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Unit information: Experiencing the Aesthetic in 2020/21

Unit name Experiencing the Aesthetic
Unit code AFAC20003
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Emma Cole
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. The first considers specific methodologies for the analysis of aesthetic experience, including semiotic, phenomenological, and art historical, and introduces students to theories of aesthetics and embodiment. The second part introduces students to specific objects and aesthetic experiences, encouraging them to put the tools of analysis they have learnt into practice and begin theorising how they respond to and understand a diverse range of aesthetic encounters. Students will be introduced historical works of art and the resources through which we encounter them, for example in museums and archives, and will attend several Bristol-based events.

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

On successful completion of this unit students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of key theories and methodologies for the analysis of visual and performing arts and be able to apply these methodologies to case studies.
  2. Demonstrate familiarity with the difficulties in, and attitudes to, aesthetic categorisation and analysis.
  3. Explain how central aesthetic concepts vary across disciplines and historical periods.
  4. Use the knowledge acquired in seminars and through group discussion and their own research to construct coherent, relevant and persuasive arguments on different aspects of the subject.
  5. Demonstrate skills in critical thinking and written communication appropriate to level I/5.

Teaching details

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activites, including lectures, group discussion, written tasks and art analysis exercises. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. There will be opportunities for tutor and peer feedback.

Assessment Details

1. Review of a piece of visual or performing art using a form of analysis covered in the unit (e.g. semiotic, phenomenological, art historical). (50%, 1500 words) [ILOs 1, 4, 5].

2. One 2,500-word summative essay (50%) [ILOs 2, 3, 4, 5]

Reading and References

Jerrold Levinson, ed. 2005. The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

S. Fish. 1980. Is There A Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretative Communities. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Mass.

Daniel Albright. 2000, Untwisting the serpent: modernism in music, literature, and other arts. University of Chicago Press: Chicago.

Günter Berghaus 2005 Theatre, Performance, and the Historical Avant-Garde. Palgrave: New York.

Lara D. Nielsen and Patricia Ybarra, eds. 2012. Neoliberalism and Global Theatres: Performance Permutations. Palgrave: New York.