Philosophy and Creative Practice


The Philosophy and Creative Practice elective involves a series of classes based on the themes outlined below. You will be given all the material or the classes on the first day, together with guidance on research design and essay writing.

The Course looks at some of the significant themes in  philosophy, combined with the aim of understanding their impetus to creative practice. The course will consist of a series of seminars in which the writing of major philosophers or themes will be outlined and discussed. Each seminar will introduce a set of questions and ideas that will be continued in subsequent sessions; these themes include questions about the notion of knowledge and truth, language, gender and the perception of space and time and their possible ramifications for art and design practices.

This course does not assume any previous knowledge of philosophy and will offer an introduction to key concepts and ideas. Some of these are straightforward, accessible arguments and others demand more patience, so that through your study you will gain an ability to discuss and use philosophical concepts with confidence.

Written submission: an essay of 2500 words, correctly presented and referenced, relating to a topic pertinent to the course. Students intending to write an essay should have the topic approved in advance by the course tutor.

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Session 1: Greek Philosophy—Fact & Fiction

We love the beautiful and we live the beautiful, we love wisdom and we live wisdom. —Pericles

The Greeks distinguished philosophy from mythology in a search for the difference between fact and fiction. Yet their creative inspiration was Homer—The Odyssey is possibly one of the most influential art works created. This session gives a historical overview of the development of Greek art and the emergence of philosophy. When, how and why did Greek philosophy begin, how did they view the world, what did they discuss and when did it end? Sections include: Seven Sages the ‘pre-Socratics’; the search for moral and religious perfection. the emergence of lyric poetry and Greek drama; types of myth; Homeric Greece and Sappho.


Session 2: Renaissance Humanism—Allegory: sacred and profane

‘The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.’ —Dante

Jacob Burckhardt’s influence is discussed on the way we think about the Renaissance as a transition in European civilization from the cultural pattern of the late Middle Ages to the beginnings of secular modernity. Giorgione’s much-interpreted painting known as “The Tempest” is discussed to introduce how the Renaissance world needed a guide, and found it in Humanism. The session focuses on the influence of Cicero, Petrarch, Dante, Pico & Machiavelli on how the ancient Greeks influenced Roman thought, including Political Philosophy—how Renaissance philosophy developed with access to previously unknown literature from ancient Greece and Rome and beyond.

Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, may be best known as King Louis XV's Chief Mistress. But she was also a highly educated tastemaker, a patron of the arts, and an artist in her own right

Session 3: The Enlightenment

‘To hold a pen is to be at war.’ —Voltaire

The 18th century is termed the Age of Reason, Age of Enlightenment because of writing on political and social rights for the individual contributed to unprecedented revolutionary movements.  Many of its philosophers were dramatists, poets or historians at a time when philosophy could not be divorced from theology. Initially this session looks at how supernatural fear had spread since the more rational time of the middle-ages. It takes the work of Voltaire and Emilie Le Tonnier de Breteuil as representing the point when the French rationalist movement joins with the British empirical analytical movement. Voltaire’s Candide, The Way of the World and Philosophical Dictionary is historically contextualised. Denis Diderot’s and Jean-Baptiste d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie, supported by Madame de Pompadour, is discussed as is Diderot’s role of one of the first ‘art critics’ Boucher’s subject matter and character. Pliny’s writings on art as the ‘Essential Copy’ is related to Diderot’s interest in Chardin.


Session 4: Kant Hegel

What can I know? What ought I to do? What am I allowed to hope? —Kant

With Kant and Hegel we see the emergence of a historically reflective dimension into philosophy. If we move 300 years from the Renaissance, the western tradition broadens out with the influence of the ideas around the French Revolution, the Utilitarian’s reasoned system, and radical thinkers and revolutionaries had started a new society in America. Alongside the birth of German Romanticism a tradition of philosophy was founded by Immanuel Kant. His followers, such as Hegel, would influence philosophy and begin to shape the political outlook. This session explores how the problems faced by philosophy in the 17th and 18th century were related to the advances in science—what were its foundations? Was there a framework on which experience is founded; without which we could not grasp the external world? Hegel’s unity of opposites is outlined together with Hegel idea that: ‘Philosophy is its own time comprehended in thoughts’.


Session 5: Romanticism

‘Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason’ —Novalis

In the first part of the 19th century many educated Germans turned to the sphere of culture and art to foster a movement for cultural revitalization instead of a political revolution. Romanticism’s main cultural expressions are outlined as: the philosophical idealism of Kant, Hegel, Schelling and Fichte, the new historiography and a revolution in art, aesthetics and literary criticism.  The session examines the Sturm und Drang movement and focuses on the distinction between the Classical and the Romantic and how this was initially aimed at discerning the differences between the modern and the ancient, and how the idealization of the Middle Ages, aided the Romantics to establish a standpoint for criticism of the new present. If the Enlightenment was the intellectual’s critique of society, of religion and of politics, Romanticism was the revolt of an intellectual and an artistic élite against its own internal subculture.


