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Global Aesthetics & Art Production

Megan Jacobs,


During the past two hundred years in the West, “fine art” has slowly been separated from the rest of life and is more widely recognized when housed institutions such as museums, galleries, and concert halls. In the rest of the world, “art” isn’t marked off from religion, ethics, or everyday living. Instead of “disinterested” observation, we will explore the aesthetic experiences of cultures around the world where art and life are inseparable. This course is rooted in a branch of philosophical study—aesthetics— which applies a critical lens to the relationship of art, culture and nature. We will read seminal philosophical texts which investigate the similarities and differences of art between cultures. Through our readings, two intertwining philosophical issues will be explored: art and everyday living, and morality and aesthetics. 

We will explore the art of various cultures such as the Japanese tea ceremony, Navajo sand paintings, as well as global perspectives on beauty. These experiences require a kind of engagement that can make all of life more vibrant—even beautiful. These approaches will be applied to our own art making process—one that honors the unique aesthetics sensibilities and values of these cultures such as the Japanese sense of wabi-sabi, or humility/imperfection and the Navajo sense of health and harmony. These will be compared and contrasted to a Western sense of beauty—one rooted in longing through a series of creative art projects.

The following book must be purchased:

Sartwell, Crispin. Six Names of Beauty. Routledge Press, 2006. ISBN-10: 0415979927

Additionally, the following articles/excerpts will be read in class:

1.              Bahti, Mark. Navajo Sandpaintings. Rio Nuevo Publishers. 2009.
Gary Witherspoon, “Navajo Aesthetics: Beautifying the World Through Art,” in Aesthetics in Perspective. 736-742.

2.             Crispin Sartwell, The Art of Living: Aesthetics of the Ordinary in World Spiritual Traditions (Albany, SUNY Press, 1995), xi-xvi; 31-44; 157-158.

3.             Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses (New York: Vintage Books, 1991). 127-139.

4.             Morris Berman, Coming to Our Senses (New York:  Bantam Books, 1990). 19-62; 341-345.

5.             Nancy J. Parezo, Navajo Sandpainting (Tucson, AR: U of Arizona P, 1983). 1-5; 11-20.

6.             Norman O. Brown, “Apocalypse,”  in  Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1991.  1-7.

7.             Peggy Zeglin Brand, “Disinterestedness and Political Art,” in Aesthetics:  The Big Questions, ed. Carolyn Korsmeyer (Oxford:  Blackwell, 1998). 155-171.

8.             Renee Lorraine, Sound and Sensibility, unpublished manuscript.

9.             Ronald Hepburn and Arnold Berleant.  “An Exchange on Disinterestedness,” Contemporary Aesthetics.

10.           Sei Shonagon, “The Pillow Book” in Aesthetics in Perspective. 617-619; and The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. Trans. Ivan Morris (New York: Columbia UP, 1991. 171-173; 182-185; 210-213.

11.            William H. Gass, “Goodness Knows Nothing of Beauty,” in Aesthetics in Perspective. 208-212.

12.           Yi-Fu Tuan,  Passing Strange and Wonderful (New York : Kodansha International, 1995). 35-6  



•              Scent of Green Papaya- Tran Anh Hung

•              Tampopo-Juzo Itami

•              Wheel of Life-Werner Hertzog



Students will present an oral presentation, write two short papers (3-5 pages) and three hands on creative projects.  Regular participation, consisting of reading observation and class discussions are key component of the class.  The class will take a field trip. 

Megan Jacobs is an Associate Professor of Art in the Honors College. She holds an M.F.A. in Photography from the University of New Mexico. Jacobs’ work has been exhibited internationally and explores the delicate relationship between our existence as material and concept. Jacobs' teaching interests include fine art, aesthetics, and cultural preservation through new media.