Art & Theory of Art
FALL 2017, HONORS 380, TTh 10:35-11:50, Honors Lounge 
Prof. Andersen, Honors Hall 130D, 335-7694,          


Course description
For a good 30,000 years humans have produced images, tales, spectacles, and much more which we now call art. Cave paintings, graffiti, murals, fetishes, drama, sitcoms, literature, performance, pottery, painting, architecture, jewelry, carvings, music, country, western, medieval cathedrals, tattoos, rap, twist, hip, funk, bop, American Idol, and The Blue Heart—we call it all art, we call them all artists! Does it make sense?

In this course we will seek enlightenment on the nature of art. We will investigate theories of art (a selection, from Plato onwards) to try to determine what it is we appreciate about art. We will discuss art theories that offer particular discriminating viewpoints on the nature of art as we assess the possibilities for obtaining an all-encompassing perspective on art. Simultaneously, we will actively experience, review, evaluate, discuss, and present artworks, in particular painting, literature, and film. We will make use of videos and excursions to local museums and exhibits.

As we develop our contextual understanding of art – as art is created in the flux of individual human creativity and social norms – we will also develop an appreciation for the function, methods, and value of research and scholarship in the Humanities.

Final grade to be determined by active participation, written assignments, and an in-class presentation.

Required text:
But Is It Art? by Cynthia Freeland, Oxford University Press, ISBN:10-0192853678
Other texts handled in class, available on Blackboard.


Week 1:
22: Introductions. What is art? Critical thinking about art.
24: Arts-critical-thinking exercises.
Week 2:
29: Randall White: “Prehistoric Art” (Chapters. 1-2, pgs. 1-38)
31: Cynthia Freeland: But is it art? (Introduction p. xvii-xxi, Chapter 1: Blood and Beauty, p.1-29)   

Reading response 1 due Tue 9/5:
What stands out to you the most in Randall’s description of pre-historic art?

Week 3:
5: Cynthia Freeland: But is it art? (Chapter 2: Paradigms and Purposes, p.30-59)
7: Art theory I: Plato [Presentation #1: _______, _______ ]

Week 4:
12: Art theory II: Aristotle [Presentation #2: _______, _______ ]
14: Excursion: WSU Museum of Art: “Contemporary Women Printmakers”

Week 5:
19: Art theory III: Hume [Presentation #3: _______, _______ ]

R-r 2 due Tue 9/26:
Which of Freeland’s points on ‘cultural crossings’ impressed you the most - why?

21: Cynthia Freeland: But is it art? (Chapter 3: Cultural crossings, p. 60-89)

Week 6:

26: Artist: Andy Warhol [Presentation #4: _______, _______ ]
28: Art theory IV: Danto [Presentation #6: _______, _______ ]

Week 7:
3: Artist: Roy Lichtenstein [Presentation #7: _________ , ________ ]
5: Art theory V: Dickie [Presentation #8: _________ , ________ ]
(2) Review due Thursday, Oct. 5: “Contemporary Women Printmakers”
Week 8:
10: Artist: Paul O’Hare in "Faking It!" (video) 
12: Discussion of “Faking It?” – philosophical reflections?

Week 9:
17: Cynthia Freeland: But is it art? (Chapter 4: Money, Markets, Museums, p. 90-121)

R-r 3 due Thu 10/19:
Do you see any concerns with the commercial dimensions described by Freeland in chapter 4?

19: “Thomas Kinkade” (video)

R-r 4 due Thu 11/2:
What’s your view of Jackson Pollock – and the Terri Horton debacle?

Week 10:
24:  Art theory VII: Tolstoy [Presentation #9: _________ , ________ ]
26:  Artist: Jackson Pollock [Presentation #10: _________ , ________ ]

Week 11:
31: MOVIE: WHO THE #$&% IS Jackson Pollock?
2: MOVIE: WHO THE #$&% IS Jackson Pollock?

Week 12:
7: Excursion: WSU Museum of Art: -?
9: Class cancelled.

Week 13:
14:  Cynthia Freeland: But is it art? (Chapter 5: Gender, genius, Guerilla Girls, p. 122-147.
(3) Review due Tuesday, Nov. 14: -?
16:  Documentary: WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS?

Week 14:
28:  Art theory X: “Rage Against the Art Gene” + “The Natural History of Art”
[Presentation #11: _________ , ________ ]
30:  Cynthia Freeland: But is it art? (Chapter 6: Cognition, Creation, Comprehension, p. 148-176 +

R-r 5 due Tue 11/30:
Do we have an art gene?

