Courses

Explore the course offerings in art history, including cross-listed classes. Much of the coursework offered by art history faculty encourages direct engagement with art historical sources and original works of art, taking advantage of the resources of the Smart Museum and other art institutions in Chicago and beyond. Part of the Rhoades Exchange Program, the annual Rhoades Seminar is taught by a curator at the Art Institute. The Suzanne Deal Booth Conservation Seminars are offered by a conservator or conservation scientist based at the Art Institute. Gold-Gorvy Traveling Seminars involve class travel to work with objects, buildings, and sites first hand.

Graduate courses are numbered between 30000-59999. Courses of study should be developed in close consultation with the advisor and/or Director of Graduate Studies.

Graduate Courses

21314
/
31314
Fluxus and the Question of Media

The course investigates the international Fluxus network of the 1960’s and 70’s from a perspective on the relationship between art, media and technology. Often identified with the concept of “intermedia” launched in a 1966 text by artist, writer and publisher Dick Higgins, Fluxus artists seemed at pain to distinguish their work from the multimedia or gesamtkunstwerk approaches of the Happening artists, seeking instead to formulate a mode of working between or even beyond media. Underpinned by a desire to pass beyond the work of art itself, this was a complex position that had profound implications for their approaches to technologies and practices such as film, video, computing, sound/music, theatre, poetry and image-making. We will try to map the various facets of this position, with particular emphasis on its relation to another central concept in Fluxus: the work as event.

2023-2024
Autumn

21451
/
31451
Rhoades Seminar: Reading Ancient Egyptian Art

For millennia ancient Egyptian artists constructed visual narratives on tomb chapel walls, temple structures, and other material remains – such as stelae – that provide glimpses of lived experiences in the land that gave rise to this ancient African culture. Focusing on two-dimensional representations produced in Egypt (ancient Kemet) between approximately 3000–1069 BCE, this course will consider the functions of such pictorial accounts within their original contexts and explore approaches to reading and interpreting them. We will investigate topics including depictions of “daily life” on the Nile, royal sojourns to foreign lands, and the imagined landscapes of the underworld, deconstructing scenes and the ancient artistic conventions used to produce them. Particular emphasis will be placed on how the natural environment of North Africa is reflected in the arts of ancient Egypt, from detailed renderings of indigenous flora and fauna to interpretations of the physical landscape. Sources will include ancient texts in translation and firsthand examination of Egyptian artifacts in Chicagoland museums, including the ISAC Museum.

Ashley Arico
2023-2024
Spring

22305
/
32305
Spiritual and Protective Lives of Objects in African Art

This seminar explores visual culture and historical arts of Africa primarily from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through a broad geographical range of case studies in practices and uses for art and objects of devotion in everyday life. Investigations will highlight objects’ tangible and intangible elements to examine their spiritual and protective dimensions through various lenses: organized religions, including Islam and Christianity, local belief systems and ritual practices, social or political organizations, and other cultural distinctions. Such contextualization will contribute to students’ recognition of the diversity and historical depth of the continent’s arts and cultures. We will visit objects in local museums and special exhibitions for in-person, close looking and to fuel discussions surrounding the role of museums and museum display and interpretation. 

J. Purdy
2023-2024
Autumn

22816
/
32816
Narrative Frescos in Early Modern Italy

In this course we will observe different ways to tell a story through painting, and we will analyse strategies used by artists in early modern Italy to describe space and time in visual terms.Students will engage with different artists, from Giotto to Raphael and Pellegrino Tibaldi, and different cultural and geographic contexts, from Padua and Bologna to Florence, Venice, and Rome, over the span of about three centuries. Students will explore a wide range of visual examples and textual sources on various subject matters, from poetry to history, from the Bible to vernacular accounts about saints, from mythology to contemporary chronicles, in order to investigate what kind of stories were told on the walls of halls and courts of honor, private rooms, or public spaces, aiming at understanding why each of them was chosen.Complex projects such as narrative mural and ceiling paintings usually involved a tight collaboration among artists, patrons, and iconographic consultants, all figures with whom students will become familiar. We will also analyze the theory behind the comparison of poetry and painting (“ut pictura poesis”, “as is painting so is poetry”) by investigating the meaning and the reception of this ancient concept in early modern times, and its implications on the social role of the artist. Students will investigate the significance of narrative frescos in early modern times, while also asking questions about their value and impact today.

