art? Using several of the functionalist definitions of art, as
forcefully as you can argue that it is not art. Now argue as forcefully as you can that it is
art. What sorts of definitions of art could be used to support the claim that it is art. Do
you think it is art? Why or why not?
- What is the representational account of art? How do instrumental music and photography
challenge the idea that the nature of art is representation? If the goal of art is
representation, would it follow that photography is better art than painting? Why or why
- Describe the expression theory that Stecker attributes to Collingwood and then identify
some of his objections to this version of expression theory. Do these objections make
sense? Why or why not?
- Describe formalism as a theory of art and then explain one objection to formalism that
- Describe aesthetic definitions of art and then explain one object to these definitions that
Stecker raises. (Hint: How does Dadaism fit-or not fit-with the aesthetic definition of
- Describe George Dickie's "institutional" definition of art. What makes something art on
this account? Give examples of what would be art and what would not be art on this
account and explain why.
- What do "historical" accounts of art claim about the nature of art?
Stecker, Ch 6, What Kind of Object is a Work of Art?
- What are two kinds of objects that artworks can be according to Stecker, give examples
of them, and explain how they are different.
- Why does Stecker think it important to insist that (some) artworks are not simply abstract
structures, but abstract "structures in use?"
- Does Stecker think any properties of particular artworks are essential to them? Give
plausible examples of essential and inessential properties of a particular artwork on
Stecker's account. Do you agree with him on these claims?
- Explain the distinction between contextualism and constructivism in the interpretation of
art. Distinguish between moderate and radical constructivism. In explaining this
distinction, make sure you relate it to the issue of whether or not artworks have a fixed
nature or essence. Which view if either does Stecker accept? What are some of
Stecker's criticism of one of these views? What is your own view on this debate?
Stecker, Ch 7: Interpretation and Problem of Relevant Intention
- *Using the example of Serra's Tilted Arc, explain the debate between intentionalists and
anti-intentionalist about the interpretation artworks. What is your own views on this
dispute? What are Stecker's?
- What are the three factors that Stecker thinks are relevant to art interpretation. Identify,
explain and give examples of each.
- Use the concept of "unrealized intentions" to explain why Stecker objects to the "identity
thesis" concerning the relation between the intention of the artist and the meaning of the
artwork. Use examples to explain your point. Make sure you explain and give examples
of both unrealized intentions and of the identity thesis.
- Using examples, explain how both context and convention can override the artist's
intention in determining the meaning of artworks
- What is "whatever works intentionalism" and why does Stecker object to it?
- Use Stecker's Jules Verne residual racism example to show problems with the
intentionalist paradigm of the proper interpretation of art. Also use this example to
criticize the "default assumption" about art interpretation.
- Identify and give an example of one plausible aim of interpretation other than figuring out
the intention of the artist. Do you think this is a legitimate aim of interpretation? Why or
- Evaluate the following objection: Identifying the artist's intention tells us about the artist
and what he was trying to do but it does not tell us about the art object.
Stecker, Ch 10 Artistic Value
- What does Stecker mean by aesthetic value? What does he mean by aesthetic
experience? How are the two related?
- *What is artistic value, according to Stecker? Define it in general and also give examples
of various types of such value. What are examples of values of artworks that are not part
of their artistic value (hint: Stecker calls these "external values of art"). Is sentimental
value of art part of artistic value, on Stecker's view? Is the "gleaming whiteness" of
Duchamp's Fountain part of its artistic value (according to Stecker)? Why or why not?
- How is artistic value related to aesthetic value?
- Using Fountain as an example, explain how an aesthetic quality of an artwork can be
irrelevant to its artistic value (or at least why Stecker claims this).
- Describe the essentialist conception of artistic value and contrast it with Stecker's non-essentialist conception. Which view do you subscribe to and why? (Consider whether or
not there is one kind of value of art as art that makes us value art and whether this value is
unique to art and is shared by all artworks.)
