What Are You Looking At? – Course Syllabus

What Are You Looking At? – A course on art and visual culture at Milestone Institute, Budapest

Designed and Taught by Eszter Szép, spring 2022.

1.1 Short Description

The aim of this course is to complicate our understanding of and relationship to art and works of art. The course helps students to familiarize themselves with theoretical frameworks of art criticism and visual culture studies. Students learn about and try out several approaches of discussing images. Though the course has a focus on Western painting, we will also consider images in other media, and images that are not art. Students will read texts and watch videos by leading contemporary art historians and thinkers. Each class is organized around a different question, students are required to collect images and reflect on them for each and every class. 

Group discussion and interaction are very important for this course: we will share our ideas in the discussion forum on Canvas, we will read what the others think. This way, I hope that our Canvas page will become an inspiring interactive environment.

The module is suitable for students interested in visual culture, art, cultural studies, image making practices, and creative arts and industries. 

Students are required to prepare for each and every class, they will hold one presentation, they will write an essay, and will make a zine as the final project. (see 3.1 for details.)

1.2 Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, students will have developed their critical and lateral thinking skills, and they will be able to discuss images in complex and reflected ways. Students are required to prepare for each and every class, they will hold one presentation, they will write an essay, and will make a zine as the final project. (see 3.1 for details.)

2.1 Module Structure

  1. What can be seen? Art, visuality, and us
  2. “I can show you the world” – What is Representation?
  3. Portraits and Mirrors
  4. What Kinds of Gazes are There?
  5. Student Presentations: Practices of Looking
  6. Looking at Landscapes
  7. Looking at War
  8. Contemporary Art: Politics and Space

2.1.1. Session 1 – What Can Be Seen? Art, Visuality, and Us

Session Summary

In the first lesson we will complicate what it means to see. We will discuss the difference between visuality and visibility, and we also start discussing what it means to look at artistic and non-artistic images. You are required to watch some short videos before the first session and there is already some homework, which you find under Discussions. The deadline of the assignments is always the Monday before the session.

Required Videos

How to do visual (formal) analysis in art history, (2017) https://youtu.be/sM2MOyonDsY (10 mins)

Elkins, J., (2021) Concepts and Problems in the Visual Arts, Lecture C5: Formalism and formal analysis https://youtu.be/v-eRgF0nMMg (13 mins)

Elkins, J., (2021) Concepts and Problems in the Visual Arts, Lecture C1: Vision and visuality, https://youtu.be/ej0yDRBjc4k (20 mins)

2.1.2. Session 2 – “I can show you the world” – What is Representation?

Session Summary

We will discuss the inherited notions that still guide the way we relate to art and we will see that most of these notions were invented after the Renaissance, with many of them coming with Modernism in the 20th century. We will talk about holy images, originals, reproductions, and some 21st century image making practices like cloning and digital editing.
In preparation for this week’s topic, post in the Discussion Forum by Monday.

Required Reading and Watching

Berger, J. (1973) Ways of Seeing, pp. 7-34.

Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing, Episode 1. https://youtu.be/0pDE4VX_9Kk (30 mins)

Elkins, J. (2021). Concepts and Problems in the Visual Arts, Lecture C4: Representation and mimesis https://youtu.be/gz0JC-wdswI (20 mins)

Linear Perspective: Brunelleschi’s Experiment (2011) Smarthistory YouTube Channel, https://youtu.be/bkNMM8uiMww (4 mins)

2.1.3. Session 3 – Portraits and Mirrors

With the help of portraits and self-portraits from the history of art, we explore how artists showed the act of seeing in their pictures. We will see that artists have thought deeply about how complicated a look and a relationship established by the act of looking can be.

In preparation for this week’s topic, post in the Discussion Forum by Monday.

Required Reading and Watching

Mirzoeff, N. (2016) “How to See Yourself” How to See the World: An Introduction to Images from Self-Portraits to Selfies, Maps to Movies, and More, Basic Books, 29-47. (The first part of the chapter.)

