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Philosophy at the Virtual Art Museum

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

Teacher Guide

Additional Resources for Philosophy at the Virtual Art Museum

The units on this website use works of art to introduce topics for philosophical discussions. This page provides some resources that will be useful to get your students to go more deeply into their ideas. You’ll find philosophy encyclopedia entries, art history resources, videos and podcasts to enrich your students’ Philosophy at the Virtual Art Museum experience!

Philosophy Resources

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Art History Resources

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

SmartHistory offers videos on many major works of arts and genres


Portraits are visual representations of individual people. Painted portraits were common until the invention of photography in the middle of the nineteenth century. When looking at portraits, it’s important to engage not only with the person depicted in the work of art, it’s also important to discuss the artistic choices the portraitist made when creating the image.

Tate Modern on Portraiture

Three issues are raised by the philosophical questions in this unit: the nature of beauty; how self-knowledge differs from the knowledge we have of others; and whether objectification always enters into our perception of others. These are difficult and interesting questions. Here are some resources to help students grapple with these questions.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on beauty

Philosophy Talk episode: “What is beauty?

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on self-knowledge

Philosophy Talk episode on the self and self-presentation

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Sartre and objectification


Landscapes are works of art that focus on scenes from nature. The landscapes featured in this unit encourage discussion about how the natural world is depicted and our relationship to the natural world.

Overview of the landscape genre from the J. Paul Getty Museum

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on environmental ethics


Expressionist art focuses on the expression of emotions rather than the accurate depiction of objects or people. Artists use color and visual distortions as a means of communicating emotional states.

Expressionism at Tate

What Is Expressionism?

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on emotion

Philosophy Talk episode on “indispensable emotions

Abstract Art

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

Conceptual Art

The philosopher R. G. Collingwood claimed that the true works of art were the ideas in the minds of artists. Similarly, in 1967 the American Artist Sol LeWitt wrote that, “In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.” In this unit on conceptual art, the artists featured focus on language and its relationship to visual images.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on conceptual art

The Hard Case of Duchamp’s Fountain” by Launt Thompson

Conceptual art at the Museum of Modern Art

Conceptual Art in the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History


Photography is an art form that came into existence in the mid-nineteenth century. At the outset, photography consisted of the recording of light on a photo-sensitive emulsion. In recent decades, digital technology has replaced the photo-chemical one, transforming the nature of photography. Because photography reproduced reality in a naturalistic manner, it caused a crisis in traditional painting and the art world at large.

Resources on photography from the Museum of Modern Art

Timeline for the history of photography

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