ARTH 549
Art, Biology, Beauty Fall 2019
Division I

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This interdisciplinary seminar is offered in conjunction with the upcoming RAP Colloquium scheduled for March 2020, “Beauty, Sexuality, Selection: Darwinian Revolutions in Aesthetics.” (Seminar participants will be expected to attend.) Our theme will be Charles Darwin’s controversial theory of “sexual selection” as both a historical idea of aesthetic response and beauty, and as a theoretical concept that is back in play in current evolutionary thinking. Readings will be drawn from ancient philosophy, current science, art history, the history of science, and other fields, to engage the following questions: how did the existence of difference in the organic world–gender difference broadly but also more specifically racial difference in the human species–motivate Darwin’s theory of an “aesthetic evolution” driven by animal and human perception of visual beauty? How did philosophical aesthetics contribute to Darwin’s biological theory of beauty, and how did Darwin’s biological theory of beauty unsettle the discipline of philosophical aesthetics? In which ways did the arts and visual cultures of Europe and elsewhere shape Darwin’s aesthetic assumptions? How did, and how does, the concept of sexual selection destabilize the concept of “art” as a human cultural activity? How might “sexual selection” complicate historical and current delineations drawn between nature and culture, between the innate and the arbitrary?
The Class: Type: Seminar
Limit: none
Expected: 12
Class#: 1957
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: seminar participation, presentations, research paper
Prerequisites: None
Enrollment Preferences: MA students, then advanced art history major undergraduates
Distributions: Division I

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