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

20212
/
30212
A Cultural History of Modern and Contemporary Korean Art

This course explores the development of modern and contemporary art in Korea from the 20th century to today. In parallel with political, economic, and social changes that defined the nation’s identity, Korean art also experienced fundamental shifts and expansion. With a particular concern for the sociopolitical landscapes around artistic productions, this course introduces the main developments and cultural trends in the arts, drawing upon a wide array of media, from traditional paintings and sculptures to more recent media such as video, performance, photography, and new media art. We will familiarize ourselves with the most crucial artists and their practices, focusing on key events that shaped the history of Korea and its art such as the Japanese colonial era, the Korean War, the national division, struggles against dictatorship, democratization, and globalization. Students will also learn how to look at, think about, and engage in critical discussion of the visual arts.

2020-2021
Autumn

20700
/
30700
Understanding the Built Environment

(
ARCH 20000
)

This thematic course aims to equip students with the basic skills and knowledge required to analyze architecture and the urban environment. It provides an introduction to the methods and procedures of the architectural historian. These include such practical tasks as understanding architectural terminology, reading and interpreting architectural drawings, engaging with buildings “on site”, and studying buildings in urban context, relative to surrounding buildings, street networks and public spaces. At a broader level, the course will entail critical discussion about the relationship between architecture and society, the building as a historically specific object that also changes over time, the cultural representation of architecture, and modes of perceiving/experiencing the built environment. The format is a discussion seminar based on readings, assignments, virtual visits and meetings with guest speakers. Although it is designed to introduce the fundamentals of architectural history to undergraduates seeking a minor in architectural studies, MA and PhD students in any field are also welcome to register. 

2020-2021
Autumn

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.

2020-2021
Autumn

23205
/
33205
Visualizing Race in the Renaissance

“Visualizing Race in the Renaissance” examines European material and visual culture from 1400 to 1650.  Organized chronologically, the class will begin by exploring the perception of Jews and Turks in Europe and then consider how Europeans viewed the peoples and cultures from the continents of Africa, Asia, and the Americas.  Through a study of primary and secondary sources and works of art in various media (paintings, sculpture, prints, tapestries), we will address the following questions (among others): How was race represented in the Renaissance? How did an increasingly global world impact art production? How did Europe’s encounter with foreigners contribute to the development of its own identity?  Half of the class meetings will take place at the Newberry Library (60 W. Walton) where we will examine relevant illustrated books and early printed material and begin some preliminary planning for an exhibition on the topic.

2020-2021
Spring

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 site visits and 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 observe the major renovation currently underway of the Native North American Hall and the role that contemporary art will play in deepening understanding of existing collections and contemporary social concerns.

2020-2021
Spring

24615
/
34615
Modern and Contemporary Materialities (Suzanne Deal Booth Conservation Science)

This course aims to explore the links between materiality, making, and meaning of modern art and investigate how surface, form, texture, and color are localized in particular artistic or historical contexts. It can be argued that the discipline of art history still remains substantially divided between those who study what objects mean and those who study how objects are made, where ‘meaning’ typically derives from cultural hermeneutics, while ‘madeness’ remains the province of technical analysis. The course will discuss the methods, theory, and strategies of a material-based approach, its forms of writing and claims to meaning. Readings will be drawn from a variety of disciplines, including art history, visual and material culture, anthropology, philosophy, and material science.

Students must have instructor consent to register for this course. Please email Maria Kokkori at mkokkori@artic.edu by Tuesday, September 8th to express your interest, indicate any previous experience you have with the course topics, and how you envision contributing toward the conservation initiative’s goal of diversifying the field of conservation and conservation science.

2020-2021
Autumn

24706
/
34706
Japanese Art in the Sinosphere

From the earliest centuries of the common era until the 1870s, Japanese writers, artists, and scholars considered themselves to be living in the Sinosphere: the realm of China’s cultural and political centrality. Starting with a consideration of Chinese material culture in the Tale of Genji, we will proceed to address topics such as the relation between Chinese and Japanese handscroll paintings, the spread of Chinese-style ink monochrome painting in Japan, the rise of the Kano school as official painters and Chinese-style painting experts, and the immense popularity of literati painting and calligraphy. Korean painting’s intersection with Chinese and Japanese art in the medieval and early modern periods will also factor into the discussion. We will evaluate the changing dynamics around political power and gender embodied in the Chinese/Japanese oppositional duality and reassess the prevailing narratives concerning how the Sinosphere faded from view in the Meiji era.

