HISTART 393-001

Undergraduate Seminar
Visual Art and Incarceration

210 Tappan
T Th 10:00 AM-11:30 AM
3 Credit Seminar

This course looks at visual art made under the conditions of confinement and imprisonment, principally in the context of the criminal justice system. Prisons have become dynamic sites of artistic activity, with incarcerated artists engaged in drawing, painting, 3D construction, and tattoo designs, using materials that are readily available. We will explore the relationship between the restrictive conditions of incarceration, on the one hand, and the expression of creativity and a visual imaginary, a "carceral aesthetic," and the socio-economic and cultural dimensions of prison art within and outside of carceral institutions, on the other hand. While the focus will be on mass incarceration within the United States, there will also be a historical and cross-cultural consideration of other contexts in which visual art has been produced by enclosed populations within institutions of confinement (like early modern European nunneries and plague hospitals, and modern internment camps).

A critical component of this seminar will be involvement in the University of Michigan Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) - with students facilitating in-person PCAP visual arts workshops in a nearby Michigan prison facility. We will also participate in the PCAP Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners held in March in the Duderstadt Gallery on North Campus.

Please note that the required weekly facilitation of a PCAP workshop in a prison facility will take place outside of class time and requires a commitment of about three additional hours per week (between travel to the prison facility and the 60-90 minute workshop session). Students will sign up for these workshops at the beginning of the semester. There will also be a required PCAP workshop facilitation training at the beginning of the semester.

Textbooks/Other Materials:

  • Readings (pdfs), videos, podcasts posted on Canvas (no cost)

Course Requirements:

  • There will be no graded assignments; the course grade will be based on attendance, class participation, submission of weekly reflections on the readings and videos, and weekly workshop participation.

Intended Audience: Open to anyone

Class Format:

  • Two 80-minute seminar meetings per week, with the first class focusing on readings and course themes and the second class on PCAP workshop faciliation.
  • An additional circa 3 hours per week for the facilitation of an in-person workshop in a Michigan prision facility (between travel to the prison facility and the 60-90 minute workshop session)

Estimated Cost of Materials: $50-100

HISTART Distribution Requirements: Europe and the US, Modern and Contemporary

Keywords: prison art, prisons, incarceration, PCAP