Session 6: Plato’s allegory of the Cave & Phenomenology

‘Let the picture imitate nothing; let it nakedly present its raison d’être’— Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger

The allegory of the cave it carries with it several philosophical and creative implications. It is tempting to view it as a prophecy of the mass deception of modern media. To examine it its place in Plato’s Republic is acknowledged, his attitude towards politics and philosophy, and his desire to open a school near Athens to continue Socrates’ search for wisdom in the ‘Academy.’ The allegory’s 3 main parts are set out with emphasis on Plato’s theory of forms. For Socrates thinking philosophically about other possible worlds was the highest of human activities. He wanted philosophical understanding, not to ignite a revolution—to make people think more deeply. The main task of philosophy here is to interpret and understand the world. The second part examines the emergence of phenomenology and offers an insight into the interpretation of art in terms of how we ‘look’ and what we think we see. It also enables us to understand how artists have used how we perceive to develop and change contemporary modes of representation. Art becomes more philosophical with the avant-garde and the idea that insight can be obtained through experience of the work of art itself.

Giorgio de Chirico Melancholia, 1916 The Menil Collection, Houston Photo: Hickey-Robertson, Houston

Session 7: Metaphysics

‘All our language is composed of brief little dreams; and the wonderful thing is that we sometimes make of them strangely accurate and marvelously reasonable thoughts. What should we be without the help of that which does not exist? Very little.’—Paul Valéry

Metaphysics was derived as a title for 14 of Aristotle’s works Metaphysics meant ‘the ones after the physical ones’, that combined first science (or principles), wisdom, and theology. A metaphysical quality appears in things that cannot be experienced but yet are regarded as there. To illustrate some ideas on metaphysics this session looks at the interests of Andre Breton, and Surrealism and then De Chirico’s ‘Metaphysical art’. Breton’s ideas on convulsive beauty, found objects, moment privilégié and mise-en-abyme are explored and returned to conclude on the Surrealist movement viewed as expressly drawing on Poe, Baudelaire and Rimbaud’s striving to realize the role of the seer or oracle.  De Chirico is briefly examined in terms of the adoption of non-Euclidean geometry (hyperbolic) within solids that describe the metaphysical piazza in relation to astronomical time.  This session is also accompanied by an outline of research design, how to use different forms of analysis and how to present the assessment.


Session 8: Ludwig Wittgenstein

‘The philosopher treats a question: like an illness.’ —Wittgenstein

Wittgenstein’s contact with Bertrand Russell and G. H. Moore is contextualised at a time when logical quandaries had been exposed at the very roots of pure mathematics. Wittgenstein’s Tractatus is presented as arguing that philosophy can disclose only the logic of what can be truly or even falsely said about the world. The gradual changes in his philosophical approach is outlined via his connection with the Vienna Circle. His writing such as Culture and ValuePhilosophical Investigations and On Certainty are explained in terms of his interest in the ‘natural history of human beings’ and ‘private languages’. Wittgenstein’s close connection to art is conveyed via the Wittgenstein House, which he helped design and his connections to the Vienna of Schonenberg, Freud and Adolf Loos. Wittgenstein’s view that philosophy should be written only as a poetic composition is a main theme exploring the resemblance between a philosophical investigation and an aesthetic one.


Session 9: Existentialism

‘And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.’—Nietzsche

The existentialist refuses to think of the artist as peripheral—only a person living like an artist, is really living. Their ideal is to live in perpetual doubt, shake off habits, teachings and achievements, and be in continual revolt against that which confines or controls us. Existentialists highlight moral imagination and creativity, self-discovery and self-transformation; but such freedom is appalling to those who try to live by it. The work of Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Sartre is individually presented to illustrate the philosophical movement’s artistic dimension. The Existentialists were amongst the first philosophers to ask the question: ‘What is the meaning of life?’  Each writer help us define philosophical reasoning whereby it: (a) Implies the effort to think without preconditions. (b) Is oriented toward constructing a general view of the world and (c) Creates a sphere of being that is between the personal and the objective.

Working Title/Artist: Pair of eyesDepartment: Greek & Roman ArtCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 5th century B.C. or later photography by mma, Digital File DT6547.tif retouched by film and media (jnc) 4_13_11

Session 10: The Greek Polis & the Creation of Democracy

‘Impartiality enters the world with Homer.’—Arendt

Castoriadis writing is used to question whether philosophy is an investigation of what is right and wrong. Possibly it provides the principles that are the basis of our ever being able to say that something is right or wrong. If so then it arises for the first time in Greece. Our political and philosophical questioning is a continuation of the Greek position. This is the impartiality of knowledge and understanding. Interest in the other starts with the Greeks. This interest is part of the critical examination and interrogation of their own institutions. It is part of the democratic and philosophical movement created by the Greeks. This final session examines if Greece as the social-historical place where democracy and philosophy were created—it is our origin. If this creativity is not exhausted then Greece is a germ; not a model or one specimen among others: it is germinal. It closes by examining the profound crisis between democracy and culture.

All of the sessions include advice on research, studying and writing.

Course Aims:

  • to provide students with a variety of core research tools that are equally useful across a range of fields of postgraduate study;
  • to facilitate cross-disciplinary thought and practical connections, by bringing together students on different programmes of study;
  • to enable students to conduct and manage their own self-contained research projects;
  • interrogate the relationships between forms of research and modes of practice.

By the end of the course students should be able to:

  • use a range of research resources and methods effectively;
  • understand the principles underpinning research at postgraduate level;
  • demonstrate understanding of the relationships between research and practice
  • organise and conduct research projects effectively and efficiently
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