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 


Course syllabus


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. V B. O’Connor, The Adorno Reader. Oxford: Blackwell, str. 231-238.
  • Benjamin, Walter. 1998. Umetnina v času, ko jo je mogoče tehnično reproducirati. Izbrani spisi. Ljubljana: Studia humanitatis, str. 145-176.
  • Benjamin, Walter. 1978. Surrealism. V P. Demetz (ur.), Reflections. New York: Schocken Books str. 177-192.
  • Buchloh, Benjamin. November 1984. Theorizing the Avant-Garde. Art in America, str. 19-21.
  • Bürger, Peter. 1984. Theory of the Avant-Garde. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Greenberg, Clement. 1939. Avant-garde and kitsch. Art and Culture. Critical Essays. Boston: Becon Press, 1961.
  • Groys, Boris 1992.The Total Art of Stalinism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Erjavec, Aleš (ur.), 2003. Postmodernism and the Postsocialist Condition. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Erjavec, Aleš. 2014. Predgovor vTeri Smit, Savremena umetnost I savremenost. Beograd: Orion Art, str. 5-14.
  • Erjavec, Aleš & Miller, Tyrus (ur.). 2014. Modernism Revisited. Filozofski vestnik, zv. XXXVI, št. 2.
  • Erjavec, Aleš (ur.) 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. Izvir umetniškega dela. Izbrane razprave. Ljubljana: Cankarjeva založba, str. 241-318.
  • Horkheimer, Max in Adorno, Theodor W. 2006. Dialektika razsvetljenstva, Ljubljana: Studia humanitatis, str. 17-55, 133-179.
  • Jencks, Charles. 1977. The Language of postmodern architecture. London: Academy Editions.
  • Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 2004. Oko in duh. Likovne beside. Priloga Horizonti. Št. 1,2, str. 35-46.
  • Rancière, Jacques. 2004. The Politics of Aesthetics. London: Continuum. 2004. str. 7-65.
  • Schiller, Friedrich. 1967. O estetski vzgoji človeka. Ljubljana: Študentska založba, 2003.
  • 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.


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.


Intended learning outcomes:

Students use the knowledge acquired in the course to write a piece of academic writing that can serve as a draft of a dissertation chapter or a research article.


Learning and teaching methods:

Types of learning/teaching:

  • Frontal teaching
  • Independent students work
  • e-learning


Teaching methods:

  • Explanation
  • Conversation/discussion/debate
  • Work with texts



  • 80 % Long written assignments
  • 20 % Final examination (written/oral).


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.,