Introduction to Metaphysics: Art and Ontology

Introduction to Metaphysics: Art and Ontology

College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

Faculty member: Maegan Fairchild (Philosophy)

Todd Hoyer, Untitled from Suspended Sphere Series, 2000, eucalyptus and wire. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of Robert M. and Lillian Montalto Bohlen, 2002/2.146. Courtesy of the artist © Todd Hoyer

Contemporary metaphysicians are interested in questions having to do with the nature of objects. How can art objects help us better understand the material world? How much change can physical objects survive? Are there only things that are made up of physical objects or are there “abstract” objects, like properties or numbers? This course uses art objects to raise (and complicate) some of these questions. Students will consider the works on display as case studies to better understand central debates in metaphysics and as opportunities to examine how these questions might be better approached through the rich metaphysics of art objects.


Art objects enrich our understanding of the theories that we’re trying to build in metaphysics… Is a sculpture different from the matter that it's made out of?

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Have you ever thought about what art can teach you about the nature of existence, time, or matter?

Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about things like the existence of physical objects, the structure of space or time, the nature of possibility, and more. Can art help us think about these same fundemental questions?

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John A. Chamberlain
paper, aluminum foil, glue, and painted resin
4 5/8 in x 7 1/2 in x 5 1/8 in (11.75 cm x 19.05 cm x 13.02 cm);8 7/16 in x 10 1/4 in x 10 1/4 in (21.43 cm x 26.04 cm x 26.04 cm)
Gift of the Lannan Foundation in Honor of the Pelham Family

Works included in this collection

Exhibition Support

Lead support for this exhibition is provided by the University of Michigan Office of the Provost, Erica Gervais Pappendick and Ted Pappendick, the Eleanor Noyes Crumpacker Endowment Fund, and the Oakriver Foundation.

Curriculum / Collection

Explore the infinite value of art in shaping our understanding of...well, everything.

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