2020-2021
Winter

35001
Theatricality in Modern Art, 1700 to present

(
SCTH 35001
)

We examine the dramatic dimension of art in the modern era broadly speaking, from the Aristotelian theory of action and motivation, and Diderot’s theory of acting, to the linguistic theory of speech acts, romantic notions of the subjective and the ineffable (as well as of the union of the arts), and the historical cataclysms that call up new modes of theatre and visual art, like the French Revolution, the rediscovery of antiquity, and the advent of photography and motion pictures, to say nothing of performance art and digital imagery. Paradigms that have been influential in one or another discipline, like Michael Fried’s theory of theatricality in art history, Heinrich Kleist’s meditation on puppets and Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical view of tragedy will be examined. On the other hand, the range of artworks meriting dramatic interpretation is just what we will be trying to establish. (but figures as diverse as Watteau, Poe, Wagner, Manet and Pollock will play a role).

2020-2021
Autumn

25112
/
35112
Objects of Andean Art

This seminar introduces Pre-Columbian Andean material culture and built environments surveying the region from the early Chavín culture through the Incas. Readings and class discussions examining broad cultural issues will be elaborated by hand-on analysis of artifacts in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as interactive explorations of art-making techniques. The course particularly seeks to develop understandings of the raw materials used to make objects in order to contextualize them within trade networks, the Andean landscape, and cultural value systems, as well as artistic knowledge and skills.

2020-2021
Winter

25113
/
35113
Rhoades Seminar: Possibility and Peril: Material and Technical Innovations in Modern Textiles

This course meets at the Art Institute of Chicago. Students should plan their schedules accordingly to account for travel.

This course will consider the material and technical innovations that attended industrialized textile production in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Among the topics considered will be the invention of new fibers such as rayon, Lurex, and polyester, the introduction of synthetic dye stuffs, and the rapid mechanizing of the production process. The promises of these innovations will be examined alongside a consideration of their functional and ecological implications.

2020-2021
Winter

25810
/
35810
Global-Abstraction

(
LACS 2/35810
)

This course investigates twentieth-century abstraction as a global phenomenon, focusing on the period from 1945 through the 1960s. Case studies will be drawn primarily from the United States, Europe, Latin America and East Asia, but individual research projects from other regions will be welcome. Themes and questions to be addressed include: the repetition of historical avant-garde strategies such as the grid, the monochrome, and non-compositional order in Europe, the United States, and South America; the global reception and adaptation of Abstract Expressionism; distinct understandings of gesture, mark-making, and subjectivity; the meaning and use of color; the relationship of abstraction to industry and design; the deployment of abstraction as a “weapon of the Cold War” and a strategy of internationalization; and autochthonous definitions of abstraction outside the West. Artists, groups, and movements to be studied include: Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Zero, Blinky Palermo, Georges Mathieu, Lucio Fontana, Neoconcretism, Alejandro Otero, Gutai, and Tansaekhwa.

2020-2021
Spring

25895
/
35895
Autonomy Etc.

Description forthcoming

2020-2021
Winter

26791
/
36791
Best in Show: Art History as Exhibition History

(
ARTV 2/34265
)

In this course, I propose a reading of post-war art history as seen, in part, through the periodical prism of one of the field’s most important, signature events – the five-yearly Documenta exhibition in Kassel, Germany. Starting with the founding 1955 edition organized by Arnold Bode and ending with the 2017 edition which I worked on as a curator, we will discuss one chapter of Documenta’s history per class alongside related events like the Venice and Sao Paulo biennials and Skulptur. Projekte Münster, touching upon such key issues of contemporary art practice and theory as the dynamics of globalization, identity politics, the vagaries of market influence, history and memory and the pressures of the social realm on aesthetic experience. As a history of exhibition making and curatorial practice, the course will also draw on recent developments in museum culture and the everyday politics of the art world’s various institutions, and will be recounted in part from the perspective of exhibition-making experience. The class will consist of hands-on curatorial exercises, as well as writing and reading assignments that mirror and follow the 64-year arc of our historical periodization.

