Reflections On Art
Course Goals for Young Scholars
Research: Aesthetics for Children
This summer in my Aesthetics for Children class, the children will be introduced to
concepts important to the study of aesthetics as well as an introduction to philosophy
itself. The ten day class session will begin with an easy introduction to some of the
key words. Children will take some notes but not many. Some of these vocabulary words
are listed below and will be added as the research and lesson plans progress. The
following terms will be introduced the first day because of their importance.
In the ten day session, children will begin to distinquish what is meant by
object (art piece)
reflection (thinking, contemplating)
It will be explained that reflection is a mental act, the observer is doing something.
This is extremely important. Aesthetics is really about the subject/observer not the
object itself. It’s about our response, our reflection on the art work. This is what
we mean when we talk about the aesthetic experience.
Children can understand this because they have to learn what verbs are in English
class. So I ALWAYS explain that philosophizing is a VERB. It is something we do. I
tell the kids that philosophy is one subject that they can never learn by just reading
about it. It is an activity. Aesthetic inquiry is no different. Aestheticians
philosophize about art and beauty and more importantly our response.
This idea may be new to the children. They’ve always learned about art by looking
at things and making things. They may seldom be told that their response is equally
important. So the classroom activities will direct the children to start thinking
about their response to art. The ideas, discussions and vocabulary words are based on
Kant’s Critique of Judgment and Marcia Eaton’s Aesthetics and the Good Life as well as
many other resources regarding Aesthetics.
Some Essential Elements to an Aesthetic Response
1. The subject/observer reflects on something in or about the art piece
(a property of
2. The response is a positive response. We value something about the
3. Typically we want to share our response with friends or we want to
invite others to
“see it” too.
There are certainly more ideas involved in the aesthetic experience but when
working with children, I try to keep the new ideas to a minimum. Three concepts are
plenty for now. The third item is especially important because it touches on one of
Kant’s criteria for an aesthetic judgment which is his idea of universal subjectivity.
This (for Kant) distinquishes the aesthetic from individual taste which is NEVER to be
confused. For children, I always shoot for the actual philsophical concepts and I make
sure that I am leading the children on a track that will later on “ring a bell” and
register a memory like, “Oh yeah, I remember talking about that before.” You see,
children need to begin to build a foundation of inquiry and creative/critical thinking
and they can do that because they understand some of these basic ideas. Children can
begin to understand the basic building blocks or thinking tools that formulate the
larger abstract concepts which is thrown at them when they get to college usually with
NO PRIOR preparation. This can be overwhelming and devasting to an eighteen year old
My main goal is for children to experience this idea of philsophizing, engaging in
dialogue, and becoming aware of their own thoughts. Children become so excited when we
take a sincere interest in their thoughts. I’ve seen this happen with my 3-4th grade
philosophy students. They love coming to class. One counselor even told me a child
couldn’t wait for lunch to be over so they could come to philosophy class. (Believe me,
that was a great compliment)
Now you may ask, “Why bother to analyze our responses and why do philosophers
pick everything to death? Can’t we just enjoy the art?” I can even hear you saying
this out loud! Why think about our responses at all? Because it means that we value
something. It exercises our power to make value judgments. (It is possible that
Aesthetical inquiry is the mental prerequisite to ethical thinking. And isn’t this a
safe way to introduce value theory to public school children!) It is also important
because it sharpens our observation and evaluation skills. When we make judgments, we
are drawing conclusions and letting our thoughts make lots of connections.
to be continued......