- Does Stecker think artworks are intrinsically valuable or instrumentally valuable?
Explain why. What do you think?
- According to Stecker, does all art possess aesthetic value? Give some plausible examples
of artworks that Stecker thinks do not have aesthetic value.
- What are some of the cognitive values of art according to Stecker. Give examples. Why
think cognitive value of art is part of art's artistic value?
- What is one of Stecker's examples of art that is not to be experienced?
Stecker, Ch 11: Interaction; Ethical, Aesthetic, and Artistic Value
- What is Stecker's view about the relation of ethical value to artistic value. Can art have
ethical value (disvalue)? (Describe some examples of different sorts.) Can the ethical
value of a work of art be part of its artistic value?
- If a work of art portrays evil as if it were good and this has the unintentional result of
hardening us against the evil, does this valuable ethical consequence of the work of art
(it's ethical value) counts as part of its artistic value?
- Using examples, distinguish between a work of art that endorses a evil moral outlook and
one that simply presents such an outlook (say by describing a character who accepts this
- What is Stecker's view about the relation of ethical value and aesthetic value? Are they
the same thing? Do they ever interact?
- Give an example where aesthetic defect of a work of art is an ethical defect (according to
Stecker) and explain how this is suppose to work
- Now give an example (of Stecker's) where an ethical defect can be an aesthetic defect
and explain how this is suppose to work
- Describe the structure of the "affective response argument" that Stecker identifies as one
people use to argue that an ethical defect can be an aesthetic defect.
- Stecker claims the Iliad provides a counter-example to the claim that a moral defect is
always an aesthetic defect. Explain why he thinks the Iliad contains moral defects and
why he thinks these are not aesthetic defects (Hint: It concerns there being great cultural
distance between us and the embraced morally offensive attitude and so that the attitude
is not "really a moral option for us" and this allows a disconnect between moral reactions
and aesthetic response).
Kendall Walton, Morals in Fiction and Fictional Morality
- I distinguished between three positions concerning the relation between morality and
aesthetics: Apartheid, independent interaction and integration. Using the example of Leni
Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, explain each position and show how they are different.
- Can a racist joke be funny? Explain how this question can be explored by using the
above three positions.
- Should one ignore the moral failings of a work of art in order to appreciate that work of
art aesthetically? Using examples, argue for each response to this question.
- Walton gives an argument to explain why we might be worried about "imagining
believing in a moral perspective we find offensive." What is this argument and is it a
- *Walton argues that there is an "asymmetry" in our reactions to a work of fiction getting
the morals wrong and to it getting factual matters wrong. Using concrete examples,
describe this asymmetry. Do you think he is right that this asymmetry exists. How does
he propose to explain this asymmetry?
- How does this asymmetry provide evidence for anti-intentionalism about the meaning of
- Walton argues that humor and morality work the same way in terms of this asymmetry.
Explain what he has in mind. Do you agree with him?
Alex Neill, Fiction and the Emotions
- Neill argues that some emotions directed at fiction are possible (and rational) and some
not. Give examples of each and explain why he thinks they are (or are not) possible and
- Explain how the "cognitive theory of emotions" creates trouble for the idea that
emotional reactions to fiction are possible. How does the belief that fiction creates
moods (and not emotions) solve this problem?
- Using the example of pity, identify and explain one way "to explain away the supposed
pity directed at fictional characters."
- Does Neill think that we believe that "Harry Potter was courageous?" If so, how does he
understand the meaning of this belief?
- Does Neill think our beliefs about fiction are "fictional beliefs" or actual beliefs? What is
- Does Neill think that for pity to be rational/possible we must believe that someone is
actually suffering? Does he think that fictional suffering can move us to pity? How?
- Give examples of an emotion that result from imaginatively placing ourselves in the
position of others and then an example of an emotion that does not result from this
- Explain why Neill thinks that jealousy directed at fictional characters is not possible
while envy is.