2023-2024
Winter

23602
/
33602
Native American Art at The Field Museum: An Anthropological Perspective

This course explores recent forays into collecting and displaying contemporary Native American Art for the Field Museum, a museum of natural history and anthropology.  Through gallery and collections visits, dialogues with Field Museum staff, contemporary Native American artists, and readings, the course introduces students to the potential and problematic of locating, defining, and representing contemporary art within the colonial context of the Field Museum and how collaboration with artists and community members plays a role in shifting the paradigm toward one that centers collaborative curation and is inclusive of the direct voice of artists.  Students will have the opportunity to closely explore the new exhibition: native Truths: Our voices, Our Stories, discuss the process by which contemporary art was selected for the exhibition and dialogue directly with selected artists who contributed to the exhibition. Over 50 new works of art have been commissioned for the exhibition and are on display. Students will also examine other contemporary art that is in the collection. 

2023-2024
Spring

24255
/
34255
Postcolumbian: The Ancient Americas in Modern and Contemporary Art

In this seminar we will examine the varied ways in which modern and contemporary artists have engaged with the art of Aztec, Maya, Inca, and other ancient American Indigenous art traditions.  We will examine modernist appropriations, later Chicano and Chicana movements, and contemporary re-inventions of Precolumbian art as new forms of Latin American and Latinx expression, commentary, and critique. Artists include Frank Lloyd Wright, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Henry Moore, Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson, Enrique Chagoya, Yolanda López, Yreina D. Cervántez, Guadalupe Maravilla, Mariana Castillo Deball, Ana de Obregoso, Kukuli Velarde, among others. We will consider the ways artists have used forms of the past in a range of political, social, and aesthetic contexts, and ask what agency iconic forms of the past may have exerted, and continue to exert, on the present. Readings on modern and contemporary episodes in this “Post-Columbian” history will be paired with discussions of ancient art and visual culture, as we entwine understandings of early artworks with later histories.

2023-2024
Autumn

24651
/
34651
Latest Experiments in Architectural History

(
ARCH 24651
)

This seminar invites students to examine recent scholarly experiments in architectural history. Participants will read and discuss a corpus of books published in the last five years. Each week, we will take a deep dive into a single publication by synthesizing its argument, unpacking its structure, and demonstrating its potential limits. In-class activities will catalyze dialogue and debate on the readings as well as highlight resonances across assigned books. By the end of the quarter, students will have developed transversal views of contemporary practices in architectural history and heightened their senses of methodological self-awareness.  

Jacobé Huet
2023-2024
Winter

24815
/
34815
Collecting the Ancient World: Museum Practice and Politics

Where is this artifact from? Who does it belong to? How did it get here? Who’s telling its story? Critical inquiry into the practice and politics of museums has reached a new zenith in contemporary discourse. From discussions of acquisition and repatriation to provenience (archaeological findspot) and provenance (an object’s ownership history) and the ethics of curation and modes of display, museum and art professionals—and the general public alike—are deliberating on the concept of museums and the responsibilities of such institutions towards the collections in their care. This course will explore the early history of museums and collecting practices and their impact on the field today, with a focus on cultural heritage collections from West Asia and North Africa. We will first spend time on such topics as archaeological exploration of “the Orient,” colonial collecting practices, and the antiquities trade, as well as the politics of representation and reception in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Next, we will look at critical issues presently facing museums, including ethical collection stewardship, provenance research, repatriation, community engagement, and public education. The course will be structured in a seminar format, with lectures devoted to the presentation of key themes by the instructor and critical discussion as a group. Meetings will include visits to the ISAC Museum at UChicago.

2023-2024
Winter

24816
/
34816
Museums Today

Through a series of case studies, this course examines how museums are radically rethinking their function, their
audiences, and their practices. What problems do they seek to redress? Who do the solutions aim to serve, and to
what end? This course ultimately asks students to debate the role of the museum in the 21st century by way of course
readings drawn from theory, scholarship, and the popular press; class discussions complimented by visits from guest
scholars, artists, and curators; and engagement with real and virtual museum spaces.

2023-2024
Winter

24910
/
34910
Insect Media

(
ARTH 34910, ARTH 24910
)

How have insects affected ways of knowing and relating to the world?

