Graduate Seminar: Ecologies, Aesthetics, and Histories of Art
Thursday | 2:00 - 5:00pm
Nuclear disasters. Acid rain. The mass extinction of animal and plant species. The devastating environmental crisis that the planet faces today has fundamentally transformed the way we perceive human interaction with the natural environment. New forms of thinking such as postcolonial ecophilosophy, actor-network theory, new materialisms, and posthumanism have challenged Enlightenment distinctions between natural and human history. Can art history, a discipline primarily engaged in the study of human creativity, also breach the natural/human history binary? What, this seminar asks, would such a history of art and architecture look like?
As a discipline, art history takes objects, structures, and artistic representations produced by humans as its principal archive and locus of analysis. Consequently, artists, patrons, and audiences emerge as the primary agents in this history. But could intersubjective paradigms such as floraesthesis (life patterns of plants in relation to human and nonhuman ecologies) allow us to see visual representations of the natural world as something other than a mode of human ordering of the environment? Could an engagement with the vital materialism of stone lead us to rethink the history of lithic architecture?
Inescapably located in deep time, the ecological is omnidirectional and rhizomatic in its scalarity. Therefore, rather than focusing on specific sites or temporal periods, the seminar will explore the interconnected ecologies of planetary systems and art and architecture practices across space and time through specific case studies. Our case studies will range from hydrology in the ancient worlds, medieval bestiaries, early modern landscape painting, and the biopolitics of colonial tropicalism to media images of environmental catastrophes and the ecological turn in recent art. The early modern period, which saw the consolidation of conceptions of nature that we have inherited, will play a central role in our deliberations.
Students will be encouraged to participate in a workshop on Eco Art History in the History of Art Department. Advanced undergraduates with prior relevant coursework may apply to join the seminar with a brief statement of interest.