European Art: “Death, Beauty, Power”

In thinking about “Art History,” we must first of all recognize that there is no overarching history, no single story of art.  What we have, instead, are multiple histories of art.  Rather than embark on a whirlwind tour of visual expression from cave paintings to Internet art, I have structured this course around a collection of vignettes – individual stories – from various periods and cultures.  In order to unify our discussions, we will look at how these periods and cultures treat the following themes: death, beauty, and power.

Nineteenth Century Art

The nineteenth-century in Europe and America was a time of immense social and political turmoil, emerging as it did from the French and American Revolutions.  The industrial revolution – in its replacement of nature with machines, and in the shift from a rural economy to an industrial one – radically changed the very nature of human existence and prevailing world-view.  Artists did more than respond to this period of crisis; artists were active agents in questioning the role of art in the modern era, and in shaping the values and institutions of a post-revolutionary world.  In this course, we will investigate the basic social, political, and economic theoretical models of the nineteenth-century, and the ways in which artists contributed to these discourses.  The visualization of these discourses took various forms – painting and sculpture that both relied on and subverted academic models; popular arts, such as prints, posters, and book-arts; emerging technologies, such as photography and optical devices; and world’s fairs and public spectacle.


Art from 1900 – 1945

Situating art, architecture, and visual culture within its social, political, technological, and cultural background, this course explores the great variety of movements and styles developed in Europe and the Americas from roughly 1900-1945.  We will begin by defining the term “avant-garde,” and discussing the groundbreaking art of the turn-of-the-century.  We will discuss the major developments in art, architecture, design, avant-garde film, and visual culture immediately before and responding to World War One; art and visual culture of the Russian Revolution; art between the wars; art of the Soviet and Fascist regimes; the beginnings of modernism in the United States and Mexico; and the art of World War Two.  We will also pay special attention to major exhibitions and installations to consider how the way in which art is organized extends and frames its meaning.


Art from 1945 – 1975

This is an intensive survey of International art and visual culture from the close of World War II through the mid-1970s (the transition from the era termed “modern” to the “postmodern”), in which we will investigate the variety of arts practices and some of the relevant theoretical methodologies of that time period.  In order to help focus our exploration, the model I propose for this course is an investigation of the nature of avant-garde activity.  If the “historic avant-garde” dominated the art-world of the first half of the twentieth-century, I would argue that avant-garde activity continued in the second half of the twentieth-century via what Hal Foster refers to as the “neo-avant-garde” – as both a recovery and refashioning of a particular set of concerns, projects, and practices.  Situating the art and visual culture within its social, political, technological, and cultural background, this course explores the great variety of movements and styles emerging in the second-half of the twentieth-century through the mid-1970s.


American Art

This course examines American art (the British colonies and United States) from the colonial period through the mid-twentieth century.  We will discuss the major developments in art, architecture, design, and visual culture framed by an analysis of American social and cultural history.  The overarching themes of the class include an interrogation of the idea of the “American-ness” of American art; the relationship between American and European art; the function and production of art; and the expanding definition of American expression through multicultural diversity.  Situating art in its cultural context, we will first proceed historically, and then compare works from various periods along thematic lines as we investigate the nature of “American-ness.”


Avant-Garde All-Stars: Futurist, Dada, and Surrealist Visual Arts, Theater, Cinema, and Literature

This course focuses on Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism as avant-garde movements of the early twentieth-century that played a critical role in shaping both avant-garde and mainstream culture of the later twentieth-century.  As movements that responded to the inauguration of the machine age and the two world wars, these artists challenged and redefined the traditions of Western art and bourgeois culture.  This course will follow the International scope and interdisciplinary approach of these avant-garde movements, examining their experiments in collage, painting, sculpture, installation, photography, film, theater, performance, design, magazine work, literature, and “games” – as we explore these artists’ efforts to disrupt and undermine bourgeois institutions and culture.


Arts of the Romani Culture

This course will explore the cultural productions and representations of the Romani (more popularly known as “Gypsy”) people.  After a brief introduction to their history and culture, this course will focus on the music, dance, literature, art, visual culture, and films created by, inspired by, or depicting the Romani people.  Major themes to trace in the class include: liminality, marginalization, persecution, “Otherness,” social hierarchy, purity, authenticity, and spirituality.  Applying cultural theory, we will tease out the origins and implications of particular Gypsy “archetypes” and/or stereotypes.


Peace, Social Justice, and Activism in Modern and Contemporary Art

One mark of the modern and contemporary era is that many artists begin to think of themselves as activists – individuals who attempt to effect change in the status quo, who articulate a truth in the face of the-powers-that-be.  Beginning with the Enlightenment and its attempted actualization in the French Revolution of 1789, we can view many artists as concerned individuals, struggling with methods of effecting change in society and with developing alternate paradigms for their society.  Proceeding chronologically, this course will survey a whole range of artists of the nineteenth through the twenty-first centuries whose works examine and critique practices of slavery; inequities in social class; discrimination by race, gender, religious belief, or sexual orientation; modern warfare; unjust political regimes; exploitation of children; the handling of the AIDS crisis; the destruction of the natural environment; and the hegemony of consumer culture & the media public sphere.






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