This course opens a dialogue between insects and Japanese audiovisual cultures, including fiction, poetry, visual art, manga, anime, and film. We aim to address the important and profound challenge that recent trends in animal studies, environmental humanities, and eco-criticism pose to received ways of studying human cultures and societies. The challenge lies in offering alternatives to the entrenched reliance on a nature-culture divide, which gives culture explanatory preference over nature. In the case of Japan and insects, for instance, there exists a fairly significant body of scholarship on how Japanese people respond to, interact with, and represent insects, and yet priority is generally given to culture, and Japan is treated monolithically. To offer alternatives to this monolithic culturalism, in this course we will (a) open dialogue between culture accounts of insects and scientific accounts and (b) explore different forms of media offering different milieus where human animals and more-than-human insects come into relation without assuming the ascendency of one over the other.

Thomas Lamarre
2023-2024
Autumn

25119
/
35119
Architecture and Colonialism in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia

(
ARCH 25119
)

This seminar invites students to examine the intersections of colonialism with architecture in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Throughout the semester, we will discuss the designs of architects working in the region (Le Corbusier, Fernand Pouillon, Shadrach Woods, etc.) and concepts defining colonialism as a design project (segregation, repression, primitivism, etc.). We will also pay particular attention to modes of opposition pursued by residents and their historical impact toward the region’s decolonization. Moments of heightened historical consequence, such as the strategic use of selected architectural spaces by independentist guerrillas, will be thoroughly discussed. The class will progress through a chronological scope, from Orientalism as a 19th century phenomenon to the enmeshment of modernism with colonialism in the 20th century. We will conclude with the emergence of postcolonial modernities. 

Jacobé Huet
2023-2024
Autumn

25402
/
35402
The Invisible within Visual Art

“What the work of art looks like isn’t too important.” This is what U.S.-American artist Sol Lewitt wrote about conceptual art in 1967. This course takes Lewitt’s statement seriously, asking: how can we consider the non-visible dimensions of artworks? How do we interpret artworks that rely upon extra-visual material, including other sensory material like touch, taste, sound, and smell, but also ideas? How do aspects that the viewer must imagine impact the way that artworks make meaning? Taking a broad approach to the category of conceptual art, this course will explore the history of art that is rooted in ideas from the 1910s to the present, investigating case studies of conceptual works from around the globe. Considering artworks that take a wide variety of forms, from paintings and sculptures, to documentary photographs and faked documentary photographs, to performances, installations, and participatory invitations, we will test Lewitt’s statement. If what a given artwork looks like isn’t all that important, how might the invisible inform our understanding of that artwork instead?

2023-2024
Autumn

25545
/
35545
Cartography & the Early Modern State

This seminar focuses on concurrent watersheds in drawing, cartography, and information technology - the rise of hand-drawn maps in government archives. This occurred in fifteenth-century Venice, the first state to combine surveying, drawing, and text in the systematic collection, storage, delivery, and analysis of geospatial data concerning its territories. A radical departure from classical and medieval cartography, Venice’s paper maps synced perspectival pictures with nested layers of toponyms, informational legends, directional indicators and scale bars, requiring a new kind of literacy and hardware to calculate distance. No precedent existed for this analog GIS (geographic information system); other chancery collections came later or did not have the same functionality. We will compare Venice’s paper maps to contemporary landscape painting and print culture’s bird’s eye views and maps. We will address their increasingly dynamic interface, methods of indexing, and storage and retrieval before the arrival of filing cabinets; the addition of polychrome reliefs with their heightened sense of being there; and the increase in flattening abstractions through the end of the Venetian empire (1797). These abstractions anticipated modern mapping before the advent of digital GIS (also a government initiative) and cartography’s return to embedding the user. Students are welcome from across the disciplines and may choose related topics for supervised research projects.

Karen-edis Barzman
2023-2024
Winter

25711
/
35711
Exhibiting Photographs

This course traces the history of photography through a progression of landmark exhibitions, exploring the ongoing and reciprocal relationship between theories of photography and modes of public display. From the first public demonstrations of the new invention(s) through the emergence of photographic salons in the late nineteenth century, the forms of early exhibitions mirrored photography’s fluid and indeterminate cultural status. By the interwar period, new theories of display and visual communication developed by the European and American avant-garde helped to elevate photography's standing in museums, transforming its liminal position between art and mass culture into a modernist virtue. For each case study, students will assess the ways that photographic exhibitions embody cultural and aesthetic values, political ideologies, shifts within the art market, and underlying ideas about photography itself. Along with these historical investigations, the course will include several visits to a multisite exhibition of contemporary photography to engage with current issues tied to curating and display.   

