Undergraduate Degree



DD8013 What is Art?


[Lecture Contact Hours: 39 hours; Pre-requisite: Nil; Academic Unit: 3.0]


Academic Unit                         :           3 AU


Pre-requisite                            :           Nil


Course Description                 :


What is Art? Beauty, Creativity, Power, Magic? This course will address these questions through the exploration of how the nature and appreciation of beauty, especially in art, can change over space and time according to cultural values. This process will lead to more questions: Is art universal? Can an art history of all cultures be written? Which is the place of art in society?

In practice the course presents and discusses principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of art and beauty at the level of both the individual and the societies in the constant interaction between biological constrains and cultural innovations across time and space, combining the idea of globalization with that of local considerations (e.g. "the political and moral issues raised by the consideration of a multicultural art history", Carrier 2008).

Throughout the course students appreciate the political, ethical, economical, emotional, and artistic values related to the choices that cultures make in honouring one aesthetic over another and our human biological limits as well, in matter of perception and capacities of perceiving and imag(in)ing reality. In synthesis, this course is an introductory survey of Aesthetics and Phenomenology of Styles as it relates to an understanding of the nature of art and beauty in the 21st century (from objects to subjects of understanding) and how it can be addressed for undergraduate students in Art, Design and Media.


Learning Objective

Students will:

  1. Develop an understanding of aesthetics, as a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty, especially in art;

  2. Become familiar with the history and vocabulary of aesthetics and key aesthetic theories;

  3. Demonstrate their understanding of the first two objectives through completion of a series of increasingly complex independent inquiries into the relationship of beauty and creativity, and their (ab)use in human societies through time and space.



This course provides the linguistic and conceptual tools to enable undergraduate students in Art, Design and Media to own the vocabulary necessary to explore critical thinking related to art and beauty. Students will work on both the philosophy and practical aspects of aesthetics and phenomenology of styles in their evolution.

Beginning with an overview on definitions and concepts related to art and beauty in arts and humanities, the course students will then experiment their critical thinking on the arts in museum networks, urban spaces, landscape-building systems, digital and material expressions.

The heart of the course sees students identify and adopt case studies of their own in class. Students work in small groups, closely supervised, to approach the different contexts, through which aesthetics can empower practitioners in Art, Design and Media. Students can carry on a survey on campus about art and beauty. As a methodological leitmotif the in-class investigation of case studies includes the discussion of art products (paintings, movies, photographs, music, dances, poetry, etc.) to share and compare interpretation of art in society and scholarly research. Field trips to Singapore art institutions will be a central focus of the course: the students will understand how these institutions contribute to social and economic development.

Course Outline




Introduction to the Course: Definitions and Concepts

What is Art, What is Beauty (to us)?

  • No required readings
  • In-class workshop 1: brain storming to plan student projects.


What is Art?

  • Reading (required before class): Dickie 1969, pp. 253-256.
  • In-class workshop: brief in-class presentation by each student of the individual/group project.


World Art Histories: Art History of all cultures and multicultural art histories

  • Reading (only one per student, required before class - NB: students divided in 4 groups, one per each reading): Honour - Fleming 2009, pp. 2-21; Fernie 1995, pp. 8-21; Carrier 2008, pp. xi-xxvi; Preziosi 2009, pp.1-21.
  • In-class workshop: question driven discussion about the readings

DEADLINE _______ - 11pm: title and abstract submission of the individual/group project (by e-mail to andrea.nanetti@ntu.edu.sg​).


ArtScience Museum
(6 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore 018974)​

Exhibition: _____


  • Assignment: Write a one-page response to the experience.


(Gillman Barracks)​

Requirement: _____________

  • Assignment: Write a one-page response.
  • Workshop: discussion of proposals to plan student projects.


ArtScience Late: _______________________________
(6 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore 018974)​


  • Assignment: Write a one-page response to the experience.


What is Beauty? What is Poetry? The Critic's Judgment

  • Reading (required before class): Mothersill 2004, pp. 152-166.
  • In-class Assignment 4: Write a one-page response to the reading
  • In-class workshop 5: question driven discussion about the reading.


National Museum of Singapore
Exhibition "____________________"
(93 Stamford Road, 178897)​

Museum - http://nationalmuseum.sg/

Exhibition - http://nationalmuseum.sg/exhibitions/exhibition-list/

  • In-class Assignment 5 (first choice): write a one-page response to the visit


In-class workshop 4: first presentation of the students' individual/group with peer review exercise.


National Gallery Singapore
(1 Saint Andrew's Road, 178957)​

Gallery - https://www.nationalgalleries.org/​

  • Assignment 5 (second choice): write a one-page response to the visit


Project presentation & discussion


Learning Outcome

Students will demonstrate:

An understanding of the key vocabulary of the visual arts

  1. Ownership of the language of aesthetics to formulate independent research questions and to conduct critical thinking in the art landscape
  2. Improvement in independent research ability and scholarly reading and writing skills over the period of the semester
  3. Ability to convey the treasure of human experiences in innovating their own fields of expertise in Art, Design and Media.


