Professor James R. Beniger
244 Annenberg School
Wednesdays, 6:45-9:45 p.m.
OVERVIEWThis course explores the nature of art, in particular the questions of what is or is not art and what, more generally, art is or is not. Classical answers to these questions began to be complicated by 19th century industrialization and the resulting technological and cultural revolution in the media of communication: photography, mass publishing, motion pictures, television, video and computers. For this reason, we will pay special attention in seeking to understand the nature of art to the modern material economy of mass production, distribution, communication and consumption, its relationship to popular culture, and the resulting impact on our visual environment, the forest of symbols and associated meanings in which we live.
As context for our quest to understand the apparently universal human impulse to create art, we shall begin with a brief examination of the foundations and history of Western art and culture from Classical Greece and the Gothic Middle Ages through the Renaissance, Baroque, and Romantic periods. Particularly informative, for our purposes, will be the development of photography after the late 1830s and its impact on academic painting into the 20th century. We will follow this "crisis of realism" from the work of Courbet and Manet, pioneers of modern art, through Impressionism, Post Impressionism, Cubism, and Futurism to the current Post-Modern Age, ever mindful of the Galassi thesis that painting (the figurative) helps to invent the language of photography (the literal).
Mass cultural influences on our ways of seeing including industrial design and high fashion, the built environment, standardization and packaging, and television advertising will also be considered. The goal here is to unravel the causal interrelationships among technology and economy, popular culture and art, and the various criteria of aesthetics that might exist both in our world and in our heads. Classical conceptions of art as the imitation of nature, from Plato and Aristotle, will be challenged by views emphasizing the creative, symbolic, cathartic and socializing aspects of art. Debated throughout will be opposing views of the good in art as objective (inherent in content) and subjective (peculiar to each observer). Our central question remains, however, not what is good art but what art is -and why.
READINGSThis syllabus lists readings to be completed in preparation for each lecture. Reading ought to be done in the order listed whenever possible. There is method in this madness! Required reading assignments average 67 pages per meeting but range up to 142 pages. Although approximately half of all assigned pages consists of pictures, planning ahead to accommodate longer assignments is strongly urged. To be read in their entirety are four books, all available in paper, that are listed here in the order of their first assignment:
Also useful, but either part or entirely optional, are the following four books:
PELFREY, Robert, with Mary Hall-Pelfrey. Art and Mass Media. New York: Harper and Row (1985), 348 pp.
BERGER, John. Ways of Seeing. New York: British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books (1972), 166 pp.
McCLOUD, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisble Art. New York: Harper Perennial (1994), 216 pp.
SPIEGELMAN, Art. Maus I. New York: Pantheon (1986), 159 pp.
Mostly Required Reading
RUCKER, Rudy, R.U. Sirius, and Queen Mu, eds. MONDO 2000: A User's Guide to the New Edge. New York: Harper Perennial (1992), 317 pp.
Partly Required Reading
MITCHELL, William J. The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press (1992), 273 pp.
HUGHES, Robert. The Shock of the New, rev. ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (1991), 446 pp.
GOODMAN, Cynthia. Digital Visions: Computers and Art. New York: Abrams (1987), 192 pp.
OUTLINE OF THE 15 COURSE MEETINGS
1. Introduction September 1
2. Culture, Media, and the Arts September 8 3. Control, Perspective, Propaganda, Possession September 15
4. Photography and the Crisis of Realism September 22 5. Origins of the Avant-Garde September 29 6. Modernism and Mechanical Reproduction October 6
7. Film and Narrative October 13 8. Film and Modernism October 20
9. Television, Video, and Music October 27 10. Pop, Comics, and the Death of Modernism November 3 11. Advertising Imagery and Ideology November 10
12. Post-Modernism November 17 13. Art and Technology November 24
14. Conclusions: Looking Forward and Back December 1 15. Wrapping Up, As Needed December 8
MEETING-BY-MEETING SYLLABUS1. Introduction (September 1)Aims of the course. Overview of the 15 meetings. Structure of each individual meeting. Required readings. Other requirements. Grading.
No Required Reading
I. THE ARTS AS CULTURE, MEDIA, AND CONTROL (2 meetings)2. Culture, Media, and the Arts (September 8)Mass media and the unique art object. The art and culture of icons. The individual and the mass media. Human perception as intelligent. Child art. The crisis of realism. Native art. Myth. When myths collide. The natural man myth. Frankenstein and the escape to technology. Ancient Sumer and Classical Greece. From icons of the king to icons of the individual. Vase painting and sculptureL icons private and public. The Parthenon and its adjustments. Another crisis of realism: The geometry of the cosmos vs. the naturalism of the human eye. How images deceive. Why Plato banned artists from his Republic. The Middle ages and the Gothic cathedral: Greek vs. Christian models of the cosmos. Chartres. Saints and heroes as "other Christs." The base for technological expansion. Monasteries: The first factories of the West.
