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CMNS 488: Art Worlds

Course overview

This course provides an introduction to research in communications and the social sciences on the visual and performing arts. The first part of the course introduces major debates and theoretical approaches in social studies of the arts, such as the symbolic interactionist approach Howard Becker suggested with the notion of art worlds (as opposed to the idea of a single artistic field). We will also look at post-structuralist ideas of artistic practice proposed by Pierre Bourdieu (who focuses on the high culture model). Some debates about art/society relations have to do with longstanding disagreements between humanists and social scientists. Is art "outside" of society? Are artists unique visionaries or are they better understood as part of society? Does art "reflect" society? Can it shape social issues? What is an artistic event?

The second part of the course examines the processes and social institutions (such as museums, and the film, music and publishing industries) related to artistic "production" or "creation", mediation and reception. How do status hierarchies occur that rank different art forms and artistic practices (ex. "Highbrow" and "Lowbrow" tastes, or the high culture model vs. popular or traditional arts)? What are the socio-historic processes that led to grouping artistic expression within "disciplines"? Different approaches to the study of the arts as social systems also imply various mediation processes and have inspired diverse theories of reception in connection with the recognition of art forms and their makers, and status distinctions of "consumers" (audiences, art publics, etc.). In this section we will examine debates about canons, and theories of artistic centres of excellence, recognition processes, and models for the social organization of artistic work (ex. the place of education, apprenticeships, and artists' organizations in controlling access).

The final part of the course focuses on questions related to the interplay of the arts, social identities, inequalities and public activism. How do gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity affect the practice of art-making, or access to careers in the arts? What are the rights and responsibilities of artists and publics? Here we consider the arts and socio-political activism, censorship controversies, arguments about access to the arts as a democratic right and the place of the arts in school curricula.

Course syllabus

Spring 2009