2015-2016 Art History Courses
The Paradox of Painting: Theory and Practice in European Art and Architecture of the 16th and 17th Centuries
Annibale Carracci’s painting (1597-99) of St. Margaret, an Early Christian martyr, shows the saint pointing upward while looking outward and leaning on an altar inscribed, “Sursum Corda” (Lift Up Your Hearts). An exploration of the multiple meanings and paradoxes of this image, admonition, epigram, and emblem form an introduction to the basic questions and challenges of this course. How is art in general—and painting in particular—to achieve this lifting up? Who or what should be lifted: the artists, the patron, the viewer, the material, the world? Lifting up from what and to what or to whom? Lifting the heart, the head, the mind, the body? Are all of the arts and all of the subjects of the visual arts supposed to serve this same purpose? Does this admonition pertain to aesthetic, social, and historical issues, as well as to the theological and political? What about the linguistic implications: Can an exalted “classical” language exist side-by-side with a dynamic, naturalistic vernacular? The course will cover the art of the High Renaissance and Mannerism in 16th-century Italy and frames the questions that painters, sculptors, and architects throughout Europe mediated in the following era, commonly called the Age of the Baroque. Included in the first semester will be studies of major artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian and art styles such as Mannerism; in the second semester, Caravaggio, Bernini, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Poussin and the style of Classicism, among others. Creative projects may be submitted for conference work by qualified students.
Contemporary Curating: Art/Contexts
This seminar examines art made and exhibited since the mid-1990s. Analyzing works by artists, authors, and curators, students will study the artworks, critical debates, and exhibitions defining the contemporary moment. The seminar will entail frequent field trips to engage with contemporary art in context. We will conduct studio visits with artists, visit galleries and artist-run spaces showing new art, and discuss an exhibition alongside its curator. Speakers to the class have included Roberta Smith, co-chief critic of The New York Times; Carolee Schneemann, artist; Scott Rothkopf, curator of “Jeff Koons: A Retrospective”; Paul Chan, artist and publisher of Badlands Unlimited; Andrew Russeth, critic; Michelle Grabner, artist and co-curator of the 2014 Whitney Biennial; and Matthew Higgs, director of White Columns. For conference, students will plan an exhibition, work at an internship in a contemporary art institution, or conduct an independent or group critical project focusing on contemporary art. Students will come away from the seminar able to identify and discuss major institutions and figures creating, exhibiting, discussing, selling, and collecting new art and to construct considered arguments assessing new artworks and tendencies. Beyond current readings from periodicals including Artforum, Contemporary Art Daily, Mousse, The New York Times, Parkett, Texte zur Kunst, and others, readings will include: Doug Ashford, “The Exhibition as an Artistic Medium”; Pierre Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital”; Claire Bishop, “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics”; Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics; Douglas Crimp, “Pictures”; Andrea Fraser, “Why Does Fred Sandback’s Work Make Me Cry?”; Thelma Golden, “Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art”; Boris Groys, “On the Curatorship”; Dave Hickey, Air Guitar (selections); Richard Hertz, Jack Goldstein and the Cal Arts Mafia; David Joselit, “Painting Beside Itself”; Maria Lind, “The Collaborative Turn”; Michael Sanchez, “Contemporary Art, Daily”; and Peter Schjeldahl, Let’s See (selections).
The History of Art, Modern to Contemporary (1789-Present)
This course introduces students to the major artists, key debates, and artistic movements of the period between 1789 and the present. We begin with art made between the French Revolution and the death of Paul Cézanne. We will witness the rise of photography, the romantic individual, the modern art market, "modernism" and the avant-garde, the taste for the sketch and early forms of abstraction, as well as the shift from a tradition of history painting and the representation of the classical body in the academic atelier to the emphasis on "modern life" subjects and the modern genres of the female nude and onsite landscape painting. In the second half of the course, these themes will give way to 20th-century avant-gardes, including Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism. The course will expose students, in a global context, to the historical and critical underpinnings of artistic practice since World War II by examining artworks and artists’ writings from countries, including the United States, Japan, Italy, France, Brazil, and Germany. We will examine the rise of happenings, “specific objects,” conceptual art, relational aesthetics, and other diverse forms of practice. We will conclude the course with a consideration of contemporary art and curatorial practice.
