When Philosophy meets Art

A donation has enabled the University to launch a new research programme that brings together the disparate worlds of philosophy and visual art.

Untitled by Donald Judd in the Tate Modern, Liverpool
Untitled by Donald Judd in the Tate Modern, Liverpool. Via Wikimedia Commons

Named after renowned minimalist artist Donald Judd and Enlightenment philosopher David Hume – one of Edinburgh’s most celebrated graduates – the Advanced Visual Studies Judd-Hume Prize will seek to promote pre-eminent international scholarship and discussion.

Initially funded by Judd expert Peter Ballantine, the programme will probe topics that lie at the intersection between the visual arts and philosophy, an area of research which has been largely overlooked in the past 50 years.

The £30,000 prize will be awarded annually to an international art writer, philosopher or architect who will be invited to take up residency in Edinburgh for two months to write on such neglected, yet intriguing, topics as:

art which is unconcerned with the literal depiction of things from the visible world

a physical likeness or representation of someone or something


art which displays knowledge of a future event


the concept of art as merely an object

Original vs copy
the merits of original art and their copies

Each fellowship will be followed by a symposium, in which the scholar’s work will be presented together with selected contributions from other speakers.

The programme is close to Peter’s heart, since he collaborated with Judd from 1969 until his death.  The pair lived a few blocks away from each other in New York’s Soho district and Peter fabricated many of Judd’s 1970s works. He continues to work closely with the artist’s works and philosophy, and has been a major force in its preservation.

Edinburgh is Hume’s place, and there’s a strong tradition of radical thinking there. The purpose is to produce new thinking, unavailable elsewhere. And Philosophy, particularly 18th-century empirical philosophy, caused Judd to become who he was. He talked about Hume more than the others.

Peter Ballantine

The first recipient of the Judd-Hume Prize will be Gottfried Boehm, a professor emeritus at the University of Basel and former director of the Eiknones programme, a research hub that investigates the power of imagery in all aspects of life.

Professor Boehm will begin his residency in March 2017.


Some facts about the men for whom the Judd-Hume Prize is named.

Donald Judd

  • Born in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, in 1928. He earned a degree in Philosophy from Columbia University of General Studies before working towards a masters in art history.
  • Judd’s first solo art exhibition took place in 1957 with a series of abstract paintings. Its failure led Judd to switch to sculpture.
  • He is best known for his focus on the constructed object and the space created by it, as illustrated by his Specific Objects and the vertically arranged Stacks, both abstract sculpture series made from industrially fabricated materials.
  • From 1970 onwards he began making site-specific sculpture, including outdoor works. During the 1980s he branched out to designing furniture and houses.
  • A respected critic, he was also a prolific writer on the theory of abstract art, publishing a number of essays as well as two volumes of Complete Writings, in 1976 and 1986.
  • Judd is a favourite artist of collector Charles Saatchi

In his own words: “I pay a lot of attention to how things are done, and the whole activity of building something is interesting.”

David Hume

  • Born in 1711 in a tenement on the north side of the Lawnmarket in Edinburgh. He began studying at the University of Edinburgh at the unusually young age of 12.
  • Hume wrote his first great work A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40) having moved to Anjou in France. It set Hume up as an empiricist but one who was massively skeptical about what he, or indeed anybody, can know.
  • Regarding the existence of God, Hume’s position was an incisive agnosticism but this was enough to have him barred from professorships at Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities.
  • He became keeper of the Advocates’ Library in Edinburgh and wrote his best-selling History of England between 1754 and 1762.
  • He also became secretary to the British ambassador in Paris and is reputed to have made quite an impact on French society.

In his own words: “Beauty in things exists in the mind which contemplates them.”