Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category

Thirteen Ways of Looking at NYC

Monday, November 2nd, 2015
Front steps of the Met. Wonky group portrait with selfie-stick.

Front steps of the Met. Wonky group portrait with selfie-stick.

In early October, a colleague and I were lucky enough to take a group of thirteen students to New York City. We had a fantastic time: it was definitely a case of lucky number thirteen.

We required each student to create a blog relating to the field trip. What follows, then, are thirteen images–one per student–each showing an aspect of our trip. Click on a photo to access the blog created by the photographer.


Getting ready to go. Mix tapes (CDs!) and luggage ready.

Getting ready to go. Mix tapes (CDs!) and luggage ready.


At the Met, some professors discuss John Singer Sargent's portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson.

At the Met, some professors discuss John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson.


The Mad Hatter and company in Central Park

The Mad Hatter and company in Central Park


The Guggenheim...

The Guggenheim…


We had a guided tour of Bushwick's graffiti and street art

We had a guided tour of Bushwick’s graffiti and street art


A morning walk across the Brooklyn Bridge

A morning walk across the Brooklyn Bridge


liberty, MR

The Statue of Liberty, as seen from our boat during an around Manhattan architectural cruise


Liberty, Bushwick graffiti style

Liberty, Bushwick graffiti style


Time Square. Just try to avoid it!

Time Square. Favorite student destination!


Greeting Manhattan from the High Line

Greeting Manhattan from the High Line


chelsea gallery CF

Touring the Chelsea galleries. Will Ryman’s The Classroom at the Paul Kasmin Gallery


9/11 Memorial


NYC loft hostel

Home base for four nights


As usual, send your comments and questions here.


13 ways of looking at Giacomo Balla’s “The Hand of the Violinist”

Monday, May 11th, 2015

In a recent exam, I asked my student to attempt to identify an unknown work of art. The work in question was an oil painting, Giacomo Balla’s Hand of the Violinist (1912)–or a slightly cropped version of it. Wouldn’t do to show the artist’s signature at the very bottom of the work!

Balla, Hand of the Violinist, 1912.

Balla, Hand of the Violinist, 1912.

I typically ask my students to make educated guesses concerning the artist, date, medium, and the “subject or type of subject matter.” Most do very well, but this time the subject matter proved much trickier than I had envisaged. Most correctly identified a violin and/or the hand of a violinist. But many did not.

Known Unknowns and Unknown Unknowns

Here, then, are thirteen ways of looking at Balla’s Hand of the Violinist. They range from the dead-on to the what-the-heck.

“A man playing the violin (or his arm anyways)… the violin is drawn multiple times, rising from the middle up to the left margin of the work, becoming ‘clearer’ as it does so. The hand also clears as it moves up, its fingers crisscrossing multiple times as the multiple perspectives from different moments in time overlap in his wrist.”

“The subject matter appears to be stringed instruments. A violin is either being brought up or put down. The rest of the painting emulates the vibrations of strings, almost as if there is a harp in between the viewer and the violin.”

"Almost as if there is a harp..."

“Almost as if there is a harp…”

“Looks like the subject matter is the dynamism of someone playing the guitar—the beginnings of the interest in cinema, study of motion… To be moving around this much, the upbeat music must have been what influenced him.”

“Byzantine theme.”

the-hand-of-the-violinist-1912.jpg!HD, detail 5

“Like a fiery setting sun…”

“I’m not sure about the subject matter, kind of looks like a fiery setting sun.”

“The image kind of looks like a duck flying but it definitely portrays motion.”

the-hand-of-the-violinist-1912.jpg!HD, detail 3

“Kind of looks like a duck”

“When I first look at it, it looks like an abstract painting. Then I squint I can see there are dogs lined up on the track as they are [illegible] to race. Some have their heads down and some have their heads up. The gold makes it hard to tell what’s happening in the foreground.”

“Subject matter is difficult–maybe it is a dog of some sort or a farming field.”

“It appears to show someone working in a field—perhaps a farmer of some sort.”

A figure running diagonally?

A figure running diagonally?

“This unknown seems to test the boundaries of time in space by depicting what looks to be a figure running diagonally from the top left to bottom right.”

“A war piece; I say this because the picture looks as if it’s a struggle between some people which puts me at a mind of war.”

