2023-2024 / PHIL0076-1

Aesthetics and contemporary art


30h Th

Number of credits

 Master of Science (MSc) in Architectural Engineering3 crédits 
 Bachelor in history of art and archaeology : general5 crédits 
 Bachelor in history of art and archaeology : musicology5 crédits 
 Bachelor in philosophy5 crédits 


Maud Hagelstein

Language(s) of instruction

French language

Organisation and examination

Teaching in the second semester


Schedule online

Units courses prerequisite and corequisite

Prerequisite or corequisite units are presented within each program

Learning unit contents

Theme : Sensorialities and contemporary arts


The course aims to develop a general philosophical reflection on the links - obvious but nevertheless problematic - between contemporary artistic expressions and the exercise of our five senses. We will try to acknowledge the decisive role of sensibility in the constitution and delimitation of artistic experience. One hears sometimes that the contemporary art would be essentially (or by nature) ludic, cerebral, conceptual, elitist. However it mobilizes an alternative exercise of our senses, according sometimes to new modalities. The theme chosen for the course will make it possible to bring (or rather to make return) Aesthetics on the ground of the sensitive, of the "Aesthesis" (= sensation). The question of meaning (of the work) and of the senses (through which it is perceived) will be raised. According to the philosopher Jacques Rancière, the very definition of contemporary art - in "aesthetic" regime - rests on a specific form of sensitive experience, heterogeneous to the ordinary sensitive experience, another quality and another intensity. With which tools could we describe the particular form of sensible apprehension that inscribes an experience in the register of the art? With which words, with which concepts could we translate this sensitive intensity of the aesthetic experience?

To consider these questions, we will concentrate primarily on the sensory modalities (5 senses) and on their exchanges. How to think about the links between the senses, and their possible unity? Are the senses independent of each other, can they for example be autonomous, can they be exercised in a pure way (pure vision, pure touch, etc.)? From a philosophical point of view, we could study from there - in the broad phenomenological corpus - the different models allowing to think the relations between the sensory modalities, rather than their only isolated use. It will not only be a question of studying the capacity of the senses to bring into play the emotions, nor to bring out their cognitive value, but also to question their relationship. Three great theoretical models could be considered to think these relations: 1. the model of the amodal perception (or "not differentiated"), which supposes a primordial connivance of the senses, previous to their delimitation; 2. the model of the intersensoriality, which envisages the senses in their specific power but also in their exchanges of information and in the "services" which they render to each other; 3. the synesthetic model, which covers the phenomena of association and instantaneous translation between the senses. With these three models, we will not only explore theoretically the structures of sensory perception, but we will also describe specific artistic situations.

The course will consider numerous practical cases, borrowed from the fields of common or artistic experience: Michel Gouéry's sculptural work, Michel Blazy's experiments with rottenness, the synesthetic dispositions of autistic people, the fictional experience of Condillac's statue, situations of sensory deprivation, sensitive perceptions of space, echolocation, Sophie Calle's investigation of the blind, the Kôdô ceremony described by Chantal Jaquet, recent developments in olfactory art, the texts of neurologist Oliver Sacks, ethological reappropriations of the Molyneux problem, the use of perfume in contemporary installations, Daniel Stern's experiments with infants, Francis Bacon's painting, the tuning of the senses to natural environments, Bernie Krause's biophony, Chris Watson's soundscapes, the perception of colors, etc.

Learning outcomes of the learning unit

  The course will pursue several objectives:

  • To deepen the primary and etymological meaning of the aesthetic discipline as "study of the sensible", with the support of various philosophical texts (aesthetics and phenomenology);
  • To describe with precision and compare the different models of our sensitive behaviors, by identifying/criticizing the commonly accepted hierarchies between the senses;
  • To keep at a distance the global depreciative judgement on contemporary art (elitism, coldness, cerebrality) by showing its capacity to deploy new models to think the sensible, on the basis of numerous examples which should allow to rebuild differently the landscape of the current artistic practices.

Prerequisite knowledge and skills


Planned learning activities and teaching methods


Mode of delivery (face to face, distance learning, hybrid learning)

Face-to-face course

Additional information:

Length and time period : 30 hours, 1st quadrimester.
Location and schedule : A2/5/11, Mondays from 11h to 13h.

Recommended or required readings

Short texts integrated into the slide show (available on the course platform), and suggested bibliography for each session. No required reading.

Exam(s) in session

Any session

- In-person

written exam ( open-ended questions )

Additional information:

Writting examination (June, August-September).

Work placement(s)

Organisational remarks and main changes to the course



Official instructor
Maud Hagelstein, Senior Research Associate F.R.S.-FNRS
Department of Philosophy
7, Place du 20 Août, 2nd floor, 4000 Liège
Tel. : 04/366.55.64.
E-mail : Maud.Hagelstein@uliege.be 

Association of one or more MOOCs