Middle, High School Art Activity: What is Art? Aesthetics Intro, Discussion


Teach your students about the philosophy of art, aesthetics, with this one-day activity. Students answer the age-old question, what is art? while learning about 4 theories of art and how to adapt their theory of art.


What is art? This is a question of aesthetics that has been discussed by philosophers and should be discussed by your middle and high school art students. Introduce your students to aesthetics and help them develop their own opinion of what art is with this one-day art activity.

This PowerPoint was used in my Introduction to Art class to help discuss the philosophy of aesthetics. It takes the very complicated idea of aesthetics and simplifies four main theories for them to compare to their own understanding of art. 

The students start by writing down their definitions of art. We then look at a PowerPoint of 16 art examples, with a variety of types and styles of art, to see if they fit into the definition they created.

After a class discussion on the students’ definitions, we look at four theories of art: mimetic, expression, formalist, and institutional. The students complete the activity by determining whether or not they are satisfied with the definition they originally came up with, or if they want to revise it.

Included in this zip file:

  • PowerPoint presentation, 57 slides, 4 art theories, and 16 art examples
  • Lesson plan
  • Student worksheet
  • In-depth teacher notes that follow the PowerPoint and provide background information on the works of art.

This lesson is great for advanced 8th-grade art students and 9th-12th grade students.


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