Special Topics: Art and Language, and the Language of Art
210 Tappan
M 4:00-7:00pm
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: Studies attempting to link vision with language, logic, or cognition. 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 read examples of ekphrasis drawn from works written by premodern critics, often from China, but also 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. Students will write a critical review (8-10 pages) of secondary literature on any topic pertinent to the course readings. Readings will be online, no cost. C.3