Reading and Writing about Visual Experience: Reading the Crowd: 19th- century Texts and Images
Tuesday | Thursday: 8:00 - 9:30am
This course provides an introduction to reading and interpreting works of art as well as literary texts that explore visual experience. Its primary goal is to help students develop analytical writing techniques and gain research skills so that they can clearly and persuasively present a critical argument about an image and/or text. Our theme is the modern, 19th-century crowd.
Baudelaire famously remarked that only gifted artists can efficiently mingle with the crowd [“Il n’est pas donné à chacun de prendre un bain de multitude, jouir de la foule est un art…”]. Yet the inescapable, frenetic mob becomes a quintessential figure in 19th-century literature and painting. It is an object of mass consumption. This course will consider the representation of the crowd in historical documents (psychological studies, photographs, poster advertisements, fashion magazines), canonical literary works (Poe, Baudelaire, Zola), and paintings (Van Gogh, Renoir, Manet, Caillebotte, Monet) in order to question the readability and predictability of the modern crowd. In our readings, we will consider the ways in which the depiction of the overflowing mob articulates an anxiety about the legibility of urban spaces. If it is up to the writer, painter, scientist, or criminologist to provide a clear definition of the masses, how does that particular enterprise succeed and/or fail? Additionally, we will explore how the modern crowd encourages, and even necessitates, new forms of representation. Theoretical readings will include selections from Simmel, Michel de Certeau, Benjamin, and others.
Special emphasis will be placed on the development of close reading/looking skills, argumentative writing, and research techniques. As part of the reading and composition series, this course requires students to complete a 10-12 page research paper. Students should expect to submit multiple drafts throughout the semester and participate in a short presentation.