“You can see in the painting what seems to be praying hands and what seems to be people dancing within the background. The hands also seem to be reaching for something, so instead of praying, they’re grasping for the dancing figure infused into the painting.”

“It is of folded and unfolded hands, unfolding”


So what do you see in Balla’s painting? Click here to comment.

Introducing Scott McCloud

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

One of the best things about being a professor? Getting to meet scholars, authors, and artists you’ve long admired.

Cassie Hester: Scott McCloud Poster (based on art from McCloud's Understanding Comics)

Cassie Hester: Scott McCloud Poster (based on art from McCloud’s Understanding Comics)

Yesterday, the comics artist and theorist Scott McCloud was on campus, along with his lovely wife, Ivy. I was lucky enough to spend some time with them, and also had the honour of introducing Scott before his talk.

I thought I’d reproduce my remarks here.

Scott McCloud’s new and wonderful graphic novel, The Sculptor, follows the fortunes of David Smith. This is a David Smith who is not that David Smith–not the famous American 20th-Century sculptor whose works can be found in MoMA, the Guggenheim, and Tate Modern. Rather, he is just David Smith, a young sculptor who, it so happens, shares his name and vocation with that other guy. And, as we discover, they both share the name with a whole herd of other David Smiths. The phone directory, which David Smith consults, confirms the unsettling news.

You should, of course, buy a copy of The Sculptor after today’s talk, and immediately increase its value by asking its author to sign the words “Scott McCloud” within it. I am here to say a few words about this Scott McCloud. For he is not, let me be clear, the bassist-slash-musician Scott McCloud, or the Scott McCloud from Spring Valley High School, and nor is he Scott McCloud the tow truck driver from Accurate Auto Attention. (Thank-you, internet, for the research assistance.)

Today we will be lucky enough to listen to another Scott McCloud—one of the comic world’s foremost practitioners and thinkers. He is, among other things, the author of gripping and beautiful stories, like the Zot! comics and The Sculptor; he is an explorer and champion of webcomics and of the “infinite canvas;” he is one of the creators of the 24-Hour Comic, in which certifiably insane artists attempt to make a 24-page comic book in a day; he is the editor of the Best American Comics: 2014; and he is the author of the trilogy Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, and Making Comics, three brilliant and mind-opening books that use the language of comics to explore the comics world.

Understanding Comics turned me onto comics. It taught this art historian that comics are an art form, too, and that I should pay attention to them and teach them. In the book, Scott McCloud (and his cartoon alter-ego) provided me with a model for the kind of lecturer I wanted to be: instructive, philosophical, and serious, yet also engaging, funny, entertaining, and generous.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never managed to live up to this. But I did somehow persuade the authorities to allow me to teach a class on comics and the graphic novel. When I set my students Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, I know that this is a book that will speak to them. It’s a book they read and reread—a book that changes them. And many of these students are, I note, here today to experience, at long last, the real McCoy.

All the other Scott McClouds are, I’m sure, very fine Scott McClouds, but if you were to ask them today “Are you that Scott McCloud?” they would, I like to imagine, be obliged to say: “No. I’m here. And he’s giving a talk at Mississippi State.”

So without further ado, please join me in giving a warm welcome to Mr Scott McCloud.


Photo by: Megan Bean


Suffice to say, it was a wonderful day and Scott’s talk left the audience buzzing and, as it happens, thinking about monkeys.


super professor monkey

Want to comment? Click here.

4/2/2015: Hels, from Art and Architecture, mainly, writes: “You acknowledged the issue with comics and academe clearly. “Understanding Comics turned you onto comics. It taught this art historian that comics are an art form, too, and that you should pay attention to them and teach them”. Even then you still had to “somehow persuade the authorities to allow you to teach a class on comics and the graphic novel”.

Has not it ever been so! Proper art history dealt with paintings, sculpture and architecture! Decades ago when I was wanting to write a post-graduate thesis on Huguenot silver art during the late 17th century, I even found it difficult to find a supervisor within the Art History Dept at my uni.

Comics? I think I would never have found a supervisor back then!





Art History T-Shirt Woot!

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Aaaagggghh! The new school year beckons and life will soon become a lot more hectic. It’s time to look at calendars, devise courses, write syllabi, and plan one’s autumn art history wardrobe!