2023-2024
Spring

25731
/
35731
Gender Before Gender: Constructing Bodies in Ancient American Art

Note: Consent of instructor required; email Professor Brittenham a paragraph-long description about what you bring and what you hope to get out of this seminar.

In this course, we will seek to test the possibilities and limits of understanding gender and sex in premodernity through an inquiry into the artistic traditions of the ancient Americas. Works of art constitute a primary means by which we can access ideas about what we call gender and sex. Based on what we can reconstruct from visual, textual, and archaeological sources, these cultures conceptualized and represented gender in ways that might seem unfamiliar, in the process putting into question our own preconceptions. Indeed, pre-modern works of art might not have served to simply record conventions of gender but also helped construct the very idea of a sexed body within a given cultural context. As we discover commonalities and divergences between these Indigenous American traditions, we will learn to think across cultural contexts and disciplinary divides, putting into question some of our own assumptions. We will see that gender is not an immutable construct but something actively brought into being in different ways in different times and places.

2023-2024
Spring

26501
/
36501
Straight-line sensibilities. A hidden history of 20th Century Art

The proliferation of straight lines in 20th Century art and architecture is generally associated with rational and universalist procedures and perspectives, and closely associated with the rise of industrial society. This course will look at straight lines in moden art from a very different perspective. We will study a hidden genealogy of straight lines that all seem to evoke the vagaries of sensory realities and capacities and that are aesthetic through and through.  These type of straight lines are all, in their various ways,  related to the close interaction between bodies and media technologies - one of the major themes in modern art. The question, of course, is how and why straight lines comes to express this relationship. To look at this question, we will study artworks and ideas that extend from the mid 19th-century to 21st century art and that includes a wide range of media and expressions, including architecture, painting, drawing, film, video and computer art. More specifically, we will look at how the changing deployment of the straight lines in art signals changes in the relation between bodies, technical systems and the concept of infrastructure. The course will start by paying close attention to one paradigmatic work: La Monte Young's "Composition 1960 # 10 (To Bob Morris): Draw A Straight Line And Follow It". We will  use this work as a preliminary template for moving back to 19th Century encounters between art, architecture and physiological aesthetics and for moving forward in time to recent forays in electronic and digital art. In between we will visit significant moments in pre- and postwar avant-garde art. My hope is that you will never think of straight lines in the same way again.

2023-2024
Autumn

26703
/
36703
Interiority, Modernity, Domesticity, Decoration

(
MAPH 36703, GNSE 26703, GNSE 36703
)
Consent of the instructor is required for registration.This course will include two museum/collections visits in the Chicago area.

The domestic interior emerged with modernity itself. “Interiorization,” Walter Benjamin claimed, was a defining characteristic of nineteenth-century culture, and the interior came to be understood as the physical space of the home in addition to an image of mental life. While often figured as refuge from modernity’s more spectacular developments, this seminar establishes the interior as a complex historical construct, a tool, with which to read the shifting texture of the world outside its walls. At the same time, we will examine how artists, writers, and designers employed the interior as a platform upon which to experiment with new tactics of representation, often borrowing from one another’s toolbox, in attempts to represent that world and imagine possible futures. Case studies will consider paintings, decorative schemes, prints, décor samples, and architectural media—many from local collections and environments—alongside literary and critical writings. We will interrogate these objects to pursue the interior’s entanglement with the following themes: subjectivity, the senses, and the built environment; privacy, publicity, and revolution; space, text, and image; art, decoration, and fashion; craft, race, and globalization; modernism, gender, and domesticity. Students need not be specialists to register but should be invested in working together to activate the overlooked interface between intimate, “feminine,” or private aesthetic experience and broad historical change.

2023-2024
Spring

26705
/
36705
Approaches to Contemporary Chinese Art

(
EALC 26705, EALC 36705
)

This course examines histories of contemporary artmaking from China since the 1970s. The course will begin by introducing post-Mao artistic avant-garde movements, the response to urbanization in art at the turn of the 20th century, and the influence of globalization since 2000. Attention will then be offered to a new generation of young artists from China as well as diasporic artists working transnationally. This course is particularly interested in contemplating ways in which artists capture facets of accelerated time all the while living in a culture where physical environments and interactions are becoming increasingly obsolete due to major investments in robotics, AI technologies, online communication platforms, and virtual monetary exchange applications.    