2020-2021
Spring

27320
/
37320
Transpacific Art Histories

“What is in a rim?” the Sinologist Arik Dirlik asked in the early 1990s reconsidering the complex economic and political relations between the nations that border the Pacific Ocean. Since the middle of the 20th century, the Pacific Ocean has emerged as an important “contact zone,” one that has been constructed, imagined and employed to various socioeconomic and political ends. However, the cultural and particularly artistic exchanges that have occurred across its shores remain largely overlooked and understudied. Using the trope of the Pacific Ocean, this class identifies, analyses and compares artistic exchanges through four different themes: ocean, rim, land, and routes. Classes will pair art theory and methodology with artworks that provide evidence of communication, contact and interconnection. This course will contribute foundational research for an upcoming Smart Museum exhibition and also contribute to a new field of historical inquiry – Transpacific Studies. 

2020-2021
Winter

27800
/
37800
The Material Science of Art (Suzanne Deal Booth Conservation Seminar)

PQ: Permission of instructor required for registration.

This course will introduce students to the methods, theories, and strategies of scientific approaches to studying art objects and consider the meaning of different materials and surfaces across artistic media. It will showcase new scholarship generated in the field of conservation science and object-based art history that draws its strength from the collaborative work among scientists, conservators, art historians, and theorists. Conservation science draws on the applied sciences and engineering to understand how to preserve the world's cultural heritage and forge connections between making and meaning. The course will explore scientific examinations to investigate the production and use of art objects. Focusing on material studies of paintings and sculptures, pigments as well as their binding media, students will learn about the material make-up of art objects by employing visual analysis alongside practical studies using scientific analysis and imaging on campus and at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Readings will be drawn from a variety of disciplines, including material science and chemistry, art history, visual and material culture, anthropology, and philosophy.

2020-2021
Spring

28705
/
38705
Christian Iconography

(
RLST 28705
)

In Christian culture, visual images have for many centuries played a pivotal role in ritual, devotion, intellectual thought, and religious instruction. The most important aims of this course are that students understand images convey meaning in very unique ways and learn how to decode their visual messages. The study of iconography encompasses a variety of methods used to identify the subject matter of a pictorial image, describe its contents, and analyze its discursive strategies in view of its original cultural context. We will cover some of the most important themes visualized in the arts of Christianity by analyzing imagery spanning different periods, geographical regions, pictorial media, and artistic techniques. While special emphasis is placed on the intersections of art and literature, we will also examine pictorial themes that are independent of a specific textual basis. Alongside the study of Christian iconography, this course will address broader issues of visual inquiry, such as patronage, viewer response, emotions, and gender roles. In this course, students will acquire a 'visual literacy' that will enable them to explore all kinds of works of art fruitfully as primary sources in their own right.

2020-2021
Winter

29001
/
39001
Painting and Description in the Roman World: Philostratus' Imagines - Religion, Education, Sexuality

(
RLVC 39001
)

This course explores Roman art, especially painting, through the single most thoughtful, playful and creative text on naturalistic painting written in antiquity. Arguably, it is the most interesting examination of the brilliance and the problems of naturalism ever written in the Western tradition, creating a non-historicist, fictive and rhetorically-inflected model for thinking about art. Philostratus took the rhetorical trope of Ekphrasis to new heights, in an extraordinary intermedial investigation of textuality through the prism of visuality and of visual art through the descriptive prism of fictional prose. The course will involve close readings of Philostratus’ descriptions of paintings alongside exploration of the Greek and Roman art of the imperial period from Pompeian paintings via floor Mosaics to sarcophagi. A reading knowledge of Greek could not be described as a disadvantage (!) but is not a requirement. The course will be taught over 5 weeks in the Spring Quarter on an intensive schedule. =Before the course begins, read the Imagines of the Elder Philostratus in the Loeb Classical Library translation (by Arthur Fairbanks, 1931, Harvard U.P., much reprinted). This book is not exorbitantly expensive and is worth buying, as we will all need a copy throughout.

2020-2021
Spring

39800
Approaches to Art History

Open to MAPH students concentrating in art history. Others by consent only.

This seminar will examine a range of methodological approaches to doing the work of art history. Through close reading of key texts, we will interrogate how various authors have constructed novel ways of seeing and understanding visual and material objects. Crucially, this course doesn’t assume “theory” or “methodology” to be a set of texts we use to explicate or read works of art in specific ways. Rather, we investigate how each of our authors forges new concepts in response to an object’s specific exigencies. Students need not self-identify as art historians to enroll in this seminar—it will be helpful for all students who want to think deeply and in self-reflexive ways about their own approaches to visual and material objects (still or moving images, sculpture, performance, architecture, etc.), particularly if those objects feel genre-bending, difficult to theorize, or recalcitrant in any way. Readings will include foundational texts by Erwin Panofsky, Alois Riegl, and Meyer Schapiro and more recent texts by Yves Alain Bois, Rosalind Krauss, T.J. Clark, Douglas Crimp, Anne Wagner, Darby English, and others (as determined by students’ interests).

