I decided that the second class of the philosophy of art series should involve actually looking at visual art and talking about it. I thought about taking the students to a local art gallery, and then decided that it would be fun for them instead to visit our local junior/senior high school (where they will be 7th grade students next year) and look at artwork by high school students. We have a fabulous art program at our high school, taught by an inspiring and dedicated teacher, Sean McCabe. Sean agreed to spend some time with the 6th grade students.
I took the two classes up to the high school in separate groups, and both had a marvelous time. We looked at artwork Sean had put together in a slide show, including work by Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, Expressionist and other modern artists. We also walked around the art room looking at some very impressive work by high school students.
We talked about the difference between realism and more abstract art, and about such questions as whether everything an artist intends to be art is art, what makes art good or not, whether a work being original is sufficient for it to be art, and the nature of creativity. The visit seemed to help the students to deepen their appreciation of how complex some of these questions are, and looking at art while talking about questions of aesthetics allowed all of these questions to become more concrete.

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Thanks for your suggestions! I will check out the video. After the students commented that a blank piece of white paper could not be art, I did hold up a blank sheet and asked the students, “What if I announced that this was a work of art I’d created and told you that I called it “Silence?” Reactions were mixed as to whether the students thought this could be art.

I’m curious about your art and philosophy club — is it an afterschool program?


I really like the idea of students doing two drawings/paintings: one art; the other not! I'm going to try this with my art & philosophy club

I find Duchamp's readymades to be extremely useful in generating aesthetic questions in class(mainly with 5th grade students). Perhaps you could introduce Robert Rauschenberg's "Erased de Kooning Drawing", 1953 (a video of Rauschenberg talking about this act:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpCWh3IFtDQ%5D0) in order to test / clarify their hypothesis that a blank sheet of paper could not be a work of art because "No one had worked on it" (although Rauschenberg worked very hard at erasing the drawing- which was one of de Kooning's intent in his selection)or Yves Klein's "Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility" 1959-62, the empty space of the gallery (The Void) which not only questions the nature of the art object but ownership as well.