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2012-2013 Art History Courses
First-Year Studies: Gods, Heroes, and Kings: Art and Power in the Ancient World
In modern terms, myth has come to be commonly understood as the antithesis of history. Whereas history is taken as a reasoned, factual account of the past and how things came to be, myth appears to operate in the realm of fiction or fantasy. Myths may have the claim of venerable tradition, but they are no longer accepted as an accurate record of events. The ancient world, however, made no such black-and-white distinctions. In antiquity, myth was accepted as early history. Its heroes were real, and their actions were thought to exemplify essential paradigms of political order and morality. Consequently, this course will apply a different approach in which myth is distinguished from history not by a truth test but by virtue of its function as a means of cultural self-representation. We shall examine the myths of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome, both in their literary form and in various media of visual art. Throughout, our goal will be to understand the potency of these narratives as vehicles of social or cultural values and as tools of power legitimizing and justifying closely entwined notions of religious and political authority. The course will close by considering how, in Late Antiquity, Christian narratives and ideologies in the literary and visual arts developed from the mythic traditions that preceded them.
Modern Art and Art Since 1945
This yearlong course sequence provides an introduction to the artistic practices that characterize modernism and postmodernism in the visual arts and to some of the critical debates around them. Taking a chronological approach, we will trace the twinned aspects of primitivism and mechanization, of figuration and abstraction, of autonomy and engagement, and of purity and impurity as they inflect the aesthetic production of key movements in the European and American contexts. Fall lectures will cover modernism in the visual arts from Impressionism to the New York School. Work in the spring is addressed to critical and aesthetic problems that have dominated advanced artistic practices in the West since World War II, including the tensions between high art and mass media, the problem of articulating historical memory in an abstract visual language, and issues of “global” and “local” cultural production. We will be looking at a large number of artworks, authors, and texts, focusing our critical energies on the debates that constitute and are constituted by those bodies of work. The emphasis in lectures is on covering a broad spectrum of art and critical ideas; group conferences are devoted to in-depth analyses of specific images and texts.
‘A Talent For Every Noble Thing’: Art and Architecture in Italy, 1300-1600
An in-depth survey of the major monuments of Italian art and architecture from 1300 to 1600, equal emphasis will be given to the canon of art works by artists such as Giotto, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo; to readings of major critics and historians of Italian art; and to the broader intellectual trends and social realities and movements that provide a context for our understanding the artist’s and, to a lesser extent, the critics’ creations. Thus, unified Italian churches will be juxtaposed with gender-segregated social practice, theories of genius with concepts of handicraft, pagan ideals with Christian rituals. Group conferences will focus on a close reading of texts surrounding the first polemical pamphlets about art in early modern history, Alberti’s On Painting and On Architecture, and will include works by Erwin Panofsky, Michael Baxandall, and Anthony Grafton. Class papers will deal with developing a vocabulary for compositional analysis, critical issues in Italian intellectual and social history, and varied interpretive strategies applied to works of visual art and culture.
Africa Global: Arts From Around the Atlantic
The influx of African peoples into Europe, the United States, South America, and the Caribbean islands during the international slave trade of the 18th and early-19th centuries sparked a cultural transformation in these areas that endures to the present day. Beginning with the arts of the Antebellum South in the United States, we proceed to examine the African traditions present in the religious arts of Haiti, Cuba, and Brazil. We return to the United States to examine works by African American artists and finish with contemporary African artists, both those on the African continent and those living around the world. The social theories of diaspora formation, exile, immigration, transnationalism, and globalization will supplement lectures and art historical literature. Authors covered include James Clifford, Melville Herskovitz, Fernando Ortiz, Robert Farris Thompson, George Yúdice, Françoise Loinnet, Sharon Patton, and others. Artists engaged by this class will include Dave the Potter, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Meta Warrick Fuller, Sokari Douglas Camp, Yinka Shonibare, Ousmane Sow, Moustapha Dimé, Ndary Lo, Renée Stout, Santería and Vodou altar makers from Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, José Francisco Borges, Carrie Mae Weems, as well as individuals represented in major art exhibitions to be discussed by the class: The Dak’Art Biennale (2008 and 2012), A Century of African American Art: The Paul R. Jones Collection (2004), The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945-1994 (2001), and Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora (2003).
Africa Contemporary: Art From 1950-Present
This class explores contemporary art movements in Africa and beyond, following artists of African descent as they exhibit and work around the world. The material will also be a springboard for discussing how contemporary African art is received and perceived in the Euro-American museum and by African art critics. Artists covered include Yinka Shonibare, William Kentridge, El Anatsui, Ndary Lo, Wangeshi Mutu, and emerging artists from Senegal, Republic of Congo, Cameroon, and many others. Theorists and critics include Sidney Kasfir, Okwui Enwezor, Sylvester Ogbechie, Hal Foster, Johannes Fabian, Kobena Mercer, and more.