Chapter 7: Digitizing and disseminating, Conclusion, p. 177-209)
[Presentation #12: _________ , ________ ]

Week 15:
5:  Art theory IX: P. Fingesten: “The Theory of Evolution in the History of Art”
[Presentation #13: _________ , ________ ]
 Conclusive discussion
(4) Final paper due Thursday, December 14, 5 p.m. in the Honors Office.

Course objectives
In this course we examine ‘art’ as it has been perceived as a theoretical concept in the West since Plato. We discuss a selection of theoretical perspectives on art in order to place the experience of actual artworks (through excursions and in classroom interpretations and discussions) in theoretical contexts.


At the end of this course students will

This objective will be evaluated primarily by

Examples of course topics that advance these learning goals

LG1  Critical and Creative Thinking

be critically familiar with a variety of theoretical perspectives on art

written assignments, class discussions

3 essays (see dates and topics in syllabus), 5 reading responses

LG2  Communication

develop formal communication skills through PowerPoint presentations of course materials as well as in daily discussion of material

class room presentations

group presentations of course material throughout syllabus

LG3  Information Literacy

engage cultural and historical information from library and internet research  

written assignments and PowerPoint presentation requirements

3 essays (see dates and topics in syllabus), 5 reading responses. See ‘first come, first served,’ numbered presentation topics

LG4  Scientific Literacy

develop an appreciation for the academic study of art

textbook, scholarly articles on topics

E.g., Roy Lichtenstein and the Comic Strip, Albert Boime
Art Journal, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Winter, 1968-1969), pp. 155-159

LG5  Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning

be able to critically and creatively analyze, interpret, and synthesize specific symbolic representations of art

written assignments, class discussions

3 essays (see dates and topics in syllabus), 5 reading responses. See  numbered presentation topics

LG6  Cultural Competency

understand how to relate theoretical, historical, and cultural contexts of art to our own historical and cultural situation 

class discussions, reading responses, written assignments

E.g., Textbook: But Is It Art? by Cynthia Freeland, Oxford University Press

LG7  Integration of Knowledge

have gained an understanding of works of art and their historical contexts

class discussions, reading responses, written assignments

E.g., Textbook: But Is It Art? by Cynthia Freeland, Oxford University Press


The class relies on active discussion of works of art and perspectives on art in discussions and in papers. There will be a total of three writing assignments and a formal in-class PowerPoint group-presentation (2 students to a presentation) of a text or an artist (see numbered topics in the syllabus). Participation in discussions and reading responses is concurrently evaluated as part of the final grade.

Final grade will be determined by:

I gather impressions of participation in class discussions as the semester progresses. Please read my comments on papers and see me if you have any questions.

My grade distribution: A = 93 points, A-= 90 points, B+ = 87 points, B = 83 points, B- = 80 points, C+ = 77 points, C = 73 points, etc. (Example: A = 93 x 20 (%) = 1860; 93 x 40 (%) = 3720 etc.)
Final grade distribution: A: ≥9100; A-: ≥8900; B+: ≥8600; B: ≥8300; B-: ≥8000; C+: ≥7700; C: ≥7300 etc.

WSU grade system: The Washington State University Catalog

90a. A. Student work demonstrates consistently excellent scholastic performance; thorough comprehension; ability to correlate the material with other ideas, to communicate and to deal effectively with course concepts and new material; reliability in attendance and attention to assignments.

90b. B. Student work demonstrates superior scholastic performance overall, reliability in attendance, and attention to assignments; may demonstrate excellence but be less consistent than the work of an A student.

90c. C. Student work demonstrates satisfactory performance overall, as well as reliability in attendance, and attention to assignments.

90d. D. Student work demonstrates minimal, barely passing performance overall; limited knowledge of subject matter.

90e. F. Student work demonstrates unsatisfactory performance and comprehension or unfulfilled requirements. The grade is failing.


Re. (1) Final research paper: The final research paper is a project by a group of two and must be a critical discussion of its topic incorporating discussion of a minimum of 5 scholarly/arts-professional opinions on the topic and the works of art. The final research paper must provide a comprehensive, scholarly informed discussion of artworks and their relationship to a theoretical perspective and socio-historical context such as those suggested in the syllabus. Student initiative in formulation of topic, contexts, and choice of artworks is welcome. Length: 10-12 pages, double spaced. The final paper is a cooperative project and may contain two clearly delineated, but integrated, sections. One grade will be given for the final project. The groups for the final paper should be formed and active no later than Thursday, October 12, week 8. Each group must meet with me by week 11 to discuss the planned project.