Staff
2020-2021
Winter

40200
Art History Proseminar

PQ: Open to first year art history PhD students only.

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.

2020-2021
Autumn

41203
Illuminating the Bible in Byzantium

(
BIBL 41203, RLVC 41203
)

The main focus of this seminar will be the study of illustrated manuscripts of the Bible viewed within the larger framework of Byzantine book culture. More generally, students will gain insight into the history, methods and techniques of interdisciplinary research invoking Greek (illuminated) manuscripts. We will investigate famous and less well-known examples to identify both the principles guiding Biblical illumination in Byzantium and topics in need of further research. In addition to printed facsimiles, we will take advantage of digitized material from various Greek manuscript collections. In order to appreciate the auratic qualities of original manuscripts and for a close-up investigation of their codicological features, we will view material preserved in the Goodspeed Manuscript Collection.

2020-2021
Spring

41313
Media Archeology vs. Media Aesthetics

The course stages an encounter between media archeology and media aesthetics, two distinct but related research perspectives that are at times seen as incommensurable approaches to the media technological environment. Media archeology focuses on the non-human agencies and complex machinic arrangements that are at work in technologies whose microtemporal operations cannot be grasped by human perception: media archeology typically refuses phenomenological approaches. In contrast, media aesthetics focuses on the phenomenological interface between machine systems and human perception and sensation, and various forms of cultural and political negotiations of a lifeworld that is increasingly dominated by technologies that both store and produce time. However, recent emphasis on the exeriential and sensory dimensions of digital networks and objects may also challenge this division at a number of levels. We will read key texts from both fields and discuss how we may understand their differences as well as their points of intersection.

2020-2021
Autumn

41750
The Sacred Gaze: Beholding as a Spiritual Exercise in the European Artistic Traditions

(
RLVC 41750
)

This course spans the history of Western Art from the ancient Greeks to the Early Modern Period. It explores the sacred gaze, construed as a series of technologies for constructing the relationship between images and their viewers and as a key piece of social equipment for the ethopoiesis of the human subject. It asks how vision became the object of a moral discourse in Greco-Roman antiquity in both sacred and ‘philosophical’ contexts, and what happened to this problematic in the historical emergence and development of Christianity. We will do some comparative work on similar processes in relation to Buddhism. Drawing on ideas in the philosophical work of Michel Foucault, Pierre Hadot and Arnold Davidson, our hypothesis is that these issues precipitate in encounters with visual representations, such that the beholding of inter alia statues and paintings became a topic of concern, with the implication that a suitably attentive and informed study of those images will be informative for prehistorians of the aesthetic subject. Although the course will give weight to description and theological/philosophical investigation, the principal focus will be on objects themselves and their own material/visual articulation of the conditions of seeing.

2020-2021
Spring

42205
The Holy Land in the Middle Ages

(
RLVC 45200, HCHR 45200
)

This course will examine written and visual material that testifies to the medieval encounters of the Abrahamic religions in a sacred landscape where the histories of Jews, Christians, and Muslims overlap. While bearing witness to the cultural wealth and religious pluralism that characterizes the Holy Land during the Middle Ages, texts and visual artifacts likewise testify to religious competition, conflict, loss, and exclusion. Among the primary textual sources we will read (in English translation) are accounts by pilgrims and other travelers to the Holy Land, extracts from medieval chronicles, and eye-witness accounts from the period of the Crusades. In addition to the textual material, we will study art and architecture created for different religious communities (e.g., synagogues and their richly decorated mosaic floors, sites and souvenirs of Christian pilgrimage, major works of Islamic art and architecture). WE will also investigate phenomena of the reception of the Holy Land’s sacred sites and dynamic history in medieval Europe (e.g., replicas and evocations of the Holy Sepulchre, narratives of the “Holy Grail” and associated artifacts).

2020-2021
Spring

42911
21st Century Art

(
ARTV 39901
)

This course will consider the practice and theory of visual art in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

2020-2021
Spring

44002
COSI Objects and Materials

PQ: Open to first year art history PhD students only.

Team-taught between Northwestern, the Art Institute of Chicago and University of Chicago, this course focuses on sustained, close engagement with art objects in the AIC collection and the methods and questions such inquiry raises.  Students will be introduced to basic techniques of stylistic and scientific analysis as well as recent theoretical debates that resituate art history as a study of physical things as well as their disembodied images.