Ellen Larson
2023-2024
Autumn

26810
/
36810
Topics in Curating Indigenous Art

 
In twenty-first century museums, the curation of Indigenous objects brings with it many dynamically changing responsibilities and considerations, as well as ethical and legal questions that vary by region, country, and legislation. These topics are essential knowledge for students studying Indigenous art and archaeology in their curriculum and who may be considering careers in related fields. That said, even scholars who do not directly study Indigenous art may someday find themselves responsible for it, whether as a department chair or museum director, making familiarity with these issues essential preparation. Ultimately, the curation of Indigenous art is shaping the leading edge of curatorial practice in museums today—as well as popular discourse. 

2023-2024
Winter

27314
/
37314
Writing Art Criticism

(
CHST 27314, CHST 27314, ARTV 27314, ARTV 37314
)
Enrollment is limited and permission of instructor is required. Preference will be given to students with a background in the visual arts or writing about the arts. Please email the instructor (mehring@uchicago.edu) explaining relevant background

This course is a practicum in writing art criticism. Unlike art historians, art critics primarily respond to the art of their time and to developments in the contemporary art world. They write reviews of exhibitions that may be on view in galleries or museums and that may focus on single artists or broad themes. Importantly, art critics often produce the very first discourse on a given art, shaping subsequent thinking and historiography. Accordingly, art criticism is a genre that requires particular skills, for example, identifying why and how artworks matter, taking a fresh look at something familiar or developing a set of ideas even if unfamiliar with a subject, expressing strong yet sound opinions, and writing in impeccable and engaging ways.

2023-2024
Autumn

27316
/
37316
Crafting Modernity

This course proposes that craft defined artmaking in the United States during the the period after World War I and through to the post-World War II era. For the purposes of the course, craft will be broadly understood to encompass handmade items designed for practical use as well as artworks that, through concepts, materials, and/or processes, trace their lineage to a functional and handmade past. In framing this modernist history through craft, and discussing pedagogy, practitioners, objects,and theories of making, the course positions craft as a primary propagator of modernity. Artists with diverse material practices, such as Anni Albers, Emma Amos, Ruth Asawa, Faith Ringgold, and Lenore Tawney, will be central to the discussion and will foster an assessment and interrogation of craft’s role in producing and popularizing modern art more broadly. In addition to foregrounding the ubiquity of craft and its wide-reaching impacts on culture and society (including educational initiatives and programs, exhibitions and museum collections, and publications), this course will also question craft’s relative absence (until recently) in narratives oftwentieth-century modernism in the United States. Furthermore, while craft has the potential to surface the classism, sexism, and media hierarchies in modern art historical discourse, the need to critically examine craft’s relationship with colonialism, racism, and sexism will also be addressed

2023-2024
Spring

27799
/
37799
Materiality and Artistic Intent: The Object, Conservation and Art History-The Suzanne Deal Booth Conservation Seminar

This course will investigate materiality in the context of art-historical study. Thirty years ago technical art history was a burgeoning field of study among a small number of museum conservators, curators and scientists. Today curatorial/conservation partnerships are common and analytic methods to examine and characterize artworks are sophisticated and often nondestructive. The intersection of the three disciplines – art history, conservation and materials science – has made it possible to study art in a more holistic and objective manner by understanding the art-making materials, the methods of using them, and the conscious choices made by artists to achieve their aesthetic goals. Additionally, changes to works of art, whether the result of inherent instability, external environmental factors, or artist’s intent may be more readily identified and assessed. 
 
Case studies will be presented to show how artists’ methods and materials can be informative within a broader art-historical context. The course will address the meaningful integration of technical study into one’s own curatorial/art history practice. Students will examine works of art firsthand to determine the materials and methods used in their making, to assess their condition, and to see how various manipulations of different art-making materials inform their appearance. Students will evaluate selected readings and recent technical studies. Class participation is encouraged and expected.  

2023-2024
Autumn

27800
/
37800
'Conserving Active Matter' - Strategies in Conservation and Contemporary Art (Suzanne Deal Booth Conservation Seminar)

This course will be registered only with instructor consent. Consent requests must include why the student is interested in taking the course, any previous experience they have with the course topics, and how they envision contributing toward the conservation initiative’s goal of diversifying the field of conservation and conservation science.

Conserving contemporary art is a complex activity. This course raises questions about the goal of conservation in various media (painting, sculpture, and variable media) as well as in artistic movements since the 1960s, when the notion of authenticity and originality shifted. Conservation today is not limited to the treatment of the physical artwork; it demands an open dialogue with the varying stakeholders: the artist, collector, fabricator, curator, gallerist, dealer, shipper, art handler, as well as with other specialized conservators. The course also examines various models of artist estates, archives, and artist interviews, responding to the inevitable consequences of contemporary art without the artist.

