The Origins of Art: Nature or Culture?

7.5 credits

Syllabus, Master's level, 5ES073

A revised version of the syllabus is available.
Education cycle
Second cycle
Main field(s) of study and in-depth level
Aesthetics A1N
Grading system
Fail (U), Pass (G), Pass with distinction (VG)
Finalised by
The Department Board, 6 May 2020
Responsible department
Department of Philosophy

Entry requirements

Eligible is the person who fulfils the requirements for a bachelor's degree in the humanities or has a corresponding foreign degree.

Learning outcomes

After completing the course students will have acquired an in-depth understanding of themes to do with the origins of art and be able to:

  • Use the concepts and distinctions that are necessary for a critical examination of and positioning in relation to relevant theories and arguments
  • Account for a broader understanding of the origins of art and its evolution
  • Account for and be able to give a systematic analysis of central questions within empirical aesthetics
  • Have good knowledge of philosophical aesthetics
  • Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of relevant theories
  • Use methods and tools to argue for/against central theories about aesthetic value, art, and artistic experience.


The main aim of this course is to examine the extent to which art can be said to be either a socio-cultural product or the instinctive expression of our human nature. We approach the central questions from an inter-disciplinary perspective, that is to say from the point of view of philosophy, but also anthropology, evolutionary theory, psychology and neurology. How, if at all, can empirical data add to our understanding of why art exists and plays an important part in our life? Does art have a distinct cognitive function or is it a so-called by-product? What can cave art teach us about the development of our ability to think symbolically?


The course will be taught by lectures and seminars. The language of instruction is English.


The course is assessed through written and oral assignments. Master's students are expected to write somewhat longer and more comprehensive essays than C-level students, and the requirements concerning scholarly quality are higher.

If there are special reasons for doing so, an examiner may make an exception from the method of assessment indicated and allow a student to be assessed by another method. An example of special reasons might be a certificate regarding special pedagogical support from the University's disability coordinator.