Reading and Writing about Visual Experience: Contemporary Art and US Imperialism
Tuesday, Thursday: 12:30-2:00pm
This course explores how to look at, write, and think about art after 1945 in relation to the U.S. imperial project. In the wake of the Second World War, the United States vied for dominance on the world stage, expanding its influence through foreign policy, military intervention, and even cultural forms of extraterritorial intervention, far beyond what are normally considered its continental borders. In addition to colonies that had been maintained since the 19th century (the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and the Panama Canal Zone, to name only a few), the U.S. increased its footprint during the Cold War to include military zones, infrastructure projects, and various foreign aid set-ups in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and many other parts of the world.
The course introduces the idea of an imperial United States through art used to bolster it as well as the artworks and visual strategies that emerged to resist it. Sampling some key formal developments after 1945 (abstraction, minimalism, conceptualism, performance, and institutional critique), we will think about how artists were knowing and unwitting participants in U.S. empire as well as its most evocative critics, making visible an imperial project otherwise obfuscated. We will encounter both canonized and lesser-known artworks, performances, and exhibitions in an expanded history of U.S. art, with case studies from within the nation’s accepted borders as well as made in and about its occupied territories.
We will engage closely with texts and works of art, developing strategies to be effective readers, writers, and researchers at the college level. In the first half of the course, we will read recent scholarship that addresses the intersection of contemporary art and U.S. imperialism. Students will study texts closely for how they use sources, build an argument, and enter into an academic conversation. Frequent short writing assignments will draw on visual analysis skills practiced in class, and respond to primary sources and methodological texts. In the second half of the course, we will produce a longer (10-12 page) research paper, crafting a historical argument based on the analysis of a work of art that speaks to, about, or with U.S. imperialism.