Image of a mosaic

"Philosophy should quicken life, not deaden it." - Susan Glaspell

Information at a Glance

  • Evening Class
  • Tuesdays 18:00 - 20:00
  • 10 weeks: May to July
  • 2 hours weekly online taught time
  • Tutor: Matthew Rowe
  • Fees from £67 to £117
  • Official Course Title: 'Understanding Art'
  • Online course


Philosophy has always had a close relationship to the visual arts and on this 10 week evening class Dr Matthew Rowe invites you to join him on a journey to explore some of the fascinating and sometimes extraordinary philosophical ideas that have influenced artists and the understanding of art. By the end of the course, you will have encountered a range of different philosophical views on art that should help you to understand and appreciate visual art in new and exciting ways.

The course is divided into two main sections: The first deals with major philosophers from within the Western tradition and their views on art, beauty and culture. The second, building on the historical insights from the first. addresses some contemporary discussions within the philosophy of art.

Through presentations with photographic slides by the lecturer and group discussions, the course will help you to develop your understanding of key themes in art and the philosophy of art, including:

  • The relationship between art and science
  • The relationship between art and craft
  • connections between beauty, pleasure and morality
  • art’s role in as a form of knowledge
  • the status of the maker – artisans and artists
  • the development of the idea of art and the different types of art through history.

You do not need to have previous experience or knowledge of art history or philosophy to take this course.

Equipment Required

To take part in this class you will need an internet connected computer or tablet, together with a Microsoft Teams Account. Microsoft Teams accounts are free, but you do need to register for one in advance using the same email address with which you enrol on this course. We recommend you also download the Microsoft Teams App.

If you want to take part in this class  you will need at a microphone and web-camera connected to your computer or tablet. Many computers, laptops and tablets already have these built in, but you might want to check on that first.

Course Information

Course Programme

  • Week 1: Introduction and Plato

This week will provide a general overview of the themes and development of the course before we discuss Plato's views on poetry's place in the ideal society, the nature of beauty, and imitation and creativity, as well as whether representations can provide any knowledge. The online class will involve a slide presentation by the tutor and may also involve group discussions within the online class.

  • Week 2: Aristotle – Mimesis, Tragedy and Pleasure

This week we will look at Aristotle's theories of mimesis (imitation) and the pleasures it affords, of how tragedy can provide the pleasure of catharsis, and how learned skill is essential to any technical making We will also begin to trace the development of key concepts that make up our idea of art now and the status of those that make things that we would call art now. The online class will involve a slide presentation by the tutor and may also involve group discussions within the online class.

  • Week 3 Kant – Aesthetics

This week we will explore the Aesthetic theory of Immanuel Kant, exploring his ideas of an aesthetic judgement, the beautiful, the sublime, genius and aesthetic distinteredness. We will also explore the differences between art & science in terms of creativity and knowledge and the relation between art and morality. The online class will involve a slide presentation by the tutor and may also involve group discussions within the online class.

  • Week 4: Hegel – the Historical Nature of Art

This week we look at the theory of art of GWF Hegel, in particular his ideas that art has a developmental history related to its purpose in explaining the world to us, and his idea that this history has an end. We'll look at how these ideas foreshadow some ideas of postmodernism and how the concept of art, and individual art forms, are suited to particular times and epochs. The online class will involve a slide presentation by the tutor and may also involve group discussions within the online class.

  • Week 5: Nietzsche – Art as a Guide to Life

This week we look at the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche, exploring his ideas of the Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies in art, and also how a culture's art can tell you about the health of its culture. We will also explore the idea that art should be regarded as the fundamental purpose of life as well as exploring what Nietzsche's ideas contribute to our key themes. The online class will involve a slide presentation by the tutor and may also involve group discussions within the online class.

  • Week 6: Aesthetics versus Art

This week we will look at the distinction between aesthetics – a particular kind of experience or judgement – and art – the production of certain kinds of things within defined historical practices – as well as what ties them together. We'll see how these have become separated from Modernism onwards and what this means for questions of the definition of art, and ideas of what kind of activity is needed to make an artwork, or produce an object of aesthetic attention. The online class will involve a slide presentation by the tutor and may also involve group discussions within the online class.

  • Week 7: Fakes and Forgeries

This week will look at the idea of fakes and forgeries and their implications for theories of art. Does originality and authenticity have any more than economic and historical import? What have we lost when we discover that an artwork was not what we thought it was? Do they matter in the same way and in the same degree to all artworks? What is a fake or a forgery anyway? And are there any artworks or kinds of artwork that cannot be forged? The online class will involve a slide presentation by the tutor and may also involve group discussions within the online class.

  • Week 8: The Definition of Art

This week we will explore the different proposed approaches within the philosophy of art to the question of art's definition. We'll explore the different kinds of definition that have been proposed – those based on what it is to make art, on what it is to appreciate art, on their aesthetic properties, on whether and how they express or symbolise emotion or language – as well as those that suggest that art can only be defined as certain kind of activity, or cultural context, or indeed, those that suggest that ‘art' is a concept that cannot be defined. The online class will involve a slide presentation by the tutor and may also involve group discussions within the online class.

