Reading and Writing about Visual Experience: Art and Labor: The Visual Culture of Work in Early Twentieth-Century United States
Monday, Wednesday: 9:30-11:00am
In the early twentieth century, millions of Americans entered the workforce for the first time. Artists and producers of visual culture depicted and documented these workers, some of whom engaged in jobs that had not existed previously, while others labored in long-established occupations. In this course, we will explore how artists portrayed the struggles and victories of people who embodied the work ethic long associated with the United States. We will cover both renowned and obscure examples of visual culture, from Diego Rivera’s grandiose murals that extol the contributions of agriculture and industry to Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones’ intimate portraits of department store “shop girls.” By looking at a wide range of images that take work and/or workers as their subject and by remaining attentive to gender, race, and immigration, we will observe how these works often strove to portray laborers–from ragpickers to sharecroppers–as dignified and worthy of respect.
This course will ask students to engage in close readings of texts and images. During each class, students will have the opportunity to enhance their techniques of visual analysis. Through library visits and regular short writing exercises, students will hone their research and writing skills. By the end of the semester, students will produce a 10-12-page research paper that presents a course-related historical argument—for instance, one about an artist/artist collective, discrete era, or medium of the visual culture of labor in the early twentieth century.