Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding

One of the goals of general education is to help students understand themselves and others as products of and participants in traditions of culture and belief. One step toward achieving this understanding is the development of aesthetic responsiveness and the ability to interpret forms of cultural expression—literary or religious texts, paintings, sculpture, architecture, music, film, dance, decorative arts. These skills allow students to engage intelligently and critically with the world of art and ideas, and they are necessary for understanding how meanings are produced and received. Reading a poem, looking at a painting, and listening to a piece of music are complex capacities that build an informed sensitivity, an interaction between the intellect and the senses. And students need to know how to interpret cultural works—to know, for example, how to distinguish the literal and symbolic, something that is crucial to evaluating and making sense of everything from religious texts and lyric poems to pop songs and motion pictures. Knowing something about language and perception can heighten students’ aesthetic responses to and interpretation of cultural objects. Exploring theoretical and philosophical issues concerning the production and reception of meanings and the formation of aesthetic judgment enhances students’ awareness of ways in which cultural objects acquire value and significance.

Courses in Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding should:

  • develop skills in criticism, that is, aesthetic responsiveness and interpretive ability;
  • develop skills in understanding written, aural, visual, kinaesthetic, or other forms by examining primary texts in any language, linguistic structures, and/or works of art in one or more media;
  • teach how to analyze these works in a contextual framework, such as critical theory, aesthetics, philosophy of art, rhetoric, theories of language and meaning, or theories of perception; and
  • where practicable and appropriate, include experiences out of the classroom, such as visits to exhibitions, performances, and readings, or interactions with performers, directors, and curators, or allow students to undertake creative work

See my.harvard for a list of courses that satisfy this category.  Using the Advanced Search  function, select Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding from the drop-down menu found under FAS – Additional Attributes.

Learn about other General Education categories.