  • Week 9: Different Kinds of Artworks

This week will address the question of what kinds of things are artworks? Some, like paintings, seem to be objects, and others, like music, seem to be scores or instructions. What does this mean and what else follows from this? We'll also explore the differences between the so-called creative and performative arts, and asking questions such as When and how can an artwork be lost? And are artworks always in definite art form? The online class will involve a slide presentation by the tutor and may also involve group discussions within the class.

  • Week 10: The bases of Interpretations and Judgements

This week will tie up many strands from the previous 9 weeks be discussing how we make judgments about artworks and what we're doing when interpret artworks. How is what we think about an artwork related to pleasure? How is it related to what art form we think the artwork is in? What kind of judgement are we making? Are there interpretive facts about artworks that are right or wrong, or is all our talk about the worth of artworks subjective opinions, based on our preferences?  The online class will involve a slide presentation by the tutor and may also involve group discussions within the online class.

The class programme is indicative only and is subject to possible modification. This class is taught entirely online.

Additional Reading and Credit Information

There is no compulsory reading required for this course, and there is no set course text.

About Your Tutor

Photograph of Matthew RoweDr Matthew Rowe is an extremely experienced and engaging teacher of philosophy, as well as being a practising philosopher in his own right.

His interests lie in aesthetics, the philosophy of art and relationship between artistic practice and art theory. He is primarily a writer, although he also engages in solo and collaborative visual art practises when appropriate.

His current writing research focusses on site speficity within artisitic production and issues surrounding morality and photography. Current writing projects include an essay on John Waters and a philosophical analysis of irony and sincerity.

As well as teaching at Imperial College London, Matthew also lectures at City and Guilds of London Art School.

Course Fees and Rate Categories

HoursWeeksStandard RateInternal RateAssociate Rate
20  10  £200
All fee rates quoted are for the whole course.
Term dates 1

Fee Categories and Discounts

Standard Rate

  • Applicable to all except those who fall under the Internal Rate or Associate Rate category, respectively.

Internal Rate

  • Applies to current Imperial College students and staff (incl. Imperial NHS Trust, Imperial Innovations, ancillary & service staff employed on long-term contracts at Imperial College by third-party contractors).
  • Current Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC) staff, current CLCC PhD students, Science Communication (Sci Comm) postgraduate students, and students enrolled on an Imperial College 'Language for Science' degree programme should email evening before completing the online enrolment form.

Associate Rate

  • Students (non-Imperial College)
  • Alumni of Imperial College and predecessor colleges and institutes
  • City & Guilds College Association members
  • Members of the Friends of Imperial College
  • Francis Crick Institute staff, researchers and students
  • Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
  • Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council staff
  • Harrods staff
  • Historic Royal Palaces staff
  • Natural History Museum staff
  • Science Museum staff
  • South London Botanical Institute Members
  • Victoria and Albert Museum staff
  • Royal Geographical Society staff
  • Royal College of Art and Royal College of Music tutors and other staff
  • Santander Bank staff (Imperial College Walkway branch only)
  • Austrian Cultural Forum staff
  • Staff of Exhibition Road Cultural Group (Discover South Kensington) organisations
  • Lycee Charles de Gaulle staff
  • Tutors and other staff of other universities and higher education institutions
  • Tutors and other staff of institution members of the Association of Colleges
  • Residents of postcodes SW3, SW5, SW7, SW10 and W8
  • Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
  • Members of the South London Botanical Institute (SLBI)

Late enrolment

It is possible to enrol on many CLCC Evening Class and Lunchtime Learning programmes after the course has started. For non-language courses this is subject entirely to agreement by the tutor. For language courses it is subject to agreement by the language Coordinator conducting level assessment. If you want to join a course late do bear in mind there might be work you will need to catch up on, particularly in language courses.

Applicable terms & conditions

Please read these before enrolling on any course.

Term Dates

HoursWeeksAutumn termSpring termSummer term
 20  10 n/a n/a w/c 11 May - w/c 13 Jul 2020 (10 weeks)

Enrolment Process

Web enrolment starts 1 March

Enrolment & payment are through the Imperial College eStore. Please use above booking link noting below instructions:

  • Our rate categories are explained on this page and your applicable category must be selected on the eStore
  • First-time eStore users please create an account by entering an email address and password. These credentials should also be used for future bookings. Imperial College users please note the eStore is not a single-signon College system
  • The booking process involves entering payment details before your course choice and applicant details are queried on an in-built questionnnaire which completes the process
  • The following email notifications will be sent
What is sentWhen is it sentWhat does it contain
1. Payment confirmation Instantaneously following submission of your online application
  • Confirms your payment, date of payment and order number
  • Should not be treated as a course-enrolment receipt and therefore does not show your course however these details are sent to us via the system
2. Enrolment confirmation Sent in due course but likely not before the end of September. Please treat your payment confirmation as confirmation that your applicant details and payment have been received
  • Confirms your course choice
  • Shows the programme your course is part of as well as the term dates
  • Confirms your course' day of the week & time
3. Programme information Usually sent Friday late afternoon the week before term starts
  • Contains further course details incl. classroom location and teacher contact information
  • Provides further general programme details
If you need further help with the above information please ring 020 7594 8756

Certificate of Attendance

Our adult education evening and daytime classes do not offer academic credits, but we do offer an attendance certificate to those learners who attend at least 80% of the taught classroom sessions. Eligible learners receive their certificate by email after the end of the course.

Any Questions?

Questions regarding the content and teaching of this course should be sent to the course tutor, Dr Matthew Rowe at