Student Assessment

Continuous Assessment 100%​

Weekly Reports & Class Participation – 50%

Submitting brief reports (as power point slides) on the readings and/or the museum visits for five selected weeks (5, 6, 7, 9 or 11) helps students identify main points and provides the opportunity for them to reflect upon what they have read, use content-specific language, and to show whether or not they understand the readings. This exercise provides valuable writing experience and the opportunity to receive instructor feedback on their writing before the completion of the final report. These summaries provide feedback to the faculty to improve instruction for student learning and understanding of the topic: Formative Assessment.

Final Research Report – 35%

Students will be asked to carry on a research project on aesthetics during the semester and write a short research paper on it. They will practice the basics of writing and learn how to describe and critique art products. In any case, in developing the research, the student must use at least one peer-reviewed journal article and a scholarly book chapter. The research will be monitored and evaluated weekly throughout its development and receive feedback. Timing is as follows​​

  1. classes 1 and 2: in-class brain storming of envisaged research topics
  2. class 3: discussion of envisaged research topics
  3. class 4: deadline for submission of title and abstract
  4. class 10: first presentation of the students' individual/group with peer review exercise
  5. submission of the final research paper by one week after the in-class presentation.

Project Presentation – 15%

In-class presentation for research project as a 20-minute mini-lecture, followed by discussion and feedback (by sharing their work, students will offer constructive criticism and learn not only from the teacher but also from each other). The students' project presentations will evidence the improvement of communication skills (including critical thinking, writing abilities, and confident verbal articulation of ideas) and the capability to retrieve, organize, and use the results of research to understand how to use cartography and representations of the world as a laboratory to develop and test methods and tools that may help us understand the past, present, and future role of art and beauty in cities like Singapore in a global context.


  1. Arnheim, Rudolf. Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye, expanded and revised edition. Berkeley: University of California Press 1974 [first version published in 1954]. — Since its publication fifty years ago, this work has established itself as a classic. It casts the visual process in psychological terms and describes the creative way one's eye organizes visual material according to specific psychological premises. In 1974 this book was revised and expanded, and since then it has continued to burnish Rudolf Arnheim's reputation as a groundbreaking theoretician in the fields of art and psychology.

  2. Dickie, G. “Defining Art.” American Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 6, no. 3 (July 1969), pp. 253-256. Link http://www.jstor.org/stable/20009315 — This essay by George Dickie represents his seminal work, which introduces his institutional theory of art. It is a classic.

  3. Lee, Mabel. "Nobel in Literature 2000 Gao Xingjian's Aesthetics of Fleeing."CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture vol. 5, no. 1 (March 2003): 4. Link http://dx.doi.org/10.7771/1481-4374.1181 — This article introduces the students to eastern/Asian ideas of aesthetics, and to Gao Xingjian’s book on Aesthetics.

  4. Leborg, Christian. Visual Grammar, Princeton Architectural Press, 2006. — Without a basic understanding of visual language, a productive dialogue between producers and consumers of visual communication is impossible. Visual Grammar can help you speak and write about visual objects and their creative potential, and better understand the graphics that bombard you 24/7. It is both a primer on visual language and a visual dictionary of the fundamental aspects of graphic design. Dealing with every imaginable visual concept--from abstractions such as dimension, format, and volume; to concrete objects such as form, size, color, and saturation; to activities such as repetition, mirroring, movement, and displacement; to relations such as symmetry, balance, diffusion, direction, and variation--this book is an indispensable reference for beginners and seasoned visual thinkers alike. Whether you simply want to familiarize yourself with visual concepts or whether you're an experienced designer looking for new ways to convey your ideas to a client, Visual Grammar is the clear and concise manual.

  5. Mothersill, Mary. Beauty and the Critic's Judgment: Remapping Aesthetics. In The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics, edited by Peter Kivy. Malden MA (USA) - Oxford (UK) Carlton (Australia): Blackwell Publishing, 2004, Ch. 8 (pp. 152-166).


  1. Carrier, David. World Art History and Its Objects. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008.

  2. Fernie, Eric. Art History and its Methods. A Critical Anthology. London: Phaidon, 1995.

  3. Honour, John and Hugh Fleming. A World History of Art. London: Lawrence King Publishing, 20097.

  4. Preziosi, Donald. The Art of Art History. A Critical Anthology. New edition. Oxford University Press, 20092 (First published 1998).

  5. Townsend, Dabney. Historical Dictionary of Aesthetics, Scarecrow Press, 2006, 20122. —The Historical Dictionary of Aesthetics covers its history from Classical Greece to the present, including entries on non-western aesthetics. The book contains a chronology, a list of acronyms and abbreviations, an introductory essay, a bibliography, and hundreds of cross-referenced dictionary entries on the main concepts, terminology, important persons (philosophers, critics, and artists), and the rules and criteria we apply in making judgments on art. By providing concise information on aesthetics, this dictionary is not only accessible to students, but it provides details and facts to specialists in the field.