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Art History

Visual arts courses allow students to integrate the practice and historical analysis of painting, sculpture, drawing, ceramics, prints, photographs, video, and other media. Art history courses provide a historical and theoretical grounding for studio courses. Studio arts courses enable students to experiment with various media, practicing techniques they learn about in both art history and the studio, and developing their own creative vision.

The art history program is designed for arts majors, and also for other students who want to increase their understanding of art, culture, and history. The introductory courses develop basic skills in art analysis and critical writing and introduce concepts and images fundamental to the issues considered in the upper-level courses. The 200-level courses explore topics in greater depth, both historical and aesthetic. The 300-level courses are designed for advanced students and offer the opportunity to examine both art historical writing and art objects.

Visual Art and Writing
Art History 100 DelPlato
3 credits
This course is an introduction to the practice of art historical analysis. We use several writing techniques to investigate the process of looking at art. The objects we analyze are taken from a variety of periods, cultures, and media. We focus mostly on 19th- and 20th-century modern art. This includes works by Impressionists; Post-Impressionists; American modernists Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, and Jackson Pollock; and Mexican artists Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros, and Kahlo; and Cuban posters and Nicaraguan murals. We compare our own observations to primary sources—writings on art by artists’ contemporaries such as poets and critics, as well as the artists themselves. We think carefully about the role of language and how it can enrich our experience of art. We consider some basic questions in approaching art’s “history,” including the art object’s relationship to specific historical events. The course moves toward the integration of careful looking, creative writing, original thinking, and historical grounding. Students regularly read their writing aloud for class appreciation and critique. Longer paper assignments are written on topics students choose. No prerequisites.
This course is offered when there is sufficient student interest. Last taught F10.
Survey of Western Art:
Renaissance to Postmodern
Art History 102 DelPlato
3 credits
This course, the second half of the Western art survey, considers developments in Western Europe from the year 1400 to the present. American art is examined from the 1930s to the present. Lectures and class discussions focus on the changing roles of art and the artist in society; on art as the expression of individual, social, political, and cultural values; on style as language; and on the relationships between art and philosophy, history, and politics (both high politics and cultural politics). Students develop their critical and analytical skills while becoming familiar with a broad selection of works in relation to their cultural contexts. This course is an excellent introduction to art history for students with no previous exposure. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once every two years.
History of Photography
Art History 112 DelPlato
3 credits
This course is a chronological and thematic survey of the history of photography from the 1830s to the present mainly in England, France, and the United States. We look carefully at the subject, style, and techniques of representative photos and place them in their social and political contexts. We analyze a range of photographs including early technical experiments, motion studies, popular portraits, avant-garde photos, landscapes, and documentary photography. Some of the issues we discuss include the status of photography as popular art and fine art; photography as a medium of personal and political expression; the relationship of photos to specific historical events; and the histories of women and black photographers. This course is one of a three-semester series in the history and analysis of photography. The courses can be taken independently of each other. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught S11.
Global Art: Africa and the Americas
Art History 113 CP DelPlato
3 credits
This course surveys the art and architecture of three continents before and after colonization. We will consider the role of material products in select examples of cultures from Africa such as Ghana, Nigeria, and Congo; from the high Pre-Columbian civilizations of Mesoamerica; and from North America, considering native peoples of the Northeast, Northwest Coast, Plains, and the Southwest. We look at baskets, textiles, ceramics, costume, masks, temples, beads, totem poles, prehistoric rock art, tools, weapons, funerary statuary, and caves and other dwellings, and relate these objects to social practices. The major goal is to situate the arts in their indigenous contexts of time, space, and function, considering their role in ritual celebration; worship; enhancing the hunt, the harvest, and birthing; constructing identity; worshipping ancestors; and maintaining or resisting gender and power relations. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught S12.
Global Art: Middle East and Asia
Art History 114 CP DelPlato
3 credits
This course surveys the art and architecture of the Middle East and Asia from a variety of historical periods. We consider the role of material products in cultures as diverse as the Maghreb (northwestern coast of Africa) and the Ottoman Empire, China, India, Southeast Asia, and Japan. We explore the role of artworks as conduits of state ideology and other registers of power, including gender and class. We look at iconography in several media and relate these objects and their motifs to social practices. This course’s major goal is to situate the arts in their indigenous contexts of time, space, and function. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught F08.
