Aesthetics at Adelaide

An Australian Research Council funded project titled Taste and Community is administered from the University of Adelaide and led by Professor Jennifer A. McMahon. The research team includes Australian, American and Canadian philosophers and Australian visual artists. Two major workshops are involved, one held in San Francisco (April 2016) and another in Adelaide (July 2017). For details of our team, publications and the workshops, including associated activities in the Art Gallery of South Australia, the Art Gallery of NSW and the Victorian College of the Arts, visit:

Brief Over-View of the Project:

We explore the way judgment is exercised by artists as a model for understanding the conditions of community.  We seek the latter in particular forms of communication rather than shared systems of belief.  The project explores the way cultural artifacts acquire meaning and value as an example of the process by which communities establish shared terms of reference.

In previous work Professor Jenny McMahon employs examples of art in an explanatory role in philosophical argument.  Artists interviewed and whose working methods are drawn upon include: Olafur Eliasson (Berlin), Daniel von Sturmer (Melbourne), Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro (Sydney/Berlin), Mischa Kuball (Dusseldorf) and Doris Salcedo (Bogota).  McMahon welcomes research students who are interested in adopting this novel approach to philosophical argumentation.  McMahon’s interview with Eliasson is here.

McMahon publishes at the interface of aesthetics and meta-ethical theory. She argues that Kant’sCritique of Judgment is widely misunderstood by analytical philosophers of art. The misinterpretation is based on a false dilemma between relativism and empirical objective standards. A number of pragmatist-oriented ethical theories provide models of a third alternative derived from Kant’s aesthetic theory. McMahon explores this alternative in Art and Ethics in a MaterialWorld: Kant’s Pragmatist Legacy (New York and London: Routledge), 2013.McMahon’s entry on “beauty” in Oxford Bibliographies online runs over 17,000 words and presents critical summaries on 21 topics, which each include 8 annotated references, totalling approximately 166 annotated references. The login page and her introduction to the entry are here.McMahon gives various invited talks including most recently to the Victorian College of the Arts, The Adelaide Festival of Arts and the Art Gallery of South Australia.  McMahon was interviewed on Books and Arts Daily, ABC Radio on 6th March 2012 on the nature of art and beauty, available here. For other recent publications see her home page:

McMahon runs reading groups in Aesthetics and Pragmatism; and supervises post-graduate and honours students on a range of topics, including at present:

  • The evaluative component of art historical classification
  • The ideal norms of communication as a basis for ethical standards: finding a precursor in Dewey’s concept of community
  • Attitudes and representations: the meaning of music and landscape architecture
  • Philosophical Pessimism
  • Freedom and normative constraint in art


Philosophy is hosting a symposium, Art History & Philosophy, at the 2010 conference of the Art Association of Australia & New Zealand (Adelaide, December 1-4). Our symposium is on Friday December 3rd. We have been inspired by the round tables organised by James Elkins in Cork, Ireland and Chicago which aimed to create a dialogue between art historians and philosophers.

Speakers include: John McDonald (Art Critic, Sydney Morning Herald), Craig Taylor (Flinders, Philosophy), Christopher Allen (Art Critic, The Australian), John Armstrong (Melbourne, Philosophy), Jolanta Nowak (Melbourne, Art History) and Jenny McMahon (Adelaide, Philosophy).

For conference details see


Olafur Eliasson, The weather project, 2003. 
Monofrequency lights, projection foil, haze machines, mirror foil, aluminium, 
and scaffolding. 26.7 m x 22.3 m x 155.4 m.
Installation in Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, London
Photo: Jens Ziehe
Courtesy the artist: neugerriemschneider, Berlin; and Tanya Bonakdar 
Gallery, New York
© Olafur Eliasson 2003
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