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Philosophy at the Virtual Art Museum

Using art to prompt philosophical discussions in the high school classroom.

Teacher Guide

Circles in a Circle

Wassily Kandinsky, 1923
FILTERS: Abstract Art

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Questions for Philisophical Discussion

  1. What are the most prominent features of this painting?
  2. How does the presence of the intersecting tan and green figures affect your experience of the painting? The large black circle?
  3. Are there any elements of the painting that remind you of landscapes? Of anything else?
  4.  Do you think this painting is beautiful?
  5. Why is this image called “abstract”? Are there specific feature(s) of the painting that the term refers to? Are there other ways of describing the works that you think are more appropriate?
  6. Besides certain works of art, what sorts of things are called abstract? (Hint: Think about the different subjects you study in school. Are some of them more abstract than others? Which ones? What makes those subjects abstract?)
  7. How does the term “abstract” describe those things? Does it evaluate them, say in a positive or negative way? Does it refer to certain properties of those things?
  8. What makes something abstract? What is the opposite of abstract? Does the word “abstract” have a definite meaning? Can you define it?
  9. Philosophy is sometimes described as abstract. Do abstract art and philosophy share something that makes them both abstract?

Additional Resources

Abstract Art Overview and Resources

Abstract art, also known as non-representational art, is imagery that does not make visual reference to people, places or things in the real world. The paintings in this unit are all examples of Western abstract art from the twentieth century.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art: Abstract Art
 is an excellent resource for further information on abstraction and abstract art.

The topic of the meaning of the term “abstract” introduces themes from the philosophy of language, in particular the difference between description and evaluation. Here are some more resources for exploring the concepts introduced by abstract art.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on abstract objects

There is an interesting controversy between John Locke and George Berkeley on whether there can be abstract ideas. The Introduction to Berkeley’s The Principles of Human Knowledge contains a nice presentation of the theory and Berkeley’s criticisms of it.

Episode of Philosophy Talk about the nature of art

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Wassily Kandinsky, Circles in a Circle, 1923
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Wassily Kandinsky, Circles in a Circle, 1923
Download & Print Send Via Email
Wassily Kandinsky, Circles in a Circle, 1923

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