The following elements are important for the evaluation:

Analysis. E.g., consult the ‘critical thinking guidelines’ and ‘evaluating papers & essays’ on my website ( for suggestions to structure and areas of analytical inquiry.

Insightful, creative interpretations. Create connections between art and theory in your interpretations. Reflect on the materials in relation to our contemporary world and your understanding of it.

Research. Scholarly and qualified opinions (e.g. journal and newspaper criticism) are necessary to the serious development of discussion, analysis, and interpretation. Researching a historical background also creates great context for interpretation and understanding. Incorporate at least three scholarly viewpoints in your final paper.

Fluent, expressive language in a clear, progressive structure. Attention to the formal dimensions of writing an essay is obviously a necessity and will be rewarded. (E.g., see )

Re. (2) Short essays/reviews: (3-4 pages, double spaced; same general expectations as with the final paper; researched scholarly and/or arts-critical opinion preferred (except essay 1). 

Due dates for written assignments:

Essay (1) due Thursday, Sep 14, prompt to be provided.

Essay (2) due Thursday, Oct 5, prompt to be provided.

Essay (2) due Tuesday, Nov 14, prompt to be provided.

Final paper (4) due Thursday, December 14, in hard copy by 5 p.m. in the Honors Office.

5 reading responses due weeks 3, 6, 9, 11, 14

Re. (3): The Presentation: This is an approx. 30 minute PowerPoint group-presentation (2 presenters) of a theoretical text illustrated by min. 2 works of art that exemplify a perspective within an historical context.  Incorporate at least two scholarly viewpoints on your material in your presentation! Sign up for one of the numbered presentation topics. First come, first served! The presentation includes a max. 1-2 page handout to all class participants detailing the presentation. The handout should provide an overview of the presentation, including references, and at least 2-3 questions for further discussion. Make sure to write your name/s, course prefix and number, and name of instructor, on the hand-out and date it!

Structure your time well to present the essential perspectives and points. Following your presentation we will discuss questions or problems raised. Defend your perspectives and productively engage other perspectives. You may respond to questions during your presentation in which case the presentation + discussion most likely will stretch beyond the 30 minutes.

The presentation will be graded according to the following criteria:

Re. (4) Participation & reading responses: The course relies on lively discussion of the materials! There are no ‘stupid’ questions or observations! ACTIVE PARTICIPATION in discussions also strengthens the impression of an engaged and well-prepared student. Consider this class an excellent forum for exercising verbal skills. Two well-excused absences (informed of in advance) during the course of the semester will be tolerated without ramifications for final grade. Ramifications may include writing a short make-up paper and/or have a negative impact on the final grade. I collect my impressions during the semester of student participation.

A significant part of the participation-grade is your 6 reading responses (approx. 200-300 words each) on the readings/discussions to be handed in in hard-copy on the due date.


See 'evaluating papers & essays' on my web site:  for definitions of accomplished, promising, and wanting.

WSU Disability Statement
Students with Disabilities: Reasonable accommodations are available for students with documented disabilities or chronic medical conditions. If you have a disability and need accommodations to fully participate in this class, please visit the Access Center website to follow published procedures to request accommodations: Students may also either call or visit the Access Center in person to schedule an appointment with an Access Advisor. Location: Washington Building 217; Phone: 509-335-3417. All disability related accommodations MUST be approved through the Access Center. Students with approved accommodations are strongly encouraged to visit with instructors early in the semester during office hours to discuss logistics.

A Commitment to Campus Safety
Washington State University is committed to maintaining the safety of the students, faculty, staff, and visitors to the Pullman campus. As part of this commitment, the university has prepared the Campus Safety Plan, containing a comprehensive listing of university policies, procedures, statistics and information relating to campus safety, emergency management and the health and welfare of the campus community. Please see

Academic integrity
All students are of course expected to act in accordance with the WSU policies on Academic Honesty found in the Student Handbook. These policies include falsification of information, fabrication of information, plagiarism, multiple submissions, and various other offenses. If you have doubts about what constitutes academic integrity or what specifically might qualify as 'cheating' consult the WSU Plagiarism Information Site:, or see me before writing your paper.

Do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions!
Honors Hall 130D; 335-7694;
Have a great semester!