This course introduces the history of art by studying the claims that art historians and artists have made for the significance or value of art, in particular places, at particular times. In the modern era, significance has typically implied a critical or negative capacity; in early modernity and pre-modernity, positive concepts like beauty or freedom or spirit are more evident. But there are exceptions to these generalizations, of course, as well as genealogical relationships between positive and negative claims for the significance of art. We will try to understand both the exceptions and the norms to which exceptions are historically wedded. As our focus will fall mainly on the art and art history of the modern era (from the end of the 19th c. to the present), we will constantly confront the history of capitalism—modern art’s constant companion, figured in different times as enemy, friend, opposite, infiltrator, doppelganger, enabler, and goad. The course will be structured thematically, with each theme representing a different historical claim for the significance of art. Rather than proceed along a strict chronology, we will spend a full week on each theme, with our first weekly meeting touching on the origins of a particular theme, and the second meeting tracing more recent incarnations, recurrences, or critiques of that theme. In addition to carefully reading each weeks’ texts in preparation for conference, students will complete short, weekly writing assignments in response to the themes under discussion that week. Conference.


Full course for one semester. One of the features of modernity and its aftermaths has been the continual transformation of collective life by technologies of mass mediation. The aim of this course is to understand both the formal strategies of art’s explorations of collective life as well as the social and political imperatives driving this work. We will examine not only the ways that art practice has taken group life as its subject, but also the ways that art has addressed its viewers, thereby constituting them as particular kinds of groups. Such group forms include audiences, publics, communities, masses, populations, and networks, as well as the inventions of group form that have arisen in response to the political marginalizations of gender, race, sexuality and class. Most of our case material will come from art genres that have insistently addressed the question of collective life, including constructivism, situationism, mail art, minimalism, installation art, performance art, video art, site-specific art and Prerequisite: Art 201 or consent of the instructor. Conference.


Full course for one semester. Video art began with artists turning the camera on their own bodies and their own studios. But far from being a privatized art form, the video medium implicates various popular media, including home video, cinema, television, and more recently, webcams and online video. We will study the aesthetic precursors of video art as well as the histories of the popular media with which video art is historically and technologically enmeshed. Central to our discussions will be questions of media, and in this we will draw both from art history’s focus on medium-specificity and media theory’s focus on mediation. We will be interested in a wide range of video practices (analog, digital; closed-channel, broadcast, networked), with a significant portion of the semester spent on the video practices and politics of marginalized populations. We will watch videos together in class, but students should also expect to spend time each week watching videos outside of class. Prerequisite: Art 201 or consent of the instructor. Conference.


Form is at once the site and source of art’s most hermetic instincts while also anchoring a set of theories wherein the border between art and world erodes most completely. No wonder the concept can seem hopelessly incoherent. And yet, aesthetics has never been able to do without theories of form, and many important thinkers of art and aesthetics have felt some concept of form to be essential to practices that take critique and critical pedagogy as their goal. What are the boundaries and extensions of form? Is it more like an object or a relation? When is it political? How does form become historical? When form is used to bracket out the world, how is this accomplished and at what expense? This class will ask such questions by surveying a range of thinkers writing from 1900 to the present who have thought in a sustained way about form as an object of study, a site for the crossing of aesthetics and politics. Due to the often recondite nature of our subject, we will spend significant time with each of our authors. Specific artists and artist materials that we consider will be driven by student interests and local accessibility. Prerequisite: two 300-level art history courses. Conference.



Full course for one semester. Starting with second wave feminism, gay liberation, Civil Rights, and Latinx politics in the 60s and 70s, we will study different forms of representational politics in and around the visual arts. All along we will ask where and how representational politics have been exceeded or superseded by new structural conditions (e.g., new identify formations seen in their intersections with new media), study some of those conditions as they pertain to questions of collective politics, and then ask what forms of political action in the aesthetic realm (broadly conceived) have become possible or are now needed. Throughout, we will focus on three main media forms, all of which have been important to the political work of representation, and each of which has spawned distinctive modes of engaging with those politics: photography, painting, and performance. Prerequisite: Art 201 or consent of the instructor. Conference.