2023-2024
Spring

28003
/
38003
Islamic Art: Private Collections on Public Display

Consent only

In the past decade, two museums in Texas – the MFA Houston and the Dallas Museum of Art -- have suddenly emerged as major centers for Islamic art. Usually, well-developed displays of Islamic art build on sustained institutional commitment to curation over several generations. However, these Texas museums both quickly transformed their abilities to exhibit Islamic art by securing long term loans of significant private collections. With the al-Sabah Collection and the Hossein Afshar Collection, MFA Houston more than doubled its display space for Islamic art in 2023; and similarly, the Dallas Museum of Art has displayed the Keir Collection since 2014. This travelling seminar brings students to Texas for two weeks, facilitating direct study of an expansive range of Islamic arts produced from the medieval period to the present, in materials ranging from silk, parchment, ceramic, and rock crystal; to lacquer, sandstone, metal, jade, and plexiglass.  Students will learn basic classification systems for navigating the vast range of Islamic arts, and will also each select a specific work for close study. Upon return to campus, students will develop their thoughts on the object in relation to questions of collection and display. What force does a given object have in shaping, confirming, or challenging logics of collection and display? What might the same object achieve differently within the context of a different, possibly thematic, exhibition?  

2023-2024
Autumn

28201
/
38201
Art on My Mind

A critic who began as an abstract painter, bell hooks (Gloria Watkins) was also a queer woman of color and among the most penetrating cultural observers in recent US history. This course centers on the close reading of hooks’ 1995 book, Art on My Mind: Visual Politics, which fearlessly and sympathetically took as its subject a perennial conundrum wherein black artists and critics’ relationship to art and aesthetics threatens to be subsumed by their efforts to challenge an art world bent on marginalization and exclusion. By hooks’s own account, she designed this collection of essays and interviews to continue discussions of art and aesthetics begun in earlier work—specifically, to further engage the politics of feminism in conjunction with liberatory Black struggle. The result did a great deal more than this already considerable feat of intersectional study. Art on My Mind demonstrates then-new, still-woefully-underutilized means to think about visual art, write about visual art, and create actual spaces for ‘dialogue across boundaries.’ Art on My Mind, then, remains a model for confronting what addles critical consideration of the work of artists and cultural producers in all groups marginalized by structures of domination. This makes it also a book about transgression, and an excellent object to debate at a moment when generative meetings across boundaries seem increasingly unlikely. Major themes in addition to the aforementioned include ‘the body,’ canonization, cultural appropriation, architecture, criticism, pedagogy, painting, and photography.

2023-2024
Winter

28311
/
38311
Image, Iconoclasm, Animation

(
RLVC 28311, RLVC 38311, CLAS 35923, CLCV 25923, KNOW 38311, MDVL 28311, RLST 28311
)
The course will be taught over the first 4 and a half weeks in the Spring Quarter on an intensive schedule.

This course will explore the fantasies of the animation of images both ancient and early Christian, both secular and sacred, as the backdrop to examining the phenomenon of iconoclasm as an assault on the image from pre-Christian antiquity via Byzantium to the Protestant Reformation. It will tackle both texts and images, the archaeological context of image-assault and the conceptual (indeed theological) contexts within which such assault was both justified and condemned. These historical issues cannot be separated, in our scholarly approaches and responses, from a vibrant contemporary culture around question of virtuality, animation, image-worship and image-destruction in the current world. The course will provide space to reflect on the problems raised by this. The course will be taught over the first four and a half weeks in the Spring Quarter on an intensive schedule. It will be examined on the basis of a paper, due on a subject to be agreed and on a date to be agreed at the end of the Spring quarter.

2023-2024
Spring

28325
/
38325
Art and Description in Antiquity and Byzantium

(
RLVC 28325, RLVC 38325
)
The course will be taught over the first 4 and a half weeks in the Spring Quarter on an intensive schedule.