Those who know me will have no trouble identifying this last item as the odd one out. I’m a reliably disheveled looking professor: I don’t care much about what I wear; my beard is not so much a beard as the absence of a shaving regime; and I generally try to extend the time between my haircuts far beyond the culturally suggested period of six weeks.

Fortunately I work in an art department and we have a relaxed dress code–if, indeed, there is a dress code at all. Nobody’s told me. But this semester, I thought I’d plan my wardrobe or, to put it more modestly and accurately, I thought I’d go online and buy a few new t-shirts, each featuring an art history theme. So over I surfed to and, before long, I had found three candidates.


ASCII Night by artguyaaron

One shirt featured a binary-code version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.


Leonardo by ramyb

Another riffed on the Leonardo-as-ninja-turtle theme, showing him busily working on a Vitruvian turtle. (Pedantic critique: would Leonardo really have used an easel to make his drawing? And shouldn’t our Leoturtle be using his left flipper, not his right? It’s enough to drive an art historian mad!)


The Mrowr by walmazan

Finally, there was a weird version of Munch’s The Scream, featuring cats chasing a tantalizingly out-of-reach morsel (identified by the designer as a “grilled beef patty”). I like the title of this shirt: not The Scream or The Cry, but The MrowrJames Joyce would have approved.

Reader, I bought all three.

Admittedly three t-shirts do not a wardrobe make. Still, I’m looking forward to donning these shirts for those when days I’m teaching related portions of my art history survey class. They’ll be talking points for both me and the students. And at least for a moment, part of my outfit will be somewhat coordinated with something else: the image on the screen.

[Legal disclaimer: The fact that I did not receive payment from shirt.woot for featuring their t-shirts in this post does not guarantee that I will refuse any free shirts that they happen to send in my direction.]


Yours Truly

Caillebotte’s Hands

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

I have two Caillebotte related stories to share.

1. Hands

Caillebotte: Details from The Floorscrapers, 1876

The first comes courtesy of one of my students, Charlotte Smith, who made an impressive visual research project for my class Visual Culture in France (1850-1900). Over the years, I’ve noticed that students have had success when they work in three dimensions, but draw from two-dimensional source material (or vice versa). This is exactly how Charlotte approached the project, as her artist statement explains. Here are some excerpts:

I chose to do an artwork based on Gustave Caillebotte’s painting The Floor Scrapers. In this painting there are three shirtless workers refinishing a floor in an apartment. When planning for this sculpture, I knew that I wanted to focus on the workers’ bodies. Because of the years of work, the muscles in their bodies are particular to their work.

Caillebotte: The Floor Scrapers, 1876

I decided to focus on one part of their body. I felt like the hands were the most important. I wanted to sculpt one hand from each worker. I paid specific attention to the placement of the hand, how it held the tool, and what angle the wrist and top plane of the hand created. I could have been more specific using a hand model of my own and recreating the positions in real life, but I wanted my hands to reflect Caillebotte’s research.

Charlotte Smith, The Floor Scrapers' Hands

I chose to use clay with this project. I began with the right hand of the worker on the far left. I cut basic triangle, rectangle, and square forms out of the clay. This allowed me to get the basic gesture of the hand. After I let the clay sit and harden, I was then able to carve knuckle, tendon, and fingernail details. When placing the elements together for the finished piece, I originally planned to display the hands upright as though they were completing the task only without the tools.

Charlotte Smith, The Floor Scrapers' Hands

As I worked on the hands and completed them one by one, I began setting them aside, resting some parts on another so that I would not mess up the fingers. I liked how the hands were then working together to complete my piece. I chose a clay base on a short back pedestal. I cut the clay slabs into strips and placed them beside one another. I was hoping that this, as well as a few clay shavings, would hint back to The Floor Scrapers painting.

Charlotte Smith, The Floor Scrapers' Hands

2. Writing

Caillebotte: Details of shop signs (1877-80)

And here’s my second piece of Caillebotte news: later this year, I’ll be giving a paper on the artist at SECAC 2012, which is being held in Durham, North Carolina. The paper will deal with issues of legibility and illegibility in the artist’s paintings, and especially in his depictions of shop and business signs. I’ll be talking mostly about three paintings: Interior (1880, top detail, above), The Shop Painters (1877, bottom detail), and Paris. Rainy Day (1877).

