I love teaching art and aesthetics! I’ve already posted my first Puzzles about Art scenario, the Chimpanzee Painter. Most of these come from Puzzles About Art: An Aesthetics Casebook (no longer in print I think, affiliate link). The book has lots of small aesthetics case studies with philosophical discussions about art. It really gets you thinking!
I usually use these as group activities in the first or second class of a semester of art appreciation. It always leads to great discussions and a lot of fun!
Today’s aesthetic puzzle is called Call It Driftwood.
What is aesthetics?
Aesthetics is the philosophy of art. Every time you say “My kid could have done that!” in a museum, you are engaging in an aesthetics discussion worthy of the great philosophers. Examples of “aesthetic questions” include “What is art?” “What is an artist?” “Why is that art and that not?” “Why did that artwork sell for $4 million?” “Does art have to be beautiful to be considered art?” “Can something be art if it was not made by an artist?” “Are a child’s drawings art?” These questions don’t have right or wrong answers.
Aesthetic Puzzle: Call It Driftwood
Upper Middle and High School, College
This activity is adapted from Battin, M.P., Fisher, J., Moore, R., and Silvers, A. (1989). Puzzles about art: An aesthetics casebook. New York: St. Martin’s Press which is no longer in print. I make no claim to the original content; I just think it is an awesome resource!
The Aesthetic Situation:
“Suppose a well-known artist happens to be vacationing in the small community where you are curator of the local museum. One day you see him walking along the beach, and you tell him that your museum—although it is almost without funds to purchase new works—would be greatly honored to be given a work by him. He pauses, smiles in an indecipherable way, and bends over to pick up a piece of driftwood that is lying on the beach. ‘Here,’ he says with a glint in his eye, ‘take this. Call it Driftwood.’” — Puzzles about Art
The Aesthetic Question:
- Is Driftwood art? Why or why not?
- Would you, as the curator of the museum, display the driftwood? Why or why not?
- What makes something art—the act of creating it or the act of coming up with the idea for the artwork?
This question usually leads the group into several lines of questioning. Here are some of the things that might come up in your discussion. Use the questions and ideas below to help guide the discussion with your students.
- Nature and Religion: Some students say that nature is art because of their religious beliefs. Can God be called an artist?
- The Story is the Art: Some students say that the story of the artist on the beach infuses the piece of driftwood with meaning, turning it into art.
- The Hand of the Artist: Can an artwork exist if the artist made no actions upon the medium? Must an artist physically manipulate something for it to be considered art?
- Beauty: Driftwood can be very beautiful. Are beautiful things always art? Can something be beautiful and not art? Must art be beautiful to be art?
Learn more about teaching Art and Aesthetics!
If you are a member of Art Class Curator Resource Library, you can get this lesson and all of my other resources for one low monthly fee. Find out more information here.
You can also buy this lesson bundle a la carte through the below links.
What do YOU think? Art or not? Join the discussion in the comments!
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