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The University of Southampton

PHIL1019 Puzzles about Art and Literature

Module Overview

Both individuals and society attach great importance and value to certain works of art, including poems, novels, films, plays, symphonies, and paintings. Most of us spend a considerable amount of our limited time and resources acquiring, creating, experiencing, or promoting the arts. However, art is in several respects puzzling, even frustrating. It is often difficult to know how to interpret an artwork. Should we consult the artist, learn about his or her life and times, or focus only what is within the frame or on the page? Why do we care about art? Is it for the knowledge it provides, the experiences it affords, or the feelings it invokes? And what exactly is art? What distinguishes an unmade bed in the Tate from an unmade bed in a bedroom? The aims of this module are to introduce you to some of the puzzles which reflection on art raises, to encourage you to think critically about those puzzles and the assumptions which lie behind them, and to give you the tools for resolving them.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • some of the puzzles which reflection on art and literature and our experience of it raises.
  • influential attempts to resolve those puzzles and the problems they face.
  • some of the respects in which art and literature matter to individuals and to society at large.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • think critically about a number of issues relating to art and the value we attach to it.
  • identify and evaluate assumptions which are made about the nature of art and its significance.
  • present and debate ideas, both orally and in writing, in a rigorous and open-minded way.
  • articulate and defend your own views concerning the art and its appreciation.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • undertake independent study, including identifying and using appropriate resources.
  • complete work to deadlines and under time pressure.
  • contribute to discussion of controversial issues in an informed and dispassionate way.
  • extract relevant information from a variety of sources.


The syllabus may vary from year to year. Topics might include: Definitions of art - What is art? How distinguishes art from what is not art? Art and value - Why we do value art? Is it for the knowledge it provides? Or for the experiences it affords? Or for the feelings it conveys? Art and interpretation - How should we interpret works of art? Should we appeal to what the artist intended in creating the work? Or facts about his or her life? Art and imagination - What role does the imagination play in our appreciation and understanding of art? Why do we care about fictional events when we know they are not real? Art and judgement - Does a person’s evaluation of an artwork merely express her taste? Are there objective standards for assessing artworks? Is there a distinction between high and low art?

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include - Lectures - Group discussion - One-on-one consultation with module co-ordinator Learning activities include - Attending lectures - Contributing to class discussion - Doing independent research for and writing assessed essays and exams

Wider reading or practice24
Completion of assessment task45
Follow-up work24
Preparation for scheduled sessions24
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

A Neill and A Ridley (2009). Arguing about Art. 


N Carroll (1999). Philosophy of Art: a Contemporary Introduction. 



Draft essay


MethodPercentage contribution
Discussion board activity 25%
Essay 75%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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