Revolutions in Art and Aesthetics

A three-session seminar for high-school students that reinforces the traditional understanding of beauty, art and creativity. Download the teaching notes and teach it at your high school!

The material examines the ideas of Plato, Plotinus, Aristotle, Aquinas and Augustine in presenting the idea that beauty is an objective quality, art is a practical virtue, and authentic creativity is inspired by God and conforms to the divine order. This traditional view is contrasted with the Romantic notion that beauty and creativity are subjective qualities measured by the intensity of an emotional response, and with the ideas of more recent educational theorists such as John Dewey.

Download my teaching notes as a PDF file here.

For three weeks in early 2023, I taught an online seminar for high school students entitled,
“Revolutions in Art and Aesthetics.” Sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute, 15 students from across the US gathered to read texts, discuss the human desire for beauty, and look at images that illustrate different notions of beauty, human happiness, and the common good.

The first session focused on ancient Greek philosophers, such as Plato and Plotinus, and early Christian theologians, such as Augustine. Key question: is beauty a human achievement or something that lifts us away from the human towards the contemplation of something (or someone) higher?

Second, we examined the medieval thought of Thomas Aquinas in his creative retrieval of Aristotle. Key question: if art is a practical virtue, as St Thomas asserts, how can it strengthen moral virtue?

Third, we examined the Romantic notion of art that broke with tradition and emphasized the subjectivity of beauty and of human creativity. Key questions: does freeing the creative impulse from the transcendent and practical virtue lead to authentic human fulfilment? Or are their ideas about beauty and art from Augustine and Aquinas that need to be re-discovered and applied in contemporary art?

The primary text for this online course was my book The Wounds of Beauty: Seven Dialogues on
Art and Education
, supplemented by primary texts from Augustine, Aquinas, John Dewey and
others. The attached PDF contains my teaching notes, key quotes from each text discussed, and

the images we used to engage with these ideas.

Download my teaching notes as a PDF file here.