Years ago, when I was visiting the Art Institute of Chicago for the first time, I spent a long time staring at Paris. Rainy Day. I eventually noticed something that wasn’t at all obvious from reproductions of the painting. While one of the shop signs in the work is just legible, and identifies the shop as a “PHARMACIE,” another sign in the work cannot be read (see the centre two details, above). We can tell that the marks represent the gold lettering of a sign, but can decipher neither what this lettering spells out, nor what kind of business it is identifying.

For some reason, this intrigued me. Further thoughts followed from this rather modest observation, and now the ideas have accumulated into a paper, and the paper will lead me to Durham. Or rather, since I used to live in the city, back to Durham.


(Re)designing Film Posters

Monday, December 5th, 2011

This semester I’ve been teaching a class called “Art & Film.” For their final projects, I allowed students to make an art work, or art works, in response to the course material. Each time I teach the class, a number of students–usually graphic design students–decide to design (or redesign) film posters. This semester’s class yielded a particularly rich crop, so I thought I’d share some of them here. I also require students to write an artist statement explaining their work, and I’ve prefaced each student’s work with a relevant excerpt from their statement. Please click on the images to take a closer look.

I usually show my students at least one full Hitchcock film (this time, it was Rear Window), and clips from several others. Student projects often have a Hitchcockian theme.

Kirby Davis: “In Film Studies, Ed Sikov states that before the auterists, Hitchcock’s films were not recognized for their value beyond superficial entertainment. The auterists realized that he was not only brilliant as a film artist, but also praiseworthy for his communication of his worldview and questions of morality in his films…. Since the films of Alfred Hitchcock are a powerful visual communication of his own ideas, I decided to condense the entire narrative of the films into a single moment: the cameo appearances of Hitchcock within the film. This represents the director as artist and demonstrates how essential his ideas are to the creation of the final product…. In The Birds, Hitchcock appears walking two white terriers. He walks by the window wearing a cowboy hat in Psycho, and is seen at the train station with a fiddle in Strangers on a Train.”

Kirby Davis


Kirby Davis


Kirby Davis


Clara Thames: “As I rewatched The Birds before making the poster, the scene where the birds gathered on the jungle gym outside the school house stuck out in my mind. I decided to rely on mark making to recreate the feeling of that scene. It was not a funny or romantic scene, instead it was eery. Therefore I did not want to draw a pretty picture with nice light weights and happy colors. Instead I chose to scribble scratchy lined birds on a skewed jungle gym. I decided my type needed to be scratchy too. The image could not reflect the scene without scratchy type to go with it.”

Clara Thames


Mark Whitmire: “Can one single frame become an icon, synonymous with an entire film? With Steve McQueen on a motorcycle, sailing over a barbed wire fence, I would say so…. Even though McQueen’s character eventually wrecks the motorcycle and is recaptured, the leap over the fence became the hallmark of the film. It is instantly recognizable. For my project, I wanted to take this singular image and simplify it to help capture the essence of the film. The determination of McQueen’s character to do anything to escape and reach freedom is what helps to make the image so compelling.”

Mark Whitmire


The ‘Eighties and After
Other students chose more recent films for their points of departure.

Claire Ferguson: “For my last project I chose to do a series of movie posters inspired by John Hughes movies, and incorporate minimalist design as well as inspiration from Saul Bass’s work. In Saul Bass’s designs his single image is always portrayed in a sophisticated way and delivers a powerful message in just a small amount of simple shapes. I chose to do a single image that represented the movie(s) that I had chosen. I tried to choose an iconic image that epitomized the movie. So, for Sixteen Candles I chose to do a birthday cake with, of course, sixteen candles in it. Although this scene is at the end of the movie it is one of the most iconic of the whole film. For Ferris Bueller’s Day Off I chose to do a simple image of the red Ferrari that is featured in the movie. I added tire tracks because in the movie Ferris likes to drive the car fast. Last but not least is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. There are many memorable scenes from this movie, but the one that stuck out to me the most was the squirrel inside the Christmas tree.”