This course explores the rich tradition of ekphrasis in Greco-Roman antiquity and Byzantium – as it ranges from vivid description in general to a specific engagement with works of art. While the prime focus will remain on texts from Greece, Rome and Byzantium – in order to establish what might be called the ancestry of a genre in the European tradition and especially its fascinating place between pagan polytheistic and Christian writing -- there will be opportunity in the final paper to range beyond this into questions of comparative literature, art (history) writing and ekphrasis in other periods or contexts, depending on students’ interests and needs. A reading knowledge of Greek in particular could not be described as a disadvantage, but the course can be taken without knowing the ancient languages. The course will be taught over the first 4 and a half weeks in the Spring Quarter on an intensive schedule. It will be examined on the basis of a paper, due on a subject to be agreed and on a date to be agreed at the end of the Spring quarter.

2023-2024
Spring

28607
/
38607
Art, Science, and the Environment

Did human activity—from the detonation of atomic weapons to the proliferation of plastics—change the Earth and life on it? Rather than study air or water, this seminar will look at art and visual culture since 1945 to find deposits, traces, and effects of such activities.

 The course will survey scholarly texts from art history as well as the histories of science and technology to pursue these and other related questions: How have historians framed developments in postwar and contemporary art in relation to concurrent developments of scientific ways of knowing and imagining the environment, broadly defined? Moreover, how has the advance of scientific knowledge beyond our planet informed visual culture? From smart devices to immersive digital art installations, what forms of techno-ecologies surround us today? Through visits to the Smart Museum of Art, as well as other campus collections, students will have the opportunity to study and write about original works of art

2023-2024
Winter

29609
/
39609
Realism: Art or Metaphysics?

(
CMLT 25999, CMLT 35999, KNOW 25010, KNOW 35010, SCTH 25010, SCTH 35010
)

Besides its historical role as the first capital-letter avant-garde in painting and literature, Realism is making a return in many current artistic and, for that matter, cultural and journalistic contexts. But whether one examines its entanglement with reputed adversaries like Romanticism and Idealism, its origins in ancient and medieval metaphysics, or its strange side career as a label for amoral pragmatism in political theory and practice, the many-sidedness of realism makes pinning it down quite a challenge. Is there any common thread binding Plato and Courbet, Virginia Woolf and García Marquez, Catherine Opie and Ai Weiwei? Can there be a realism of dreams and desire, such as one might find in Freud? And is realism a revolutionary venture, or a consolidating surveillance of social types? What role do new technologies and forms of spectatorship, from oil painting to photography, the printed book to streaming media, play in its rise and evolution? Readings in art history, fiction, and philosophy will alternate with film screenings and gallery visits.

Mechtild Widrich
2023-2024
Autumn

39800
Approaches to Art History

Consent Only

This seminar examines a range of methods for doing the work of art history with an eye toward strengthening your own original contributions to the field. Through close reading and discussion of recently published scholarship, we will interrogate how art historians generate novel ways of seeing and understanding the objects that they study. This course will be structured around the framework of scale. What is the scale of art historical analysis? Moving from macro to micro, we will traverse units ranging from canons, empire, and environments to art scenes, institutions, and audiences, to the artist, the art object, and the fragment. We will examine how scholars constitute the objects of their criticism, the breadth and explanatory force of their arguments, and the ethics of their endeavors. This approach traverses perspectives from feminism and queer theory, post- and decolonial thought, Black studies, material culture, social history, and critical theory. Some of our guiding questions will be: How does thinking at different scales help us understand visual and material objects differently? How can these methods help us rethink, modify, or dismantle canons? And how do they enable us to reappraise issues of power and exchange within the history of art? In order to think through these and other methodological questions, students will adopt an object on view in a Chicago-area art institution to work with over the course of the semester. Students need not identify as art historians to enroll in this seminar—it will be helpful for all students who want to think deeply about their approaches to visual and material objects, whether still or moving images, sculpture, or performance, particularly if those objects feel genre-bending, difficult to theorize, or recalcitrant.

Carl Fuldner
2023-2024
Winter

40200
Art History Proseminar: Methodology and Historiography

How do we do art history? What is it? What are its premises and where does it come from? This seminar will explore the historical foundations, formulations and applications of current art historical methods, as well as the foundations of the art historical discipline as it emerged from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Both theory and practice will be considered through select texts, with special focus on art history as a distinct scholarly discipline today. Rather than attempting to cover a comprehensive history of the methodological and historiographic traditions, the readings will attempt to present a coherent, if highly complex and conflictive, narrative that remains open to continued interrogation by its practitioners.

