Phil 320/Art 320 -- Philosophy of the Arts
Fall 2012      Room: MacLean Hall 165, 6:30 pm Mondays 

Theodore Gracyk 

Office: Maclean 279S   Hours: M & W 10:00 am to noon and by appointment    

Office telephone (with voice mail): 218-477-4089           

This course is an extended examination of the nature and value of art and artistic activity. The only prerequisite is an active interest in one or more art forms. The course examines the main theories of what art is, what artists are, and whether art and artistic creativity are human universals.

As indicated by the course title, various arts will be discussed. This is not strictly a course about the visual arts. However, the visual arts and music will be the main sources for examples.


  • Theodore Gracyk. The Philosophy of Art: An Introduction. 
    (Publisher: Polity; ISBN 9780745649160)


  1. Definitions of fine art
  2. Distinctions between art and craft
  3. Theories of representation
  4. Theories of symbolic communication
  5. Theories of artistic expression
  6. Limitations and possibilities of artistic media
  7. Artistic value
  8. Aesthetic value

LEARNING OUTCOMES (General)  Students will be able to:

  1. Explain competing definitions of art
  2. Explain and critique competing theories of representation
  3. Explain and critique competing theories of symbolic communication
  4. Explain and critique competing theories of artistic expression
  5. Identify significant differences among artistic media
  6. Explain distinction between artistic and aesthetic value
  7. Articulate and apply personal standards of artistic value
  8. Articulate and apply personal standards of aesthetic value
  9. Use a coherent writing process including invention, organization, drafting, revising, and editing to form an effective written product.
  10. Create logical, engaging, effective written products appropriate for specific audiences and purposes.

LEARNING OUTCOMES (MN Transfer Curriculum) Goal 6: The Humanities and Fine Arts

Students will:

  • Demonstrate awareness of the scope and variety of works in the arts and humanities.
  • Understand those works as expressions of individual and human values within a historical and social context.
  • Respond critically to works in the arts and humanities.
  • Articulate an informed personal reaction to works in the arts and humanities.

This is a Writing Intensive Course. The quality of your formal writing will affect your course grade. Most of your course grade is based on four formal essays that you write. The first of these will be submitted as a three-page draft and will be submitted to the instructor for comments before it is completed. Only the revised version receives a grade.

The course combines informal writing (your "real questions"), integrative formal writing in which you will explain, integrate, and evaluate material covered in the assigned readings (the four essays), and one additional essay (a final exam). 

Taken together, the integrative formal writing must be at least a minimum of 4800 words (about 16 pages).   Complete information is  HERE

Robert Hughes, one of the most articulate and important art critics of recent years, has said this about the process of writing: “My main impulse for writing a book was to force myself to find out about things I didn't know. … Otherwise, why do it at all?” This point encapsulates my goals for having you write. Writing is a mode of exploration. There is no reason to write except to find out things you did not already know, including things about yourself, such as your own position on controversial topics. 


This is an upper level course. I will enforce the University's policies on student conduct. I expect all essays to conform to recognized standards of presentation, originality, and documentation of sources. 

The University expects all students to represent themselves in an honest fashion. In academic work, students are expected to present original ideas and to give credit to the ideas of others. The value of a college degree depends on the integrity of the work completed by the student. For more information, click here. 

You are strongly urged to ask questions whenever you feel the need.  
Remember that there are no stupid questions, merely unprepared professors.

GRADING: Your final course grade will be calculated using the +/- system.  

  • 10%     Reading Questions  
  • 10%     Final Exam (one essay question, in-class informal writing) 
  • 80%     Four formal papers, weighted equally

READING QUESTIONS/Exercises (due daily)

With the exception of the first day and the final exam day of the course, every day that we meet you must submit an answer to a reading question. It must be submitted at the start of class.

These answers do not have to be typed.

Instructions for this assignment:
Each chapter of the book contains, as part of the chapter itself, passages marked "Exercise." (These are not the questions at the end of the chapter!) Each day we meet, except for the first day, you will select one of the exercises in the chapter assigned for that day and you will submit a written response.

These exercises are your informal writing. Failure to submit them will seriously erode your grade.


  • Draft of first paper is due on September 17; submit three pages or more, addressing question 4, 5, or 6 on page 20 of the book.
  • Rewrite of first paper is due no later than October 29. Attach the first draft!
  • Second paper due October 22 (there is no draft stage)
    Write at least 1200 words addressing one of these questions: pages 40-41, question 1, 2, or 4, or page 60, questions 2, 4, or 5.
  • Third paper due November 19 (there is no draft stage)
    Write at least 1200 words addressing one of these questions: pages 101-2, question 1, 3, or 4.
  • Fourth paper due December 3 (there is no draft stage)
    Write at least 1200 words addressing one of these questions: page 143, question 1, 2, 4, 7, or 8.

Submitting formal writing: If you wish to do so, you can submit the formal writing by emailing it to the instructor as a "Word" file. If submitted in this way, it must be submitted by 6:00 pm on the due date.

If you do not submit it electronically, you must give a printed copy to the instructor at the beginning of class on the due date.


First Day: August 27 ~ FIRST CLASS: Select chapters by voting
September 3 ~ NO CLASS: Labor Day Holiday
September 10 ~ Chapter 1 (Meaning, Interpretation, Picturing)
September 17 ~ Chapter 2 (Expression)
September 24 ~ Continue Chapter 2
October 1 ~ Chapter 3 (Meaning & Creativity)
October 8 ~ Continue Chapter 3
October 15 ~ NO CLASS: official "Fall breather"
October 22 ~ Chapter 4 (Fakes & Originals)
October 29 ~ Continue Chapter 4
November 5 ~ Chapter 5 (Authenticity)
November 12 ~ Continue Chapter 5
November 19 ~ Chapter 7 (Aesthetics)
November 26 ~ Continue Chapter 7
December 3 ~ Chapter 8 (Beyond the Fine Arts)
December 10 ~ Continue Chapter 8
December 17 ~
Final Exam covering Chapter 8

 Notice of disability services & special accommodations 

The Minnesota State University of Moorhead is committed to a policy of equal opportunity in education and employment and welcomes students with disabilities. We are prepared to to offer you a range of services to accommodate your needs.

However, students must accept responsibility for initiating the request for services. 

Students with disabilities who believe they may need an accommodation in this class must contact Greg Toutges, Coordinator of Disability Services at 477-4318 (Voice) or 1-800-627-3529 (MRS/TTY), Frick 154C as soon as possible to ensure that accommodations are implemented in a timely fashion.

Do not discuss your needs with me, your instructor. Talk to Greg Toutges and he will provide you with a document to give to me.

This page last updated Sept. 7, 2012