New Approaches in Visual Art and Culture CA 823 (5)
Empire follows Art, and not vice versa as Englishmen suppose. - William Blake, annotations to Sir Joshua Reynold's Discourses (ca. 1798-1809) For WJ.T. Mitchell, pictures have lives and loves. Instead of seeing images as inert objects that convey meaning, he urges us to see them as animated beings with desires, needs, appetites, demands, and drives of their own. In the past three decades, literature on visual culture has burgeoned in art history, cultural studies, critical theory, philosophy and anthropology, and recently it has taken on a "performative turn." For art history, which is traditionally concerned with the interpretation of art objects, the artists who make them and the interests of patrons, the interdisciplinary field of visual culture has opened up new ways of thinking about images of all kinds. In a culture in which the production and dissemination of images has grown exponentially, it has never been more necessary to pay attention to how images work and what they do. While histories of images tend to locate intentionality in the maker or the patron, this seminar seeks to bring forward the intentions of the image, how, for example, its formal material characteristics, modes and contexts of circulation and use, reproducibility and referentiality, solicit responses: how images seem to take on, in Mitchell's words, "lives of their own." For your paper, you can choose as your main object of study a work of art, a landmark exhibition, or a famous image drawn from popular culture. This image or event will be the subject of student presentations at the end of the term. The topic must be a visual phenomenon about which there is a substantial discourse in print, preferably in both scholarly and popular sources. The final paper will be based on your presentation and should address some of the critical issues and readings discussed in class. Students with credit for FPA 823 may not take this course for further credit.