Florence: Portrait of a City Through Art, Architecture, and Urban Planning
In this course, we will chart the history and development of the City of Florence, Italy, from the Roman period through the 19th century, with particular attention given to the Renaissance period. We will discuss the interaction of the city with the extraordinary artists and architects whose works helped to transform it: Giotto, Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Bramante, Botticelli, Brunelleschi, Bronzino, and many others. We will also consider the interaction of the arts with Florence’s powerful intellectual figures, as well as its ecclesiastical, political, and civic leaders—figures such as Machiavelli, Vasari, Savonarola, Ficino, Dante, and, of course, the Medici.
The Ancient Mediterranean
Fall: The Early Greeks and Their Neighbors Spring: Ancient Italy and the Hellenization of the West
Although the Romans come to mind most immediately as the people who absorbed and passed on the achievements of Greek civilization to the Western world, the transmission of Greek culture to Western posterity was a far more complex process involving various other peoples. Already during the late second millennium BC, Greek culture began to interact with that of their neighbors in the Near East and Egypt to produce a common, “international,” Eastern Mediterranean cultural zone. Later, after a period of collapse and regression in the early first millennium BC, renewed contact with the East would revitalize and revolutionize Greek culture which, in due course, came to dominate the entire Mediterranean region—even among Near Eastern peoples like the Phoenicians, who had formerly been the teachers of the Greeks. But it was especially among the peoples of Italy, above all the Etruscans and early Romans, that Greek artistic and literary culture took root. No other region was ever able to absorb Greek ideas so thoroughly and consistently while also managing to preserve a unique cultural identity. And in the end, it would be the Romans rather than the Greeks themselves who would spread and administer an advanced stage of Hellenism from western Asia to Britain. The course will explore these issues for the entire year. The fall portion, The Early Greeks and Their Neighbors, will first examine the beginnings of Greek civilization in the Late Bronze Age—its relation to Minoan Crete and Egypt, as well as connections with the Hittites, Phoenicians, and Assyrians to the east. Then we will consider the so-called Orientalizing process, in which the Greeks adapted Phoenician and Egyptian culture to produce a distinctive new civilization in the seventh and sixth centuries BC. The spring half, Ancient Italy and the Hellenization of the West, will focus on how the Greeks affected Italic peoples like the Etruscans and Romans, who emerged as the dominant political force in Italy and then across the Mediterranean and southern Europe. The course will apply a varied approach, concentrating largely on material culture, art, and architecture—but also on literary and historical data—to achieve a larger cultural perspective.
Problems by Design: Process, Program, and Production in Architecture, 1945 to the Present
An intense inspection of attitudes in the immediate postwar period will be juxtaposed with post-9/11 issues. Readings will be analyzed and involve works in philosophy, theory, criticism, politics, and social analysis that deal with the aesthetic, formal, infrastructural and sociopolitical questions raised by the notion of ON?/OFF? The Grid: Sustainable SLC 2100. Buildings will feature major architects and movements in the postwar period (Le Corbusier, Brutalism, Venturi, Postmodernism, Eisenman Critical Modernism, Koolhaas, and Pragmatism), responses to powerful external events, small-scale interventions that change the design strategies such as blobs, dots and folds, fractal form, fractured landscapes, datatowns and metacities, ascetic aesthetic/minimalist consumption, megastructures, themed urbanism, transformational design grammars, and economic models for sustainable growth/development/design. Class will be divided into “firms”; group work is emphasized. Assignments involve analytical and critical papers, class PowerPoint presentations, and organized and directed discussions on both readings and buildings in chronological (time, place), typological (type of document, rhetoric of presentation), ideological (internal coherence), and philosophical (external critique) terms. Design projects will focus on ON?/OFF? THE GRID: SLC 2100 for exhibition in April 2016. This course complements courses on urbanism, visual arts, environmental science and studies, literary theory, physics, and, of course, art and architectural criticism and history.