Claire Ferguson


Claire Ferguson


Claire Ferguson


Alexa Werling: “I selected a movie I had not watched (Trainspotting), analyzed the artwork posted on Netflix, watched the movie, and created a new, more fitting poster. Judging only by the cover art provided on Netflix, Trainspotting is a candid film about five friends or acquaintances…. Upon actually watching the film, I found a number of discrepancies between the movie and the assumptions I had made from the artwork. My suspected main character (Sick Boy) was not the protagonist at all; Mark Renton, the leftmost figure, was the real central character. The ‘intelligent’ looking Spud was, in fact, enduringly dimwitted. Diane, the sole female, is a precocious teenager who, while not promiscuous, certainly pushes boundaries. Begbie, on the far left, was the only character I nailed, save for the hypothesis that he held ‘more responsibility’ than the others. Most of all, I missed on the subject of the movie itself–it was all about drugs! Rather than starting their lives, most of the characters were destroying their chances at life. Using this information, I created a more fitting poster, based on drug use and the chaos of the film.”

Alexa Werling


Hal Teasler: “My poster is a bit of a knock-off of Drew Struzan and Tyler Stouts’ styles…. The first step was to come up with a general layout of the poster with a list of all the actors that I wanted to use in the poster. The next step was to watch the movie and take pictures. If I saw a scene or a moment that I thought might be good in the poster, I would pause the movie and take a picture…. After I had all the pictures I would organize the photos, picking the best ones. I composited the pictures in photoshop. I lowered the opacity of the layout and  printed it out on drawing paper. I redrew the poster with pencil and ink. I then scanned the image in and colored it in Illustrator. I wanted to keep a minimal color palette. I made the image low contrast to give it a washed-out or vintage look because the movie takes place in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I chose to set the type in Helvetica because it’s used on many older movie posters.”

Hal Teasler

Bethany Johnson: “I began by brainstorming and researching the film, looking for one image in particular that could represent the entire film. I chose the tail/tie that the meanest farmer, Bean, shoots off Mr. Fox in the film. It has two meanings, the first being the scene it is from in the film. The second, however, is a much deeper meaning. The animals in the film appear to be classy, well-educated animals. They wear slick clothes and participate in human activities such as school and work. Only for brief moments do they reveal their wild roots to the viewer.”

Bethany Johnson


David Kyle Newton: “The Water for Elephants poster does not work for me. For my poster, I thought I would change it around a good bit. Rather than go and photoshop the ‘A Listers’ faces into a poster, I thought it would be more interesting and much more original to hand work the poster…. I chose to add Rosie, the elephant that would save the Benzini Brothers’ Circus. However, I did not want to add her entire body. The head would get my point across…. Rather than just having a straight trunk for her, I thought the subtle shape of a water drop would be nice. This may not be noticeable at first glance, but I feel it adds more to the poster. It also incorporates the movie title into the imagery. Lastly, something else was needed. If I were to leave it just with the title and the image of Rosie, it wouldn’t feel complete. Something else from the movie was needed. In my opinion, a circus tent was a little generic. After viewing the film, I felt that the train was much more suitable. More of the movie takes place on the train that in the circus tent. However, I did not just want a train. I wanted it to be more interesting with a bridge.”

David Kyle Newton


And a New Release!
Several students also decided to make their own films for their final project, and some went so far as to create DVD sleeves and promotional posters. Such was the case with Corey. You can view his film, C4, here. As his poster suggests, it’s about a deadly game of Connect Four.  

Corey Childers: “For my final research project in this class, I chose to do a short film–a mockumentary about a competitive Connect Four player who hopes to defeat the current, undefeated champion of the CFUC (Connect Four Underground Championship). I’m not really sure how the idea came to me; it just popped into my head toward the end of class one day. I titled the film C4 and made a poster before I actually ever started shooting (or even writing the script)…. I used the basic design theme from the original poster for the DVD packaging and the onscreen menu…. I was pleasantly surprised with how the entire project turned out, and how much fun it all was, despite being a good bit of work. I’ve definitely gained a new appreciation (and a new fascination) for film-making and how DVD and Blu-ray releases are created.”

Corey Childers


Anna’s Blog

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

A few months ago, I blogged about Anna, my independent study student, who was going off to Paris for the summer. In the same post, I also included the syllabus I’d (rather hastily!) designed for her.

Anna in the Louvre

The basic idea was for her to respond to at least seven assignments from a list of fourteen possibilities–all were on the general topic of “French Visual Culture, 1850-1900.” Less conventionally, I asked her to fulfill these assignments using a blog. And she agreed.