2020-2021
Winter

44601
Medieval and Early Modern Naturalisms

Art historical efforts at periodization in the west have often privileged definitions of art as the imitation of nature. Correspondingly, notions of mimesis, portraiture, and the ‘real’ have played determinate roles in identifying historical ruptures, from the Renaissance to postmodernism. This seminar will examine one such term and its place in debates about the art of medieval and early modern Europe: naturalism. Painters like Jan van Eyck and Albrecht Dürer created images that seemingly effaced distinctions between the world of the picture and the world of the viewer, and have thus long been understood to initiate a modern naturalistic paradigm. Examining theories of optical and philosophical naturalism advanced by thinkers from Aristotle to Alberti, we will see how artists negotiated the demands of patrons and spectators in order to redescribe the world. Turning to influential studies by scholars like Max Dvořák, Erwin Panofsky, and Svetlana Alpers, we will consider how such discourses of naturalism have served as a testing ground for art historical theory writ large. Students are encouraged to bring scholarly concerns about naturalism in their own subfields to bear on the course, and may write a final paper dealing with naturalism broadly construed.

2020-2021
Autumn

45002
Between Han and Tang: Funerary Art

PQ: Chinese reading skill is required.

The period between the Han and Tang dynasties from the third to seventh centuries was a transformative era in the course of Chinese art. Funerary art, an indigenous art tradition with a long history traceable to prehistorical times, continued to evolve in a radically different cultural and religious environment. This course utilizes the newest archaeological evidence to explore multi-faceted developments of this art at this pivotal moment, including the formation of southern and northern styles and their interactions, the distinct funerary cultures of various ethnic groups and their artistic products, the impact of newly arriving Buddhism and Zoroastrianism, and the exchanges of mortuary customs with surrounding regions.

2020-2021
Winter

46212
The Arabesque

Focusing on the period from 1880-1914 in Europe, this seminar will examine creative practices and theoretical notions related to the arabesque and more generally, the decorative.  Traditionally understood as highly stylized, vegetal ornament of Arabic origin, comprising interlacing designs without human figuration, the arabesque had often been used in European decorative borders since the Renaissance.  By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the arabesque appeared at the center of all sorts of representational and abstract art that sought to break free of past conventions and material constraints.  In the fin de siècle quest to bridge visual arts, music, poetry, and dance, among other forms of expression, the arabesque was held up across media as a singular ideal.  But its meanings, origins and significance were subject to a wide range of interpretation and doubt.  This seminar will explore the varied ends to which the arabesque was employed, as well as reservations about its ultimate value.  Its place in articulations of primitivism and orientalism will be considered, along with new notions in the psychology of perception.  While the focus will be on France, seminar participants will be welcomed to explore through their research projects developments in other geographical areas and chronological periods.  Students will be expected to engage in a quarter long research project of their own devising and to help lead a class discussion.

2020-2021
Autumn

47920
Attention

This reading-intensive seminar considers the use and disuse of attention in the study of culture. We will explore attention as a context for attitude, curiosity, distraction, fixation, ineptitude, interest, notice, Stimmung, and surprise. Students must attend the first class to confirm enrollment and registration will be permitted only by instructor consent.

2020-2021
Winter

50101
Teaching Colloquium

PQ: Open to third year art history PhD students only.

Led by a faculty member each fall, this seminar meets weekly for 80 minutes, to address various topics through discussion with visitors (especially department faculty members) and occasionally through discussion of assigned readings. On the premise that one learns the most about teaching not well in advance but rather by reflecting with peer and senior colleagues on techniques and problems when one is in the midst of the challenge, this forum is meant to address participants' specific concerns and experiences, especially those related to art history. The quarter's topics are determined with student input and may include: the structure of the art history college core course program in which all faculty and students teach; the jobs of course assistant and writing intern; instructor authority and classroom dynamics; leading discussion; effective lecturing; strategic use of pictures in classroom teaching; small-group class projects; designing and grading assignments; designing syllabi. From year to year, the colloquium may address similar topics but the emphasis and tips will change depending on the participants. The department requires third-year students to participate fully in the colloquium, register for credit, and earn a Pass. More advanced students who have previously taken the colloquium are welcome to return on an occasional or regular basis to share experiences, strategies, and to seek advice on new teaching challenges. 

2020-2021
Autumn

50200
Dissertation Proposal Workshop

PQ: 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.

TBD
2020-2021
Spring