- Does Neill think it is rational that feel fear for oneself of fictional characters? Why or
why not? How does he account for fear one sometimes feels in response to fiction?
- Explain the potential problem that arises from enjoying fictional suffering of characters
that we pity? How does Neill solve this problem?
- How does Neill respond to the claim that pity involves the desire to help and since we
have no desire to help people in fiction, we do not pity them?
- What problem does Neill identify from noting that pity requires that we desire for the
suffering to end when our pity is aimed at fictional characters? How does he resolve this
- Are our emotional response to fiction typically shorter and less intense than our responses
to similar real-life situations? If you think so, what accounts for this difference?
Serra's Tilted Arc, Lin's Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, and the Horowitz and Kelly articles
- Describe the details of the case of Richard Serra's Tilted Arc.
- Present the strongest arguments you can both for and against the claim that what happened in the Tilted Arc case was democratic (using both Horowitz's and Kelly's discussion of the case). What is your own view on this specific question. Was removing TA censorship?
- Present the strongest arguments you can both for and against the claim that removal of Tilted Arc would destroy it. Make sure you address both Serra's arguments on this issue as well as Kelly's arguments. Do you think removing it destroyed it?
- Do you think Tilted Arc should have been removed? Why or why not?
- What was Horowitz's response to the claims that Tilted Arc destroyed the beauty of the plaza and blocked the ordinary walking patters of the users of the plaza?
- Describe and discuss the interpretations (possible meanings) of Tilted Arc, considering Serra's ideas, Horowitz's and Kelly's. Make sure you address the political interpretations of the sculpture. Explain how the debate between intentionalism and anti-intentionalism fits into this discussion. How does your own view of Tilted Arc fit or not fit with these accounts?
- Should there be public subsidies for art? Why or why not? Make sure you consider strong reasons on each side of this debate.
- Why is public art a more controversial type of publicly supported art and other types of public subsidized art?
- Respond to the following criticism of Tilted Arc: It looks like "an abandoned piece of construction material" and since construction waste is an aesthetic blight, so is tilted arc. Specifically, what would Allen Carlson say about this response?
- According to Horowitz, what did TA become controversial?
- Explain why Kelly thinks that Tilted Arc was not public. Do you agree with him?
- Explain Kelly's argument that Tilted Arc was not site specific because it lacked a kind of "reciprocity" that is needed for being site specific.
- Describe the case of Maya Lin's Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. Was this piece of public art vastly more controversial than Serra's TA? Why might one think it should have been (and perhaps was)?
- Explain what Kelly believes Maya Lin's VVM did that Serra did not do in TA case. How does the case of the VVM do a better job than TA in "negotiating the controversies surrounding public art" at least according to Kelly? Do you agree with him? Why?
- Evaluate: The TA and VVM cases show that for public art to succeed it must submit to the desires, tastes, and beliefs of the public, rather than educating or challenging them about their taste, desires, and/or beliefs.
Allen Carlson, Is Environmental Art and Aesthetic Affront to Nature?
- What is Carlson's definition of env. art? Is any piece of art that is located in nature, env. art? Was Tilted Arc environmental art?
- Explain what Carlson means when he says that his criticism of env. art is not a moral or ecological criticism, but rather an aesthetic one.
- What is Carlson's response to the claim that nature cannot be aesthetically affronted since it is can not realize that it is being affronted?
- *Does Carlson accept the argument that since some env. art looks identical in appearance to the eyesores of industrial use of nature that explains why it is an aesthetic affront to nature? Explain. Evaluate this claim from your own and Carlson's view: If two things look the same, they have the same aesthetic qualities.
- Why does Carlson think LHOOQ and Monty Python's David constitute aesthetic affronts and how does he think this shows that some env. art is also an aesthetic affront to nature?
- Explain Carlson's response to the objection that env. art is often temporary and thus it will not constitute an aesthetic affront to nature.