Reading and Writing about Visual Experience: Art and Visual Culture in Twentieth-Century African American Freedom Struggles
Tuesday, Thursday: 11:00-12:30pm
Rosa Parks’ mug shot, sit-ins at a Woolworth’s counter in North Carolina, and the March on Washington. These are some of the images that are commonly associated with the quintessential African American freedom struggle in the United States. But why is that particular struggle—and the images that seem indelibly tied to it—so prominent, while others are lesser known? While devoting attention to images and works from the pivotal decades of the 1950s and 1960s, this course expands beyond the traditional “modern civil rights era” and explores the many visual forms African Americans have wielded in their fight for economic, political, and social freedom. In doing so, it will pay close attention to how African American artists—from Jacob Lawrence to Faith Ringgold—and visual culture creators—such as Ebony magazine’s founder, John H. Johnson—have challenged existing notions of American identity and crafted new ones in the name of freedom. We will also scrutinize images and works that, although not produced by African Americans, fueled their campaigns for equality.
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 paper that presents a historical argument about an artist, discrete era, or medium of the African American freedom struggle.