2023-2024
Winter

40702
Tokyo: Architecture and Urban Analysis

Consent Only

This graduate seminar course aims to introduce what is arguably the most complex product of society and Japanese society in particular — the city, and to concentrate on the city of Tokyo. Our study will encompass a range of issues concerning the city and the consequences of urban development under modern and contemporary conditions. We will observe how the city has defined, and has been defined by, a particular reality at a particular time, beginning in Edo period and concluding in the present. Such approach emphasizes a need to examine the city within a certain context, particularly its social, cultural, and political circumstances. Thus, we will look at the creation and recreation of the city’s physical texture, at architecture, urban landscape, infrastructure, and technology, and at the same time observe the city as a social product determined by everyday life and habitual practices, organization of the immediate surrounding, personal rites and the micro-politics of life in the city. In the same manner, we will look at buildings and neighborhoods per-se, as a material construct guided by geometry and legal code, but at the same time recognize how the pragmatics of this built environment interrelate with cultural expressions such as literature and film, and thus examine the mechanisms that relate the city to culture. Also, we will see how the city is not merely a reflection or expression of politics, but rather an intricate political apparatus in and of itself, influencing relationships and encouraging change.

Erez Golani Solomon
2023-2024
Spring

42911
Twenty-first Century Art

Consent Only

This course will consider the practice and theory of visual art in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We will read a variety of crucial contemporary texts, including those of Thierry De Duve, Boris Groys, Sianne Ngai, and Hito Steyerl, among others. Students should be prepared to produce a research paper at the conclusion of the seminar. Our first reading will be De Duve’s Kant After Duchamp, which should be completed before our first day of class.

2023-2024
Spring

44014
The Veneration of Icons in Byzantium: History, Theory and Practice

(
RLVC
)

In order to appreciate the pivotal religious significance icons had in Byzantium for private devotion, in the liturgy, in civic ritual, and in military campaigns, we will survey the visual evidence along with a vast array of written sources. We will explore the origins of the Christian cult of icons in the Early Byzantine period and its roots in the ancient Greco-Roman world. Through the close analysis of icons executed over the centuries in different artistic techniques, we will examine matters of iconography, style, and aesthetics. We will also have a close look at image theory, as developed by Byzantine theologians and codified in the era of Iconoclasm.
Typically, meetings will consist of both lecture and interactive discussion sections. Students are expected to prepare the mandatory readings for each week, which serve as a basis for an informed, and thus productive, classroom discussion. 

2023-2024
Winter

44705
The Long Nineteenth Century in Japanese Art

Consent Only

This course centers around the Smart’s preparations to host the exhibition Meiji Modern: Fifty Years of New Japan. Reading primary and secondary sources in Japanese and European languages, we will assess the history of collecting and exhibiting Meiji art and debate the relevance of a long nineteenth-century approach that emphasizes continuities across the Edo-Meiji divide. Ample attention will be paid to craft, three dimensional objects, and the built environment in addition to paintings and prints. Themes include: gender and the body; the development of a metalanguage through which to discuss art; the changing position of Chinese art and culture; issues of “orientalism” and “occidentalism;” and the designation of “craft” and “calligraphy” as new fields on the margins of the beaux-arts.

2023-2024
Winter

45707
Art and Death in Pre-Modern China

(
EALC 35707
)
Consent Only

What the heck does art have to do with death? Most obviously, this course examines artifacts manufactured and used specifically for mortuary purposes in pre-modern China. It investigates how art is defined through the context and space of the dead and what significance art had when produced and when it functions as such. Less obviously, this course will also study how and why art was ever produced in relation to death, asking: In what ways does art express, convey, or discourse on abstract notions and ideas of death, and can we come to an understanding of a visual and material culture, or cultures, of death in pre-modern China from such a study? Finally, what is the mortality of art itself in the context of Chinese art history? 

2023-2024
Winter

47920
Attention

Registration by consent only.

This is a course in the theory and practice of observing with the intent to describe, analyze, or interpret—as in a typical process of cultural study using words to represent representation. It’s a course in setting into perspective those attitudes and gestures that attention-to-X supposes you will adopt and perform. We want to know, what is it to attend when attention separates out from a method, a hypothesis, an organized mood?

2023-2024
Winter

50200
Dissertation Proposal Workshop

Consent Only, Open to third year art history PhD students only.

This course is conducted by a faculty member every spring to introduce third-year students to the tasks of preparing grant proposals and applications.  The aim of the workshop is to help you produce a finished proposal by the early autumn of your fourth year and to prepare you to apply for grants at that time.  The department requires third-year students to participate fully in the workshop, register for credit, and earn a Pass.

2023-2024
Winter