Required (60 pages)
- PELFREY: Introduction & chs. 1 & 2, pp. 1-60
3. Control: Perspective, Propaganda, Possession (September 15)Brunelleschi's experiment. Origins of the Perspective Age. The vanishing point and the new objectivity. Nature becomes an object. The Renaissance. Northern vs. Southern Europe. A subjective self in an objective world. The change in religious images. Leonardo: prophet of objectivity. The individual as creative source: Michelangelo. Changing the rules and meaning of art. Printed images as a mass medium and fine art. Caravaggio. Saint Peter's: Connecting Renaissance and Baroque. The rise of human personality: Rembrandt. Dutch art as a social portrait of democracy. The camera obscura. Vermeer. The transition to a machine cosmos. Icons of freedom through technology. Propaganda and art: icons for the modern state. The cult of personality. David and Napoleon. The subjectivity of Romanticism. Goya. Galassi's thesis: Painting contributes a language of photography. Berger on oil painting as a means to possess.
Required (88 pages)
- PELFREY: Chs. 3 & 4, pp. 61-118.
- BERGER: Ch. 5, pp. 83-112.
II. THE INFLUENCE OF PHOTOGRAPHY (3 meetings)4. Photography and the Crisis of Realism (September 22)Berger on the difference between nakedness and nudity in the European tradition. Origins of photography. The challenge to Academic painting. Classicizing the middle class. Photography as icon. The expanding world of fact. Nature's self-image. The enlarged humanity of culture and the experience of the individual human face. Technology as symbol of civilization and progress. Academic painting's response. The Crystal Palace as machine cathedral: technological progress as myth. The Industrial Revolution. Baudelaire and Courbet as the proto-avant-garde. Mitchell on the idea of photography. Three snapshots. The raster grid. Digital image creation. Mutability and manipulation. Digital images and the postmodern era. Mitchell on the early development of photography. News photography goes digital. The popularization and displacement of photography.
Required (63 pages)
- BERGER: Ch. 3, pp. 45-64.
- PELFREY: Ch. 5, pp. 119-142.
- MITCHELL: Chs. 1 & 2, pp. 2-20
5. Origins of the Avant-Garde (September 29)Manet and the Salon of 1863. Modernizing high art by abandoning the ideal. Olympia. The new language of artistic form. Beginnings of mass media influence on high art. Lithography. Daumier and Zola. The dilemma of being modern. Mitchell on intention and artifice in photography. Claims to credibility. Adherence of the referent. Intention, objectivity, and coherence; relationship to visual discourses. Provenance. Originals and copies, mutation and closure. Image ethics redefined. Devaluation.
Required (56 pages)
- PELFREY: Ch. 6, pp. 143-162.
- MITCHELL: Ch. 3, pp. 22-57.
Optional for Video (48 pages)
- HUGHES: Ch. l, "The Mechanical Paradise" (the birth of modernism), pp. 9-56.
6. Modernism and Mechanical Reproduction (October 6)Monet moves beyond Manet. Impressionism: Image as the response of an active eye. Laboratories of the eye: haystacks and Rouen Cathedral. Exploiting the color wheel. Learning to see from the other side of perspective. The Post-Impressionists: reality beyond the eye. Seurat and the mathematical dot. Cezanne's architecture of color. Light with the density of matter. Van Gogh: art as self-revelation. Gauguin and the myth of the noble savage. Rousseau's jungle within. Berger?-following Benjamin?-on the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. Meaning of an image not in what it says but in what it is. The decline in the special authority of information.
Required (60 pages)
- PELFREY: Ch. 7, pp. 163-194.
- BERGER: Ch. 1, pp. 7-34.
Optional for Video (52 pages)
- HUGHES: Ch. 3, "The Landscape of Pleasure" (impressionism), pp. 112-163.
