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Unit information: Experiencing the Aesthetic in 2015/16

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Unit name Experiencing the Aesthetic
Unit code AFAC10003
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Shaw-Miller
Open unit status Not open




School/department Arts Faculty Office
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit, while focused on the unique nature of aesthetic experience, also provides a broad introduction to the arts. The concern is with the nature, make-up and history of the arts, not in an attempt to provide full coverage, but to address issues of identity around specific instances and institutions. There will be two parts to the unit, characterised as ‘What do the arts do?’ and ‘What are the arts made of?’. The first considers the manifestations of art (film, theatre, visual art, music, literature) through a theme relating to the underlying nature of artistic activity (for instance beauty, the senses, or representation, each with its historical and conceptual aspects). The second considers specific objects (definitions, functions: e.g. poems, operas, portraits, symphonies, photographs, and more challenging examples like sound art or visual music) and spaces where art happens (case studies drawn from the many local venues).

The unit aims:

  • To instruct students in fundamental issues surrounding the nature of art
  • To introduce students to the historical and social complexities of artistic activity, objects and institutions
  • To introduce students to a critical vocabulary and conceptual framework for the analysis of art
  • To make students more aware of the aesthetic aspects of the world around them
  • To improve skills of verbal and written presentation

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the course students should have acquired the following:

  • A basic knowledge and understanding of key expressive forms across the arts.
  • A familiarity with the difficulties in, and attitudes to, aesthetic categorization and analysis.
  • An understanding of the way in which central aesthetic concepts vary across disciplines and historical periods.
  • An awareness of the relationships between sensory studies, history and art
  • The ability to express themselves cogently in verbal and visual presentations.

Teaching details

Weekly lecture (for C/4 and I/5 together); weekly seminar on readings done in advance (years separately; capped at 15)

Assessment Details

1. Class presentation and accompanying report; peer review exercise 50% Students will present an illustrated class talk on a case study on either 1] An object (see the Description above) and how it does or does not conform or deviate from the concerns discussed in part one of the course or 2] An exhibition, or performance etc., and how it does or does not conform or deviate from the concerns discussed in part two of the course. Each presentation would include a 1,000-word written summary of the argument which will be peer reviewed. Each student would review and would in turn be reviewed. At the end of term the revised report will be handed in together with a 300-word reflection on what has been learned from the reviewing process.

2. Summative essay 50% An essay (2,000 words) on a topic related to the module, from a designated list.

Reading and References

Sensing the Past: Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Tasting, and Touching in History by Mark M. Smith (University of California Press, 2008)

Empire of the Senses: The Sensual Culture Reader (Sensory Formations), ed. David Howes (Berg, 2004)

The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics (Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy) ed. Jerrold Levinson (OUP, 2005)

Art and the Senses eds. Francesca Bacci, David Melcher (OUP, 2013)