Critical Aesthetics and Twentieth-Century Art


Comparative Studies of Ideas and Cultures (3rd level)

The Transformation of Modern Thought – Philosophy, psychoanalysis, culture

Course code: 47 

Year of study: Without 

Course principal:
Prof. Aleš Erjavec, Ph. D.
Prof. Lev Kreft, Ph. D.


Workload: lectures 60 hours, seminar 30 hours

Course type: general elective 

Languages: Slovene 

Learning and teaching methods: lectures, seminars, discussion classes 

Objectives and competences

The course follows two paths: (1) It presents and discusses some pivotal developments in aesthetics from its inception in the eighteenth century to the present. Aesthetics is here understood predominantly as a critical philosophical endeavor, linked to the tradition of philosophical critique on the one hand and critical theory on the other. It encompasses also aesthetic theory and philosophy of art. (2) At the same time the course presents and discusses coincident developments in nineteenth and twentieth-centuries art, especially those that are relevant for the positions, views and arguments in aesthetics (interpreted in the broad sense mentioned above).

The emergence of the general category “art” in singular at the time of the French Revolution signifies a profound break between the previous art (painting, sculpture, music, poetry, architecture) and the so-called “modern” and modernist art. (Jacques Rancière has recently introduced the notion of “aesthetic regime of art” as their replacement.) An important segment of modernism is avant-garde art that emerged at the turn of the century (i.e., expressionism, cubism, futurism, etc.) and—we shall argue—which finds its continuation not only in the neo-avant-gardes but also in the art of the present millennium. The central topic of lectures will thus be both sides of the two interrelated paths of “instauration” (Souriau, Althusser).

The course will first focus on the historical platform from which modern western art was launched, namely classicism and romanticism, and then turn to realism, impressionism and symbolism—to reach the twentieth-century forms, works, artists, movements and ideas. Here special attention will be paid to those avant-garde movements that saw as their task the transgression of the divide between art and “life” and that were designated as “radical,” “politicized,” historical,” etc. At the same time attention will be paid also to “modern art” as a specific instance of twentieth-century art. In the course the main focus of attention in art will be on modernism, postmodernism and contemporary art. Attention will be also paid to developments outside the traditional hegemonic art centers such as Europe and the United States, namely in Eastern Europe, China, Mexico, etc. They will be frequently interpreted as instances of modernisms, postmodernisms and contemporary art. Finally the impact of aesthetics and related theory on twentieth-century art will also be ascertained. 



None required.


Content (Syllabus outline)

  • Aesthetics: a short survey
  • Basic terms
  • Immanuel Kant
  • Friedrich Schiller (with Jacques Rancière)
  • Aesthetics as philosophy of art (Hegel)
    • Martin Heidegger (and van Gogh)
    • Maurice Merleau-Ponty (and Paul Cézanne)
    • Frankfurt School
    • Theodor W. Adorno: autonomy of art
    • Walter Benjamin: aura and changed sense perception
    • Modernity, modernism(s), modern art
    • The “end of art” theory (Arthur Danto)
    • Peter Bürger, Benjamin Buchloh, and the neo-avant-gardes
    • Situationism
    • Postmodernism: from Charles Jencks to Fredric Jameson
    • NSK
    • Nicolas Bourriaud and relational aesthetics
    • Contemporary art: Arthur Danto – Hans Belting – Terry Smith
    • Jacques Rancière, art and aesthetics
    • Aesthetics of everyday life
    • Geography of art: Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann



  • Adorno, Theodor W. 1963. Culture industry reconsidered. In B. O’Connor, The Adorno Reader. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 231-238.
  • Benjamin, Walter. 1968. The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. In H. Arendt (ed.). Illuminations. New York: Schocken Books, pp. 217-251.

Benjamin, Walter. 1986. Surrealism. In P. Demetz (ed.), Reflections, pp. 177-192.

  • Buchloh, Benjamin. November 1984. Theorizing the Avant-Garde. Art in America, pp. 19-21.
  • Bürger, Peter. 1984. Theory of the Avant-Garde. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Greenberg, Clement. 1961. Avant-garde and kitsch. In Art and culture. Critical essays. Boston: Beacon Press, pp. 3-21.
  • Groys, Boris 1992.The Total Art of Stalinism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Erjavec, Aleš (ed.), 2003. Postmodernism and the Postsocialist Condition. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Erjavec, Aleš. 2014. Preface (Predgovor) intoTeri Smit, Savremena umetnost i savremenost. Belgrade: Orion Art, pp. 5-14.
  • Erjavec, Aleš & Miller, Tyrus (eds.). 2014. Modernism Revisited. Filozofski vestnik, vol. XXXVI, no. 2.
  • Erjavec, Aleš (ed.) 2015. Aesthetic Revolutions and Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde Movements. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Hegel, Georg W. F. 2003. Predavanja o estetiki. Uvod. Ljubljana: Analecta.
  • Heidegger, Martin 1976. The Origin of the Work of Art. In Basic Writings. HarperSanFrancisco, pp. 143-188.
  • Horkheimer, Max and Adorno, Theodor W. 1947. Dialectics of Enlightenment; chapters on “The Concept of Enlightenment” and on “Culture Industry.”
  • Jencks, Charles. 1977. The Language of postmodern architecture. London: Academy Editions.
  • Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 1993. Eye and Mind. In Johnson, G.A. (ed.). The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader. Minneapolis. Norhtwestern University. Press, pp. 121-149.
  • Rancière, Jacques. 2004. The Politics of Aesthetics. London: Continuum. 2004. pp. 7-65.
  • Schiller, Friedrich. 1967. On the aesthetic education of man. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Shiner, Larry. 2001. The invention of art. A cultural history. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Smith, Terry. 2009. What is contemporary art? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.



  • Active participation in lecture and discussion classes.
  • A 1,500 word presentation of issues selected from the course content is a precondition for writing a term paper. – Term paper (5,000-6,000 words) addresses a topic from the course.
  • Assessing learning outcomes: 
  • Students are to demonstrate thorough knowledge of the relevant literature, mastery of writing, and the ability to think analytically and provide good arguments through short presentation of selected issues.
  • The oral exam together with the term paper assesses whether students have mastered the topics addressed in the lecture classes, can write papers including citations and a bibliography, can apply, analyze, and build upon the professional literature used, can present a topic with good argumentation, can think analytically, and whether they are creative.b


Contemporary philosophy and modernist literature

Assist. Prof. Rok Benčin, Ph.D.,


Critical Aesthetics and Twentieth-Century Art

Prof. Aleš Erjavec, Ph. D. ,

Prof. Lev Kreft, Ph. D. ,


Formation of the Concepts

Assist. Prof. Aleš Bunta, Ph. D. ,

Assist. Prof. Tadej Troha, Ph. D. ,


German Idealism and its Consequences

Assoc. Prof. Frank Ruda, Ph. D. ,


Ideology and Philosophy

Assoc. Prof. Jan Völker, Ph. D. ,


Philosophy and Psychoanalysis

Prof. Jelica Šumič Riha, Ph. D.,


Philosophy and Scientific Revolution

Assoc. Prof. Matjaž Vesel, Ph.D.,


Psychoanalysis and the Social Bond

Prof. Alenka Zupančič, Ph.D.,

Assoc. Prof. Peter Klepec, Ph. D.,