National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Fall 2001


Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 2:2, Fall/Winter 2001. Copyright © 2001 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


In many college courses, the goal of teaching is to convey content so that the students in the course can become literate in a certain discipline. In such courses, the students learn information with which to answer questions appropriate to the field of study. In a course on the arts, however, the goal may not be answering the questions, but asking them. Due to the philosophical nature of the question ‘What is Art?’ for example, faculty members teaching a course on the arts need to realize that students may never fully grasp the concept of what art is. A nonetheless worthy outcome of such a course, though, might be a meaningful evolution of intellectual thought regarding the question. Put another way, a course on the arts perhaps ought not teach answers to questions like ‘What is Art’ so much as teach such (ultimately unanswerable) questions themselves that prod us to think about art and develop a more sophisticated understanding of the complicated philosophy of aesthetics.
The following essay includes observations about student willingness and ability to query the nature of art. The material provided arose from various events that occurred in an Honors course entitled “The Arts” at The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, MN, in which the students examined a number of arts, both performing and non-performing, attended a wide range of artistic events, and continually asked the question, “What is art?”