This was all a bit of an experiment. I was especially curious to see how a blog format might work for a study abroad student, and was also hoping that a public venue might act as a good motivator. (We professors typically ask students to write for a readership of essentially one other person. But is this really the best model?!) I’m also planning to take students overseas at some point and looked at this as a kind of test: it was something that would help me see how viable a blog-based course might be in these kinds of situations.

As you will gather, Anna is extremely talented and dedicated: it’s obviously unrealistic to expect most other students to do so well at such a task. But her success has certainly encouraged my belief in the potential of asking students to use a blog format.

anna on art, Journey to Giverny


How Anna Fulfilled her Task
Here’s a list of the assignments Anna chose, arranged in the order that she posted her responses in her blog, anna on art. Each is followed by the italicized title of Anna’s response to the assignment. Clicking on this title will take you to the relevant section of her blog.

1. Take a self-guided walking tour of Impressionist Paris, and write a photo-essay about the experience. (NB: By ‘photo-essay’ I mean photos accompanied by your commentary.)

4. Visit a temporary exhibition relating to ‘the topic’ (e.g. the Manet show at the Muse d’Orsay) and write a review of it.

10. Read Robert Herbert’s discussion of the flâneur and write a blog post about the subject. [See his Impressionism: Art, Leisure, & Parisian Society (Yale University Press).]

8. Take a trip from Paris to another location associated with French art of this period (examples: Giverny, Rouen, the Normandy coast, Barbizon, Aix-en-Provence, London, etc.). Blog about the experience and about what you discovered at your destination.

13. Free card. Write a post on a subject of your choice. (The only parameter is that it should be about ‘the topic.’) Surprise me!

12. Read a novel set in later nineteenth-century Paris, and write a post about it. (I can offer suggestions.) Pay particular attention to the Parisian locations mentioned in the book.

14. Retrospect. After your trip, look back on the entirety of the experience, focusing on what you’ve learnt about ‘the topic.’ Write about your expectations before the trip and what you actually experienced. Consider addressing the following questions: What exceeded your expectations? Was anything disappointing? What were the high-and low-lights? What impact will the trip have on your broader understanding of art history? Will you return and, if so, what will you try to do next time?


anna on art, The Neighborhood

More Anna
Judging from people’s responses, I was not alone in appreciating Anna’s blogging and her insights about Paris and French art. And I’m also sure I’m also not the only person who’s added Anna on Art to my RSS reader over the summer. I’m looking forward to reading her future posts, which may well have a bit of a New York City flavour to them. For it’s my bitter-sweet duty to inform you that Anna has transferred to Barnard College and will be continuing her art history education there. Many congratulations, Anna!

Cezanne’s Brick

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

There are many good reasons to teach art history and many rewards. This one is rarely mentioned. It should be.

After you have been teaching for a while, you will eventually receive a postcard from a student or former student. It will be out of the blue. It will include a charming message on one side, often alluding to a class they took with you. The card was probably bought at a museum that they visited recently and, on the other side, you will see an object from that collection; perhaps during class one day, you showed it to them.

Postcard: Cézanne, Still-Life with Basket of Apples (c.1893) and detail

If, like me, you’re lucky enough to teach art students, the message might include an indication, even a sketch, of what they’ve been making, or else of what they might make in the future. If so, it will be a sign that when conditions are right, looking at and thinking about art can stimulate more art.

Pausing, you will reflect that this is one of the uses of art history, and one of the ways it repays those who teach it.

With thanks to Jennifer Aldridge.

Independent Anna

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Anna, my “independent study” student this summer, is taking her independence really seriously. Soon she’ll be in Paris, where she’ll begin blogging about nineteenth-century art in order to fulfill the syllabus I have crafted for her. And–yes!–she’ll be there for Independence Day.

Follow Anna’s progress here.

Renoir, Place Clichy, c.1880 (oil on canvas)

A Syllabus for Anna

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

[A student wanted to know whether she could do an “independent study” with me this summer. Nothing extraordinary in that, but she went on to say that should be based in Paris. I, of course, will be in Mississippi for most of the summer. The following syllabus indicates my proposed solution. If all goes well, she will be blogging from Paris, while I will get to experience some vicarious travel. I’ve been wondering how to incorporate student blogs into my teaching, and so am curious as to how this experiment will turn out. I’ll add a link to her blog later. Meanwhile, does anyone have any stories or wisdom to share about how they’ve incorporated student blogs into their art history courses?]