First-Year Studies: Art and History
The visual arts and architecture constitute a central part of human expression and experience, and both grow from and influence our lives in profound ways that we might not consciously acknowledge. In this course, we will explore intersections between the visual arts and cultural, political, and social history. We will ask in what ways works of art can be used as documents for understanding history and will seek to understand how different approaches to the interpretation of art can be used to reveal different kinds of understanding of the conditions and concerns of the people who created them and of their audiences. What meaning did these works originally convey, and how did they communicate—both consciously and unconsciously? We will also discuss a number of issues of contemporary concern; for instance, the destruction of art, free speech and respect of religion, and the art market and the museum. Our work will include analysis of images and readings from the works of art historians, historians, social scientists, philosophers, and theorists. We will endeavor to understand the work from the point of view of its creators and patrons, as well as its changing reception by audiences throughout time. To accomplish this, we will need to be able to understand some of the languages of art. The course, then, is also a course in visual literacy, the craft of reading and interpreting visual images on their own terms. Students need to be able to schedule time on some Saturdays to take the college van to Manhattan to do assignments or attend the occasional class at various museums in New York City.
Islamic Art and Society
This course will explore the architecture and visual arts of societies in which Islam is a strong political, cultural, or social presence. We will follow the history of some of these societies through the development of their arts and architecture, using case studies to explore their diverse artistic languages from the advent of Islam through the contemporary world. We will begin with an introduction to the history surrounding the advent of Islam and the birth of arts and architecture that respond to the needs of the new Islamic community. We will proceed to follow the developments of diverse artistic and architectural languages of expression as Islam spreads to the Mediterranean and to Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America, exploring the ways in which arts can help define and express identities for people living in multi-confessional societies. We will then draw this exploration into the present day, in which global economics, immigration, and politics draw the architecture and artistic attitudes of Islam into the global contemporary discourse. Our work will include introductions to some of the theoretical discourses that have emerged concerning cultural representation and exchange and appropriation in art and architecture. One of our allied goals will be to learn to read works of art and to understand how an artistic expression that resists representation can connect with its audience. And throughout this course, we will ask: Can there be an Islamic art?
Greeks, Romans, and Barbarians
The study of the Greco-Roman world and its contribution to the evolution of ancient Mediterranean culture remains a primary object for classical studies. But what of the complex connections or interactions that existed between the urban cultures of the Greek and Roman world and the so-called “barbarian” peoples? What does the term “barbarian” imply as used by the Greeks and their Roman successors? Was it simply meant to denote “otherness,” or did it signify notions of social and material cultural or technological inferiority, as well? What did Greek culture in its formative stages borrow from its non-Greek neighbors? In the course of time, what technologies and modes of artistic expression did “barbarian” peoples of Asia and Europe absorb from the classical world? How does consideration of such issues help us to gain a clearer understanding of the whole substance and rhetoric of Western cultural identity? The answers to these questions are neither simple nor easy. They require a careful look at the cultural dynamic between the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans and an array of non-classical peoples—Egyptians, Phoenicians, Persians, Scythians, Sarmatians, Celts, and various Germanic tribes—through a vast panorama of space and time. We will approach the problem from the perspective of history, especially through such primary sources as the histories of Herodotus, Polybios, and Tacitus. But we will also consider the problem from the perspective of art history or archaeology, since it was in the domain of material culture—the art of ornament and display—that tribal peoples of Europe and Asia found their most important modes of expression and most tangible form of interaction with classical peoples to the west and south.