English and drama

For Love: Taste, Evaluation, and Aesthetics in Criticism and Culture

Module code: Q3266
Level 5
15 credits in autumn teaching
Teaching method: Seminar
Assessment modes: Coursework

“I don't know art, but I know what I like,” goes the disclaimer. In this writing-oriented seminar, we seek to unpack the relationship between ‘art’ and ‘what I like’ by examining a variety of cultural objects together with accounts of taste.

You examine concepts including beauty, the sublime, cuteness, the gimmick and formula through texts by Edgar Allan Poe, Marianne Moore, T.S. Eliot, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Christian Bök. We also cover an assortment of recent evaluative criticism and theoretical writings by Immanuel Kant, Thorstein Veblen, Clement Greenberg, Pierre Bourdieu, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Franco Moretti and Sianne Ngai. 

You'll consider questions such as:

  • what makes us care about art?
  • could annoyance be an aesthetic principle?
  • what is the place of evaluation in an age of analytical criticism?
  • what are the uses of an art that nobody likes?
  • what is the role of money in taste?
  • what are the ethics of aesthetics?
  • under what circumstances is an aesthetic pleasure guilty?
  • when should the appreciation of art works be a matter of disinterested judgment and when a matter of passionate engagement?
  • does love blind?
  • what is the difference between a fan and a critic?
  • what are the affordances and limits of the formulaic and the generic?

Module learning outcomes

  • understand key theoretical concepts in aesthetics and their relation to form
  • understand sociological and historical accounts of aesthetics
  • recognize evaluative criticism and assess its role in contemporary criticism
  • write meaningful, motivated, and illuminating evaluative criticism