Dr Michael Newall
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I undertook an undergraduate studio degree in visual arts at the University of South Australia, studying painting and art theory, before going on to study philosophy at the University of Adelaide. In 2004 I completed a PhD in aesthetics at Flinders University, South Australia. Before coming to the University of Kent I also taught at the University of South Australia, wrote numerous articles and reviews for Australian contemporary arts magazines, and worked as a curator and editor at the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia.
Currently I am Director of Learning & Teaching for the School of Arts, and Director of the MA in Philosophy of Art & Aesthetics. My expertise spans art history and theory, and philosophy of art and aesthetics. In philosophy of art, I have a special concern with the philosophy and aesthetics of visual art. My interest in contemporary art and Australian art has developed in part from my earlier work as a critic and curator. Much of my current teaching and research explores the potential for productive meetings of the two disciplines of art history and philosophy of art.back to top
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My current undergraduate teaching covers philosophy of art, aesthetics, and art history, with a special focus on contemporary art and modern art, as well as studio-based practice and professional practice. I teach the first year module Shock of the Now: Themes in Contemporary Art, which introduces students to central issues of art from the 1960s to the present. I regularly teach two upper level modules that draw together aspects of art history and philosophy of art: Abstraction and Construction, which explores the development and aftermath of modernist painting in a historical and philosophical perspective, and The Sublime, the Disgusting and the Laughable, which investigates alternatives to beauty in visual culture beginning in the 18th century, but with an emphasis on recent art and culture. In other modules my teaching draws on my practical experience – including my art school training, and my experience working in arts organisations: Philosophy in the Studio gives students the opportunity to make studio-based work, and to reflect on theoretical and philosophical issues from the perspective of a practitioner, and Visual Arts Internship gives final year students the opportunity to undertake an internship at a visual arts organisation as part of their studies
I am also Director of the MA in Philosophy of Art, and each year I usually convene the core module Introduction to Research in Philosophy of Art and Aesthetics, as well as the MA’s dissertation module.
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Much of my recent research in the philosophy of art focuses on the philosophy of pictures, but I also have an active interest in the application of analytic philosophy to art historical topics, especially contemporary art; and contemporary art school education. My work on the philosophy of pictures grew out of an interest developed during my time at art school in how pictures differ from other kinds of representations, such as language. There I was intrigued by, but dissatisfied with, the prevailing semiotic approach to this question. My recently published book What is a Picture? (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) presents the outcome of my thinking on this subject. It argues for a new account of pictures as an intrinsically visual from of representation; and it applies this theoretical work in new ways, examining how such an account of pictures can bear on our understanding of pictorial art, from realism through to abstraction. This work was supported by an AHRC Research Leave grant in 2007, and in 2009 I was awarded the John Fisher Memorial Prize for Aesthetics by the American Society for Aesthetics, for a paper ‘Pictorial Resemblance’ (The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 68, 2010), which ultimately grew into an important chapter in the book.
Currently I am beginning a new strand of research – which will involve a number of papers, and culminate in a book – on contemporary art school education. I’m aiming to develop a “philosophy of the art school”, that gives an account of what art schools impart to their students, and how they do this, in a way informed primarily by contemporary theories of art. Again, this is an interest that stems from my own time at art school. Increasingly since the 1960s (although perhaps on the wane today) the contemporary art student has been about as free as one can possibly be in an institutional setting. My new work is in a way intended to do justice to those freedoms by exploring their historical origins, their scope and the tensions between them and the rest of the contemporary world.
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I am particularly interested in working with research students on topics in the philosophy of art, including issues around pictures and visual art, and on philosophical and theoretical topics around contemporary art. If you have an idea for a MPhil or PhD proposal that you would like to try out on me, you’re welcome to get in touch.
Current and recent research students
- Mike Walker (MPhil candidate)
- Ester Ipplito (MPhil candidate)
- Sarah Scanlon (MA candidate)
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