III. THE INFLUENCE OF FILM (2 meetings)7. Film and Narrative (October 13)The roots of American movies in Academic painting. Eakins: beyond the Academy toward the photographic realism of film. Film's scientific roots: the magic of Méliès. Movies transform the mass media: The Great Train Robbery and the rise of the nickelodeon. Griffith: the film as epic. Chaplin and the myth of the autonomous individual. The arrival of talkies. Disney's imagineering. Capra on Main Street. Mass reproduction of the photographic image transforms the mass media. The halftone dot: photographs as mass media icons. The myth of the news. Time and Life. Competing icons of revolution. Advertising and the civilization of desire. An introduction to the structural analysis of narratives. McCloud introduces the "invisible art" of comics.
Required (50 pages)
- PELFREY: Ch. 8, pp. 195-222.
- McCLOUD: Ch. 1, pp. 2-23.
Optional for Video (55 pages)
- HUGHES: Ch. 2, "The Faces of Power" (art in politics), pp. 57-111.
8. Film and Modernism (October 20)The Film Age avant-garde. Abstraction and the search for icons of cultural revolution. Picasso and Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Rousseau and Cézanne rediscovered. Cubism analytic and synthetic. Kandinsky and subjective abstraction. Futurism: the visual language of the machine. The myth of autonomous individual as mechanized superman. Icons of universal dynamism. Art as propaganda for violence, speed, and war. Russian Constructivism. The films of Eisenstein. German Expressionism, Dadaism, and Surrealism. The impact of Freudian psychology. Ernst and Dali: visual shuttling of collage and dream. McCloud on the vocabulary of comics.
Required (66 pages)
- PELFREY: Ch. 9, pp. 223-252.
- McCLOUD: Ch. 2, pp. 24-59.
Optional for Video (57 pages)
- HUGHES: Ch. 5, "The Threshold of Liberty" (surrealism), pp. 212-268.
IV. THE AGE OF TELEVISION (3 meetings)9. Television, Video, and Music (October 27)Television as the cultural center. An aesthetics of television. Pure television. The filters of home, drama, personality, and pure fact. Drama centered on the family. Breaking the closed circle of television: The background emerges. From stereotypes to real images. New stereotypes for the news and for women. Manipulating background. Feedback from Vietnam and Chicago. New forms for the popular arts. Television beyond the networks. The Television Age: death of the avant-garde, or toward many new avant-gardes? MONDO 2000 on industrial and postindustrial music and art, electronic music, hip-hop, House Music, and appropriation. McCloud on "blood in the gutter."
Required (86 pages)
- BERGER: Ch. 10, pp. 253-272.
- McCLOUD: Ch. 3, pp. 60-93.
- RUCKER: Industrial and Postindustrial Music and Art, Electronic Music, Hip-Hop, House Music, Appropriation (5 chs., 32 pp.).
Optional for Video (57 pages)
- HUGHES: Ch. 4, "Trouble in Utopia" (architecture and city planning), pp. 212-268.
10. Pop, Comics, and the Death of Modernism (November 3)Completing the agenda of Modernism. The post-World War II avant-garde in America. Pollock's Action Paintings. From private rituals to public myths. The public myth--via the mass media-- destroys the private self. Abstract Expressionism. The avant-garde embraces the mass media: Pop Art. Warhol: celebrities as commodities, commodities as celebrities. Lichtenstein: comic book imagery and the industrialization of art. Minimal and Op Art and Photo-Realism: the end of modernism? Did success kill the avant-garde? McCloud on time frames. Introducing Spiegelman's Maus: a novel, a documentary, a memoir, a comic book. "My father bleeds history": the sheik, the honeymoon, the prisoner of war.
Required (113 pages)
- PELFREY: Ch. 11, pp. 273-296.
- McCLOUD: Ch. 4, pp. 94-117.
- SPIEGELMAN: Pp. 5-69.
Optional for Video (55 pages)
- HUGHES: Ch. 6, "The View From the Edge" (expressionism), pp. 269-323.
11. Advertising Imagery and Ideology (November 10)Giving power and personality to commodities and their organizations. The ideological center of television. Commercials as movies, myth, personal experience, and icon. Dramas for experiencing commodities. The product as erotic experience. Absorbing the Western artistic tradition. Appeals to personality in the tradition of the avant-garde. Attaching the myth of personality to commodities. Judy Chicago's Dinner Party. Icons of individuality and openness. Berger on advertising as the process of manufacturing glamour, the happiness of being envied. Advertising as the language of oil painting. Consumption as a substitute for democracy. Tangibility as an event in itself, advertising as itself eventless. MONDO 2000 on Marshall McLuhan, zines, cyberpunk, cyberpunk science fiction, geek humor, Transrealism, media pranks. Spiegelman: the noose tightens and mouse holes.