Japanese Woodblock Prints (Ukiyo-E)
Art History 209 CP DelPlato
3 credits
This course investigates the phenomenon of Japanese woodblock prints (ukiyo-e), beginning in the 17th century. We analyze their subjects—especially geishas and courtesans—but also actors, wrestlers, and landscapes, and the prints’ changing styles and techniques. We read excerpted translations from Edo literature as well as contemporary scholarship in anthropology and history, and we listen to Japanese music in order to understand the prints more fully. We situate them in the context of Japanese society, culture, and politics. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught S12.
Impressionism and Japonisme
Art History 210 CP DelPlato
3 credits
When Edo Japan was opened to traders in the 1850s, woodblock prints were one of several commodities imported into the West. In France and England Impressionist artists used them as a point of departure for their own art making. After investigating how the prints were imported into the West, we consider their new meanings and associations for avant-garde artists such as Manet, Monet, Degas, Cassatt, and van Gogh, who sometimes quoted from ukiyo-e in their art and sometimes borrowed their formal or thematic qualities. Emphasis is on the differences between original and borrowed meanings, the appeal of the prints for viewers in each country, and a range of Western attitudes toward Japanese culture implied by such borrowings. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught F09.
Picasso’s Art: Erotics and Politics
Art History 211 DelPlato
3 credits
This course explores the private and public worlds of Pablo Picasso and presumes that his art cannot be understood without considering both. The course begins with his early work affected by the anarchist movement in Barcelona and ends with his joining the French Communist Party in 1944. Students develop a visual familiarity with the most significant works done by Picasso starting from his youth, continuing through the Rose and Blue Periods, the highly innovative Cubist experiments, the Neoclassical phase, his Dada and Surrealism involvement, and ending with his monumental Guernica in 1937. Students are offered a method of critically analyzing his paintings, read art historical writing on them, and their relationships to political and biographical events in his life: The anarchist movement in Barcelona, WWI, the Spanish Civil War, and Picasso’s troubled relationships with several women. We consider how he devises political statements from erotic experience. Conversely, how are his relationships with women formulated by political and social factors, constituting a “sexual politics”? How does all this affect the meanings of his art? A major goal is to demythologize Picasso and to locate his progressive art within patriarchal culture. Thus, the course interrogates the connections between Picasso’s art, politics, and sexual politics. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught F09.
Theories of Photography
Art History 212 DelPlato
3 credits
In this course we think about what theory is and what it contributes to our understanding of photography. We read some of the most interesting and influential writing about photography, including the work of its classic theorists—Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag—and critical poststructuralists writing today, scholars such as Abigail Solomon-Godeau and Jonathan Crary. We correlate theory to the analyses of specific photographs taken from the last 170 years of photo history. The course is based on the premise that no photograph simply captures reality and instead that all photos, like any other form of cultural representation, are subjective constructions of experience. As such, photos are imbued with conventions and social and political ideologies of the photographer and her/his times. In the second half of the semester, we read critics who have been influenced by the classic theorists and evaluate their case studies of individual photographs and broader issues in the history of photography. This course is one of a three-semester series in the history and analysis of photography; the courses can be taken independently. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught S10.
Analyzing Television
Art History 213 DelPlato
3 credits
The focus of of this course is perhaps the most pervasive element in the American popular cultural landscape: Television. Since its inception, commercial TV has also been considered one of the primary means for inculcating social values and ideologies. The course provides critical, historical, and multi-disciplinary perspectives on viewing TV as ways to understand, rethink, appreciate, and resist the discourses television offers. It explores how TV contributes to the making of a “mainstream” that upholds the status quo, most evident in “the news” and commercials. We consider portrayals of gender, race, and sexualities, and we explore the topic of violence on TV. We consider the value of “elite” tools (postmodern, feminist, and queer critical theories) to analyze an accessible and “popular” medium. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught S10.
African American Art and Thought
Art History 216 CP DelPlato
3 credits
This course explores the experience, work, and ideas of mostly 20th-century African American artists in the United States. We seek to understand responses of African Americans to those defining moments in our national history: Slavery, Emancipation, World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, the cold war, the civil rights and feminist movements, and our postmodern era. African American thinkers have defined for themselves the great complexity, diversity, and contradiction in documenting these events and responding to them in art produced in the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Power movement, and the present moment in which the problematic politics of multiculturalism plays a role. We foreground the voices of African American artists: Painters, sculptors, photographers, and activist-writers (and occasionally musicians). Attention is given to thinkers such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, bell hooks, Cornel West, and Henry Louis Gates Jr. We analyze the politics of anonymous art done by slaves, including quilts; of artists’ assimilation of the influences of Paris and Africa; of folk art, which raises issues of legitimacy and authenticity; and of black mural art. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered every three or four years. Last taught F11.
