Studies in American Art
Art & its Viewers from the Peales to the Present
Th 1:00pm - 4:00pm
270 Tappan
3 Credit Seminar
Meets with American Culture 601.003

Participatory and community-based work are of great interest to contemporary artists, but attention to the viewer's response to-- or interaction with-- art has a long tradition in American culture. The problem of who constitutes the audience or public for art is complicated yet essential in a democracy, and in a culture that lacks established institutions for the patronage and reception of art. Since the 18th century, American artists, publics, and entrepreneurs have proposed (and debated, and sometimes struggled over) various alternatives for defining the public as well as the relationship between viewers and art. This seminar offers an opportunity to study precedents and to read theoretical literature (Bourdieu, Habermas, Kwon, Kammen, relational aesthetics, etc.) that helps to articulate and analyze questions relating to the history of reception and perception in the United States.

Case studies will include: problems of "representation" raised by the Peale family's efforts to both promote art institutions and create paintings that engaged the viewer by means of deception in the new republic; how subgroups of viewers, ranging from antebellum women to queer modernists, created alternate meanings for works of art; subjective historical responses set in motion by the disturbing paintings of Thomas Eakins in the Gilded Age; the political implications of claims that American audiences have always been scandalized by the avant-garde; the shifting relationships between "high" and "low" art and the problems caused when consumer culture embraced modernism; the problem of public art in periods of fractured communities, and more. Students will be able to pursue research papers on contemporary topics if they wish.

Students from fields ranging from History and English to Public Policy and studio art, in addition to History of Art and American Culture, are encouraged to apply.

Estimated cost of materials: $100 or more, but less than $150.