Reading and Writing about Visual Experience: Contemporary Art and Controversy
Monday, Wednesday: 2:00-3:30pm
This course examines art at the center of public controversy in the United States since the 1970s. We will be exploring art in a range of media including painting, sculpture, photography, prints, and video. The content of this course is, by definition, controversial, and involves artworks that have historically been deemed offensive, graphic, and/or pornographic. For example, we will address the Mapplethorpe exhibition of the 1990s and the subsequent obscenity trial. We will also consider the protests against Dana Schutz’s painting, Open Casket, when it was exhibited at the 2017 Whitney Biennial. The goal is to understand these artworks on their own terms while unpacking the arguments made for and against their display.
As this is an R1B course, we will focus on developing skills required for researching and writing a 10-12 page undergraduate term paper. Through peer-review, students will learn how to provide and receive feedback on work in progress. They will also practice writing as a method for thinking through scholarly problems. This course requires no art history experience: students will be introduced to methods of visual analysis in class. As the course progresses, they will learn to conduct research into an artwork’s context, its place within the artist’s oeuvre, its iconography, and important issues surrounding its exhibition. Students will perform close readings of texts written by artists, art critics, and legal scholars. Through these readings, students will learn how to map convincing arguments while discovering the role of art as a social and political instrument.