Assignments

Assignments

Each week, at least two students will have the responsibility of initiating discussion of the assigned readings. They will present briefly the central arguments and conclusions of each piece and raise leading questions. In developing these informal weekly presentations, you are encouraged to work together; it is also helpful to bring in images or objects on which given methods of analysis can be practiced. Additionally, each of you will be expected to write, analyze, and edit your own prose as well as the writing of others, trying on different styles and methodologies as you work toward a final paper. I feel strongly that the best scholarship comes from an open, sharing, and collaborative environment that encourages diverse approaches and conclusions; therefore, we will also read each others' essays (including my own), and comment on them as a group.

Final Paper Topics

Research papers should be structured around the following areas of investigation, which are intended to encompass a wide variety of approaches and topics. Papers should involve substantial reading and looking, and they should employ all the apparatus of a scholarly research paper (but see 5 below). Length should be more than 10 and less than 30 pages, not including backmatter. The goal is to use some of the critical tools that we have reviewed in class to examine art and/or art-historical problems (or, alternatively, problems that have not traditionally been seen as part of the discipline but could/should be). Those who are interested in working with the newer approaches covered at the end of the class should see me early.

  1. An analysis of a single artwork (or group of artworks by a single author) using one of the methodologies we have discussed in class. You may choose whatever approach you like, but you must be aware of its limits, and address these explicitly in the paper (i.e., "this paper will not confront social context or issues of spectatorship..." etc.) Identify your approach and argue for its usefulness explicitly.
  2. An examination of art and/or artists who use particular art theories in their work. For example, one might write about 1960s painters who followed Greenbergian formalism in their work, or 1920s British artists who followed the formalism of Roger Fry. Alternatively, there are scores of contemporary artists who use feminist and/or film theories in their work (explicitly or implicitly), or themselves make art that makes theory (participating in post-colonial discourses, for example).
  3. An exploration of an artwork, artworks, exhibition, installation, etc., through investigations of spectatorship, enunciation, narrativity, desire (gendered and engendered), the gaze, etc. There has been interesting work done along these lines on everything from Flemish panel paintings to Asian scrolls; opportunities abound.
  4. A comparative analysis of two or more theories' presentation of art, artists, history, or any of the institutions that embrace them. It would be effective with this topic to choose specific artworks or movements that refute or instantiate the theories' claims, or to examine ways in which an artist's works were occluded by certain theories brought to bear on them.
  5. Other possibilities for research projects might include approaches directly engaging or critiquing the theories in question, through the production of an artwork, website, or media project (or even a traditional essay form). Such alternatives are encouraged, but must be preceded and concluded with verbal components; i.e., there must be both a formal proposal, approved by me well in advance, and a formal written statement about the piece (this can be a single-spaced page) to be presented with the project in class.

Whatever method you choose in your final paper, the theories should themselves be scrutinized and historicized, and your own position in the discourse should be identified. The aim is to open ourselves to new questions, not to "close the case" with an assumption that what we do is "free of method" and somehow self-evident in the historical material.