Art and Myth in Ancient Greece
This course will examine the use of mythic imagery in the visual arts of the Greeks and peoples of ancient Italy from the eighth century BCE to the later Roman Empire. Although concentrating on vase painting, wall painting, and sculpture, we will consider all media—both public and private. We will focus largely on problems of content or interpretation, with special attention to the role of patronage in the choice and mode of presentation of the mythic themes. In order to appreciate the underlying cultural or religious significance of the myths and their visual expression, we will also examine the relation of the artworks to contemporary literature and the impact of significant historical events or trends such as the emergence of tyranny and democracy or the Greek conflict with Persia. In the first semester, we will examine the earlier Greek development from the Geometric to the Classical periods, focusing on the paradigmatic function of mythic narratives—especially the central conception of the hero and the role of women in Greek religion and society. Discussions in the second semester will center on later Greek art and the adaptation of Greek myth in the art of the Etruscans and Romans. Class discussions will be based on assigned readings; conference work will address topics of particular interest to students.
Issues in Curating: The Interdisciplinary Exhibition
This semester, the subject of Issues in Curating is African American art, music and culture. Students will engage with the artworks made by African American artists from the slave era through the present day. In addition, a history of African American music, instruments and musicians will be explored. Theory and methods of race and identity politics in art and music, as well as in curatorial methods, will be discussed. Students will be expected to view area exhibitions and musical performances both independently and as part of required class field trips. Students will put their classroom learning into professional use and curate an exhibition of African American Classical Music History to take place in the Barbara Walters Gallery at SLC and concurrently at the Art Gallery at the Yonkers Riverfront Library. These exhibitions will open in early April. Students will have full curatorial, programming, promotional, and educational oversight of the planning, theory, installation and presentation of the exhibitions. This curatorial studies course will be offered in subsequent semesters with a rotating roster of art historical subjects. Open.
From Colonial to Modern Art: Europe, Africa and the World
This class explores the artistic products that resulted from the concurrent emergence of colonialism and the modern condition on the continents of Africa and Europe. Relationships between industrialism, immigration, and urbanism as they manifested in the arts in Europe and in its colonial territories will be identified and analyzed. Though structured colonial relationships began as early as the 15th century, this course will focus on the 19th—the height of the modern European territorial occupations of Africa. The arts of the 19th century depict a world in flux: We see artistic producers struggling to define cultural identity, class status, and sociopolitical organization in an increasingly international environment. While art history surveys of the 19th century traditionally focus on French art, specifically the role of the Academy and Parisian artists and architects, this course will explore how “Europe” was variously defined over the course of the century through an inclusion of colonial objects, as well as the art and architecture of Europe beyond Paris. The World’s Fairs (London 1851, Paris 1889 and 1900, and Chicago 1893) provide the opportunity to see this colonial exchange with the “other” take place on a grand scale, while private “Wunderkammers” in Europe reveal how wealthy Europeans ingested the exotica of other cultures. As Europe renegotiated its sense of identity, so, too, do we see the creation of “Africa” as a cultural and geographical concept during the 19th century. From this continent, we will examine objects made for both local use and for international sale; we will investigate how modernity through urbanization, trade, travel, and war created the burgeoning artistic production in African nations during the 19th century. Formal analysis of objects will be balanced with discussions and readings of theoretical texts dealing with pertinent 19th-century issues, such as the rise of urbanity and technology, the colonial enterprise, primitivism, exoticism, collections, viewership, and connoisseurship.
More or Less: Architectural Theory From Modern to Contemporary
Readings in this course will focus on major statements made by architects, critics, and philosophers dealing with the built landscape from 1900 to the present. Authors include Adolf Loos, Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Martin Heidegger, Michel Foucault, Jane Jacobs, Peter Eisenman, and Rem Koolhaas; readings will range from Ornament and Crime (1909) to Junkspace (2000) and beyond. Emphasis will be on close reading of texts, historical context for ideas, and buildings that are prescribed, described, or proscribed by theory in practice. The first assignment will deal with the uses of critical theory; the second will be a design project. Class will be broken into firms that will develop a response to particular architectural program and project—the design of a retrofitted student center and campus plan for Sarah Lawrence College.
20th-Century Texture: Mechanical Transcription of the Real
Digital technology has indisputably affected the way we produce, distribute, and consume artworks. Today, more often than not, when we take a picture, record a sound, or write a poem, it is notated in the lingua franca of a sequence of 0s and 1s. While optimists argue that these technologies revitalize traditional practices and present entirely new fields for artistic exploration, other critics have been more sanguine, noting that the very uniformity of the digital language inevitably reduces and even eliminates the textures specific to any given medium. For some critics, digitization has altered our relation to “the real.” At issue in either position is the tension between form and content—precisely the tension that has sustained key modern debates in music, literature, and the visual arts. Understanding our 21st-century position to be one of retrospection, this course will explore the notion of “texture” in advanced artistic practices of the 20th century. Reading draws from Heidegger, Freud, Benjamin, Kafka, Beckett, and Lacan, as well as from more current art historical analyses by Foster, Krauss, and others.