Junior Proseminar
Art and Language, and the Language of Art

270 Tappan
W 10:00am - 1:00pm
3 Credit Seminar

The relationship between language and thought has been a topic of debate for more than a century, but it is only in recent decades that art historians have devoted special attention to the problem of art and how it is that we "know" things. This course seeks to explore a variety of case studies that touch on different facets of the problem. Readings will range from 19th century foundational writings (Darwin, Schlegel) to essays published only last year. Some writings will be in the field of linguistics, some in psychology, but most will be the work of theoretically oriented art historians. We will divide the readings into two types: (1) Studies attempting to link vision with language, logic, or cognition; (2) Studies focusing on verbal descriptions of art, what is known in the field as ekphrasis. As a class, we'll spend quite a lot of time developing two kinds of skills: Focusing on works of art in UMMA, we'll practice producing ekphrasis ourselves, and in the process learn to recognize different kinds of logic encoded in different kinds of pictorial style, e.g.: spatial/logical inclusion, cause and effect, hierarchical relationships, metonymy, irony, interdependent relationships, degrees of legibility and so on. In each case we will ask what kinds of interrelationships are possible in one set of pictorial rules as opposed to another? We'll also read examples of ekphrasis drawn from works written by premodern critics, often from China, as well as descriptions translated from European languages. From these writings we'll learn that different critics "see" differently, that they look for different kinds of information in a painting. We'll learn to detect these differences, and to describe them.

This course provides training in preparing and presenting research papers. In support of that goal the requirements are: one-page annotated bibliography notes on one reading per week (13 readings total), chosen by the student from the syllabus; one 8-10 page research paper; one, 15 minute class presentation on your chosen topic; class participation. Readings will be online, no cost. C.3