Aesthetics Lesson 5: Great Dialogues

Philosophical Debates that Enrich Understanding of Aesthetic Meaning
Andy Warhol, Self-portrait (detail), 1964, ©AWF

This lesson presents three debate topics and facilitation strategies to create lively student dialogue using aesthetic theory. Topics include the importance of artists' choices and processes, the qualities that make something a work of art and the role of originality and creativity in art.

Suggested Time Frame:

Pre-dialogue writing: 15 minutes
Dialogue: 30 minutes for each

Total time: 1 hour 


  • Students debate philosophical questions about beauty and the nature of art using observations, personal experience, historical theories and additional research to support their arguments
  • Students listen to differing opinions and present new questions as a result of their dialogue


  1. Choose a dialogue that fits your students’ interests or curriculum needs in the sections below.
  2. Dialogue 5.1: Artist’s Choices and Process in Art (Use hand-drawn self-portrait and silkscreened portrait)
    Dialogue 5.2: What Makes Something a Work of Art? (Use Warhol’s Brillo Box)
    Dialogue 5.3: Originality and Creativity in Art (Use Warhol’s Flower, Mona Lisa or Last Supper painting)

  3. Present and post the guidelines for good dialogue:
  4. Respond and build upon to what others have said.
    Give reasons for your views.
    Respect other people’s opinions and ideas.
    Share the floor; do not monopolize the conversation.

  5. Prior to group dialogue students should use Handout 3.1to write down their aesthetic experience with the artwork.
  6. Use the Group Dialogue prompts and allow time for students to feel comfortable answering and conversing with one another.
Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait, 1964 (left). Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait, 1986
Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait, 1964 (left). Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait, 1986

Dialogue 5.1: Artist’s Choices and Process

  1. Show the hand-drawn and photographic silkscreen painting self-portraits by Andy Warhol.
  2. Students complete Handout 3.1 while looking at the self-portrait that they like best.
  3. Class dialogue using the Group Dialogue prompts:

Group Dialogue Prompts:  

  • Discuss which image is a better portrait. Explain why you think so.
  • What results does Warhol achieve by choosing to draw by hand? How do his choices effect the artwork and its value?
  • What results does Warhol achieve by choosing a photomechanical process? How do his choices effect the artwork and its value?
  • Why do you think Andy Warhol switched from observational drawing to a photomechanical process?
  • Are some materials and techniques used in making art better than others?
  • Do artists have to take a lot of time to make good art? Why or why not?
  • Can any person who enjoys making things call him/herself an artist? Why or why not?
  • Where do we get our standards for who is considered an artist?
Andy Warhol, Brillo Soap Pads Box, 1964, ©AWF (top); image of Brillo packaging (bottom).
Andy Warhol, Brillo Soap Pads Box, 1964, ©AWF (top); image of Brillo packaging (bottom).

Dialogue 5.2: What Makes Something a Work of Art?

  1. Students complete the Handout 3.1 while looking at the Brillo Box.  
  2. After the students have finished the handout above, provide them with Historical and Cultural Contextual information: 
  3. In the mid-1960s, Warhol carried his consumer-product imagery into the realm of sculpture. Calling to mind a factory assembly line, Warhol employed carpenters to construct numerous plywood boxes identical in size and shape to supermarket cartons. Then, with assistance from Gerard Malanga and Billy Linich, he painted and silkscreened the boxes with logos of different consumer products: Kellogg’s corn flakes, Brillo soap pads, Mott’s apple juice, Del Monte peaches and Heinz ketchup. The finished sculptures were virtually indistinguishable from their cardboard supermarket counterparts. Warhol first exhibited them at the Stable Gallery in 1964, cramming the space with piled-high boxes that recalled a cramped grocery warehouse. He invited collectors to buy them by the stack, and though they did not sell well, the boxes caused much controversy. In reference to his boxes, Warhol later said that he “wanted something ordinary,” and it was this mundane, commercial subject matter that infuriated the critics. The perfectly blank, “machine-made” look of Warhol’s boxes contrasted sharply with the gestural brushstrokes of the popular Abstract Expressionist paintings.


Group Dialogue prompts:   

  • Describe how Warhol’s Brillo Box is like other art and how it is not like other art.
  • Describe the function of the cardboard Brillo package bought by consumers in a grocery store.
  • Describe the function of Warhol’s Brillo Boxes. 
  • Does every artwork have a purpose?
  • Should every artwork have a purpose?
  • Is it possible to dislike an artwork, but to judge it as good?
  • If we don’t experience “joy” when looking at this work and it is not beautiful, then what is its value?
  • If we can’t understand its moral purpose, is it art?
Andy Warhol, Mona Lisa, 1979, ©AWF 
Andy Warhol, Mona Lisa, 1979, ©AWF 

Dialogue 5.3: Originality and Creativity

  1. Students should complete Handout 3.1 while viewing Mona Lisa or Flowers. 
  2. Review definitions for: Originality, Creativity, Derivative, Appropriation and Copy.

Group Dialogue prompts:   

  • Is Warhol’s Mona Lisa original? Is the work creative?
  • Should artists be familiar with artworks made by others? If so, how should artists use this knowledge?
  • Is it okay to copy when making an artwork? When is it not okay?
  • How do artworks show originality?
  • Is anything truly original?
  • Where do artists’ ideas come from?
  • Are there rules for appropriation?
Andy Warhol, Flowers, 1964, ©AWF 
Andy Warhol, Flowers, 1964, ©AWF 

Further Research: 

  1. While looking at Warhol’s Flowers paintings, provide the following Historical and Cultural Context information:
  2. In November 1966, Patricia Caulfield sued Andy Warhol for his use of her photograph of flowers, which had been published in a magazine. He used the published photograph as source material for his silkscreen paintings and prints. Warhol’s Flowers paintings were exhibited Leo Castelli’s New York gallery in 1964. Caulfied became aware of the artwork only after seeing a poster for Warhol’s versions in a public place. Caulfield sued to maintain ownership of the image. Warhol settled with Caulfield by agreeing to give her several paintings and a share in the published prints’ future royalties.

  3. Research Copyright and Intellectual Property laws in relation to art.
  4. Write an essay in response to one or two of the research and writing prompts below:

Research & Writing Prompts: 

  • How and when does a work become “original” or creative when using existing materials?
  • In copyright law what is the real test of originality for works that use existing source material?
  • What are some legal arguments held by artists and curators that disagree with the legal definition of originality?
  • Read the following quote from Le Corbusier: “all artists steal; but the truly original artist repays a thousand fold." What do you think he means?
  • Research artists whose work is derived from others’ source material. Find an example that you think transforms the source material in an original way. Find an example that you think does not transform the source material. Justify your selections using aesthetic criteria and critical judgment.

Warhol Education Rubrics

Click the Warhol Rubric headers below to reveal associated rubrics to which this lesson applies.

Critical Thinking
Historical Context
Student Showcase
Aesthetics: Elizabeth Forward High SchoolAesthetics: Highlands High SchoolAesthetics: Ross Elementary