The Topic: French Visual Culture, 1850-1900

Caillebotte, Place St. Augustin, misty weather, 1878

Required: Herbert, Robert, Impressionism: Art, Leisure, & Parisian Society (Yale University Press).

Recommended: A book of Parisian walking tours. For example: Williams, Ellen, The Impressionists’ Paris: Walking Tours of the Artists’ Studios, Homes, and the Sites they Painted (Little Bookroom).

Plus: Appropriate materials necessary for the completion of any given assignment.

Your Task
• Establish your blog, giving it an appropriate feel or ‘identity.’ If you have an existing blog, you may post your responses on that (but file your posts under a single ‘category’ or ‘theme.’)

• Respond to seven, or more, of the following fourteen assignments. Each post should be at least five-hundred words long (not including quotations). Notify me, via email, each time you post a response to one of these assignments.

• In addition, you are encouraged to write as many shorter posts about ‘the topic’ as you like. These need not conform to the assignments outlined below, and there is no need to notify me.

• Better blogs include plenty of images: yours should too! Take a digital camera with you and don’t hesitate to include other types of images (works of art, maps, screen captures, etc.).

• Allow readers to comment on your blog. When appropriate, you should respond to these comments.

• At least five of your assignment responses must be posted while you’re abroad. (Regularly spaced posts are encouraged.) The remaining two (or more) can be posted after your return. To count in your final grade, your last post must be posted on or before August 4, 2011.

Blogs to Emulate
To get a sense of what can be done in the blog format, take a look at some of these excellent art history blogs: Alberti’s Window, Art History Today, Artrav, and Three Pipe Problem.

You will be judged according to (1) your ability to fulfill the task as outlined above, (2) the overall quality of your blog, and (3) the quality and originality of your responses to the individual assignments.

A note on citations
As a MSU student, you will be bound by our honor code. Accordingly, other people’s ideas and language must be appropriately acknowledged.

Georges Seurat, Eden Concert, ca. 1886-87

Assignments (choose seven, or more, of the following):

1. Take a self-guided walking tour of Impressionist Paris, and write a photo-essay about the experience. (NB: By ‘photo-essay’ mean photos accompanied by your commentary.)

2. Track down the various locations where the eight Impressionist exhibitions took place between 1874 and 1886. Write a photo-essay about the experience.

3. Visit one of the following museums and write about your experience, focusing on works relating to ‘the topic’: the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée de l’Orangerie, the Petit Palais, the Musée Rodin, and the Musée Gustave Moreau.

4. Visit a temporary exhibition relating to ‘the topic’ (e.g. the Manet show at the Musée d’Orsay) and write a review of it.

5. Visit a building or architectural structure made during this period (1850-1900). Write a photo-essay about the building and about your visit.

6. Track down some public art (sculpture, painting, etc.) that relates to ‘the topic.’ Blog about the art and about the experience of seeing it in situ.

7. Visit and photograph the location depicted in a work of art of your choice. Consider how the location has changed since the work of art was made, if at all. How has visiting the location altered the way you think about the work of art?

8. Take a trip from Paris to another location associated with French art of this period (examples: Giverny, Rouen, the Normandy coast, Barbizon, Aix-en-Provence, London, etc.). Blog about the experience and about what you discovered at your destination.

9. Read Herbert’s discussion of Haussmannization and, using images you have taken in Paris, write a photo-essay about the subject.

10. Read Herbert’s discussion of the flâneur and write a blog post about the subject.

11. Read and write a review of an art history text, or other scholarly book, about ‘the topic.’ I can offer suggestions.

12. Read a novel set in later nineteenth-century Paris, and write a post about it. (Again, I can offer suggestions.) Pay particular attention to the Parisian locations mentioned in the book.

13. Free card. Write a post on a subject of your choice. (The only parameter is that it should be about ‘the topic.’) Surprise me!

14. Retrospect. After your trip, look back on the entirety of the experience, focusing on what you’ve learnt about ‘the topic.’ Write about your expectations before the trip and what you actually experienced. Consider addressing the following questions: What exceeded your expectations? Was anything disappointing? What were the high-and low-lights? What impact will the trip have on your broader understanding of art history? Will you return and, if so, what will you try to do next time?