Theory of Knowledge

Last updated June 2020.

Senior Library collection

The Story of Art

The Story of Art has always been admired for two key qualities: it is a pleasure to read and a pleasure to handle.

Art Theory for Beginners

From Paleolithic cave-painting to postmodernism, Art Theory For Beginners is a concise and entertaining survey of the major historical and current debates on art. Painters, theorists and philosophers are all included to show how the idea of art has developed over the last 5,000 years. Art Theory For Beginners is a clear and entertaining introduction to the complex questions that stem from the simple idea of 'art'.


Modernism is usually thought of as a shock wave of innovations hitting art, architecture, music, cinema and literature - the work of Picasso, Joyce, Schoenberg, movements like Futurism and Dada, the architecture of Le Corbusier, T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland and the avant-garde theatre of Bertolt Brecht or Samuel Beckett. But what really defines modernism? Why did it begin and how long did it last? Is Modernism over now?

Man Is the Measure

An intelligently truthful book that explores the uneven landscape of the human intellect. An accessible introduction to philosophy, this book narrows the gap between the general reader and intellectual inquiry. Its points are illustrated with concrete examples that should call the reader to a higher level of critical thinking and self-perception.

Dada and Surrealism for Beginners

What kind of artists put a mustache on the Mona Lisa? Enter a urinal in an art competition? Declare their own independent republic? Hijack a ship? Dadas! And what happens in such a movement? With Dada, many of the artists declared their own "Pope" and continued their journey (with no destination) into Surrealism, creating burning giraffes, "amoebic" dogs, and lobster telephones..

Arts - Videos

Arts - Weblinks

Arts - Questions for reflection

??  Is everything art? (Think  Tracey Emin's My Bed, Marcel Duchamp's The Fountain)

?? To what extent do you gain understanding of human psychology in general, or society's dynamics n general, from the particular version in the particular novel? 

?? If an artist makes a copy of a great painting that is so well done that he can deceive most experts, is he as great an artist as the original painter?

?? What distinguishes propaganda from art that expresses a point of view?

?? To what extent do artists, critics, and members of the general public audiences all share the same criteria for evaluating the work of art?

?? Are there concepts, named in language, that you think are extremely important - perhaps even essential - in discussing and evaluating the arts? 

?? To what extent do you think that some of the arts gain their communicative power by being free of language and its confines? 

?? What characteristics do the arts share in common in their ways of working?

?? To what extent do the arts help us to see the world with new eyes?

?? Do you think there are universal standards of beauty, or do you think they vary from country to country?

?? 'It's a great work of art, but I don't like it.' - How, if at all, can someone say this with consistency? 

?? How much can we learn about the way a culture sees the world by studying the art that it produces?

?? Does a colour photograph capture nature more accurately than a black and white one?

?? To what extent do you think you can understand or appreciate a work of art if you know nothing about the context?

?? To what extent do you think artists ought to engage with the political issues of the day?

?? When, if ever, do you think that a work of art should be censored?

?? To what extend does - and should - art inform our ethical position? 

Arts - quotes

'Art is what you can get away with' - Andy Warhol

'Art is meant to disturb, science reassures.' - Georges Braque

'The only end of writing is to enable the readers better enjoy life or better to endure it' - Samuel Johnson

'Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of art' - Oscar Wilde

'Without music, life would be a mistake.' - Friedrich Nietzsche

'Art is not a handicraft, it is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced.' - Leo Tolstoy

Arts - Articles

Value of arts and culture

The Arts Council UK 

In 2006 Arts Council England launched the arts debate, a major programme of qualitative research into the arts and their funding. The outputs of this piece of work help shaped a new mission at the time ‘Achieving great art for everyone’ and the five outcomes that underpin it: excellence, innovation, diversity, engagement and reach. 

In 2011 Arts Council England inherited new responsibilities for museums and libraries. In order to fully understand the needs and priorities of these sectors we undertook an evidence review of the museums and libraries policy landscape. This informed a second strategy, Culture, knowledge and understanding.

At the Arts Council, when we talk about the value of arts and culture to society, we always start with its intrinsic value: how arts and culture can illuminate our inner lives and enrich our emotional world. This is what we cherish. 

Read the council's evidence review from the attached document

Arts - Key concepts

Key words - aesthetics, beauty, form versus content, avant-garde, kitsch.

Key concepts

What is art ? Intentions of the artist, quality of work and response of the spectators are some of the criteria that help define art. Most people also agree that art is manmade. 

Judging art - How far our judgements about what distinguishes good art from bad are objective and how far they are influenced by the culture we grow up in and our personal taste

Are there universal standards in art ? Psychological factors and cultural differences could influence the standards in art. 

Aesthetic judgements - What distinguishes aesthetic judgements from personal taste, according to Kant, is that they are disinterested.

Art and knowledge - Popular theories about the nature of art are - art as imitation, art as communication and art as education

Science, art and truth - There are obvious differences between the arts and sciences, reason and emotion play an important role in both these areas of knowledge. 

Art in one form or another can be found in all cultures, and the desire to make aesthetically pleasing objects seems to be universal...

The copy theory of art says that the purpose of art is to copy reality; but it could be argued that art is not so much a slavish reproduction of reality as creatve reinterpretation of it.

Art as communication - We need to understand the grammar and vocabulary of a language to know what a native speaker means, so we may need to understand  the grammar and vocabulary of art in order to know what the artist means.

Art as education - The connection between the arts and ethics is said to derive from the fact that they provoke emotions that influence our behaviour

Plato and Aristotle - Plato held that, by inflaming the emotions, art weakens our ability to lead rational lives, he therefore banished artists from the ideal society. According to Aristotle, art does not incite emotion as much as purge, or cleanse us of it - an effect known as catharsis

Arts, science - We could say both arts and science are trying to make sense of the world by looking for patterns in things - in science the patterns are expressed in mathematics and logic. In arts they are expressed in more allusive and intuitive forms.


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