Critical Issues in Contemporary Photography
Art History 218/318 Marcuse
3/4 credits
This course looks at the work of contemporary photographers in the context of the critical discourse that both surrounds and fuels its creation. We will read theorists and critics who have influenced, and responded to, the changes in visual strategies used by contemporary photographers. Students in this seminar have the chance to be active critics, writing exhibition and book reviews, and conducting interviews with artists and curators. We will also be experimenting with using photographs as a springboard for creative writing. Working together the class edits and compiles these writings into an anthology entitled Viewfinder. With permission from the instructor, students with the prerequisite of Photography (SART 102) may take this class at the 300-level for four credits and complete additional studio work as part of this course. While prior experience in the studio is not necessary, the work of students in the class who are active photographers will serve as a resource for dialogue and critique. No prerequisite for taking the course at the 200-level.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught S09.
Imagining the Harem
Art History 220 CP DelPlato
3 credits
For centuries Western observers have been fascinated by the harem, based as it was in multiple wives and slavery. This course interrogates that cross-cultural fascination, as evidenced in paintings and prints of the harem made mostly in the 19th century in England and France. We use poetry, literature, and travel accounts to understand such imagery, including poetry by Victor Hugo and Lord Byron. We consider 18th-century writers and artists such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Montesquieu, and even Mozart. Some 20th-century texts are also analyzed: French photographs of North African “harem women” c. 1930 and a mini-series titled The Harem made for television in the 1990s. Commentators have repeatedly asked questions such as: Is the harem a legitimate form of social organization or is it a site of sexual oppression, and personal enslavement, an institution that must be “liberated” by the West? The course integrates writing by theorists such as Edward Said and Homi Bhabha. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught F08.
Clothing in Art
Art History 222 DelPlato
3 credits
A focus on clothing in artworks of the modern era opens a new world of inquiry, a fascinating means of entry into culture, society, history, and gender of the last two centuries. This course considers how clothing is represented in specific painted and photographic art of the West. We theorize about why “masculine” and “feminine” clothing appears in visual art after c.1830 when women become the “marked” or decorated gender. In a variety of case studies, we suggest how painted clothing indicated identity, status, and power in various cultures and eras. We trace how images of clothes can be given meanings in their own day and today using current theoretical models. Students choose their own research topics. Prerequisite: Art History 102 or another art history or theory course, or permission of the instructor.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught F10.
Lacan and Visual Pleasure
Art History 309 DelPlato
4 credits
In this course we closely read texts by Jacques Lacan, a major contributor to the reformulation of post-Freudian psychoanalysis, a mid 20th-century writer whose influence can be located in almost every discipline of the humanities and social sciences today. Selections from Lacan are read deeply and contextualized within the frameworks of intellectual and political/feminist thought of the last 30 years. We also watch film, look at visual images, and read theories influenced by Lacan about such texts. We investigate the process of looking as a site at which gender gets constructed. “The gaze” described by Lacan is a concept that registers sexual power relationships, anxieties, and fears. Given a Lacanian spin, visual texts such as paintings or photographs take on a richness of interpretation that offers profound relevance to human experiences of self and other, looking and being seen, desire and lack. Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught S11.
Victorian Art and Poetry
Art History 310 DelPlato
4 credits
This course is an inquiry into the relationships of English art and poetry of the Victorian era (1837–1901). Sometimes these relationships are explicit, as when William Holman Hunt paints his enormous Lady of Shalott in response to Tennyson’s poem; in other cases correlations are implied. Major emphasis is given to the Pre-Raphaelites, who worked in both media, but we also explore how to read fairy painting, landscape painting, ladies’ fashion, and images of Queen Victoria in light of poems on these subjects. We consider how the meanings of these artworks and poems might be related to issues of social power and control. Expected behaviors from women, servants, workers, children, and colonial “others” are played out in visual art and poetry. Prerequisites: Art History 102 or permission of the instructor.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught F10.
Art History Tutorial
Art History 300/400 Staff
4 credits
Under these course numbers, juniors and seniors design tutorials to meet their particular interests and programmatic needs. A student should see the prospective tutor to define an area of mutual interest to pursue either individually or in a small group. A student may register for no more than one tutorial in any semester.