Required (142 pages)
- PELFREY: Ch. 12, pp. 297-314.
- BERGER: Ch. 7, pp. 129-154.
- SPIEGELMAN: Pp. 71-127.
- RUCKER: Marshall McLuhan, Zines, Cyberpunk, Cyberpunk Science Fiction, Geek Humor, Transrealism, Media Pranks (7 chs., 41 pp.).
Optional for Video (41 pages)
- HUGHES: Ch. 7, "Culture As Nature" (Pop Art), pp. 324-364.
V. THE POST-MODERN AGE (2 meetings)12. Post-Modernism (November 17)The roots of Post-Modernism. Experimental, encyclopedic, and eclectic works. Art becomes process. Concept art: Art is as the artist does. Feminist art. The search for subject matter. Christo: fusing earth, technology, bureaucracy, and the mass media. Avant-garde television and the era of portable video. Emshwiller and Paik. The VCR and MTV. Klonarides and Owen: linking the avant-garde and commercial video. MONDO 2000 on deconstruction, hyperreality, fashion, politics, and rants. McCloud on "living in line." Concluding Maus I: mouse trap. Maus as a post-modernist text.
Required (109 pages)
- PELFREY: Ch. 13, pp. 315-342.
- McCLOUD: Ch. 5, pp. 118-137.
- SPIEGELMAN: Pp. 129-159.
- RUCKER: Deconstruction, Hyperreality, Fashion, Politics, Rants (5 chs., 30 pp.).
Optional for Video (61 pages)
- HUGHES: Ch. 8, "The Future That Was" (the end of modernism), pp. 365-425.
13. Art and Technology (November 24)Art in the Computer Age. Computer impacts on Conceptual Art, Earth Art, Photo-Realism, Performance Art, Minimal Art, holography, and robotics, and on the traditional genres of portraiture, landscape, and still life. Connections between technology and art. The pioneering work of Laposky. Sutherland's Sketchpad. The Stuttgart exhibition. Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.). From the plotter to the electronic palette: two-dimensional computer imagining. Active and passive modes: real time vs. noninteractivity. Design vs. fabrication by computer. Automated drawing techniques. Interactive imaging and image processing. Paint systems. Neiman at the Super Bowl. Warhol on the Amiga 1000. MONDO 2000 on the computer industry, personal computing, the Net, cyberspace, fiber optics, street tech, robotics, and nanotechnology. McCloud on "show and tell," and on the six steps to creation of any work in any medium.
Required (77 pages)
- PELFREY: Afterword, pp. 343-348.
- McCLOUD: Chs. 6 & 7, pp. 138-184.
- RUCKER: Computer Industry, Personal Computing, The Net, Cyberspace, Fiber Optics, Street Tech, Robots, Nanotechnology (8 chs., 24 pp.).
Optional (168 pp.)
- GOODMAN: Chs. 1-3, pp. 10-100.
- MITCHELL: Chs. 4-6, pp. 59-135.
IV. CONCLUSIONS (2 lectures)14. Looking Forward and Back (December 1)McCloud on color. Reviewing McCloud's theory: comics as the invisible art. Extending the theory to all art. MONDO 2000 on computer graphics, multimedia, hypertext, virtual reality, virtual sex, and synaesthesia. Potential for new forms of art: artifical life, wetware, chaos theory. The implications for art of hackers, crackers, viruses, and the new electronic freedom. What other theoretical approaches do we have? Reviewing the course. The artist and the work of art, the eye and the mind. Reconsidering the nature of art and the aesthetic questions of what is (or is not) art, and what constitutes good art. Complications of 19th- and 20th-century technologies reviewed. Relationships among technology and economy, and popular culture and art, and the criteria of aesthetics. Is the good in art objective (inherent in content) or subjective (peculiar to each observer)? Looking forward: art in the age of virtual reality and beyond.
Required (108 pages)
- McCLOUD: Chs. 8 & 9, pp. 185-216.
- RUCKER: Computer Graphics, Multimedia, Hypertext, Virtual Reality, Virtual Sex, Synaesthesia, Artifical Life, Wetware, Chaos, Hackers, Crackers, Virus, and Electronic Freedom (13 chs., 76 pp.).
Optional (172 pages)
- GOODMAN: Chs. 4-6, pp. 101-183.
- MITCHELL: Chs. 7-10, pp. 137-225.
15. Wrapping Up, As Needed (December 8)An open final meeting to complete whatever unfinished business remains before the class.