“Van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait”, (2012) Smarthistory Youtube Channel https://youtu.be/9ODhKqFaugQ (7 mins)

2.1.4. Session 4 – What Kinds of Gazes Are There?

How we look at art (and non-art) is not obvious at all. In this session we will learn about how art gets very complicated if we look at it through a feminist lense or a postcolonial lense. And we will experience that this complication is very much what we need. We will also study what kinds of gazes a picture permits, facilitates, or does not allow.

In preparation for this week’s topic, post in the Discussion Forum by Monday.

Required Reading and Watching

Elkins, J. (2021) Concepts and Problems in the Visual Arts, Lecture C2: The gaze https://youtu.be/FLbZBRFiCA4 (30 mins) 

Sturken, M. and Cartwright, L (2017) “The Other” from Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture, Oxford University Press, pp. 113-120.

Felvidéki, M (2016) Gorgon [Animated short film] https://vimeo.com/194040908 (8 mins) (You need to have a vimeo account to watch it.)

Mirzoeff, N. (2016) “How to See Yourself” How to See the World: An Introduction to Images from Self-Portraits to Selfies, Maps to Movies, and More, Basic Books, pp. 48-69. (The second part of the chapter.)

2.1.5. Session 5 – Student Presentations: Practices of Looking

Session Summary

Each student will hold a 5-minute presentation based on a chapter from Sturken and Cartwright’s book – see details of the assignments for specific requirements and pro tips. After the presentations, students will sum up their thoughts in short essays.

Required Reading

Sturken, M., Cartwright, L. (2017) Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture, Oxford University Press

Optional Reading

Mirzoeff, N. (2016) How to See the World: An Introduction to Images from Self-Portraits to Selfies, Maps to Movies, and More, Basic Books.

2.1.6. Session 6 – Looking at Landscapes

Session Summary

The first landscapes that do not contain humans were most possibly painted by the German Renaissance painter Albrecht Altdorfer (1480?-1538). During this period, something started to change in the way artists (and patrons and the audience of artworks) represented and thought about nature. This change is very obvious if you think about iconic Dutch landscape painting or great Romantic British landscapes. We will examine how the representation of landscapes shows power relationships. 

Assignment for this lesson: write the argumentative essays based on your presentations. Watch the two videos related to our topic. You do not need to comment on the videos to give you time to write your essays.

Required Reading and Watching

“The Politics of Landscape Art” (2019) Then & Now YouTube Channel, https://youtu.be/yGTKJ0NakFE 

Green, J. (2019) “Dutch Golden Age: Crash Course European History #15” Crash Course YouTube Channel https://youtu.be/35PinDPNPw0 (15 mins)

2.1.7. Session 7 – Looking at War

Session Summary

Representations of war were quite allegorical until Francisco Goya (1746-1828) created his personal and painful etchings in the Disasters of War. In this lesson we will discuss representations of war – with a particular focus on 20th century works of art.

In preparation for this week’s topic, post in the Discussion Forum by Monday.

Required Reading and Watching

Gillespie, Iseult (2019) “Why is this painting so shocking? – Iseult Gillespie” Ted-Ed https://youtu.be/DJnH5CPCImY (5 mins)

“Capturing the Horrors – The Art of World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special’ (2015) The Great War https://youtu.be/CHNuHsZ59rg (6 mins)

Gariff, David (2018, posted in 2021) “Post World War II European Art” National Gallery of Art Talks https://youtu.be/rddw8SK23Ic (1:38 mins)

2.1.8. Session 8 – Contemporary Art: Politics and Space

In the last lesson we will discuss your zine ideas and help each other with our questions. In the remaining time we will talk about the works of contemporary Columbian artist Doris Salcedo. How can art help a community? How does Salcedo use public spaces for her artistic practice? How do artist activists use art to call for change?

In preparation for this week’s topic, post in the Discussion Forum by Monday.

Required Reading and Watching

COMPULSORY:

“Doris Salcedo – Shibboleth” Tate YouTube Channel, https://youtu.be/NIJDn2MAn9I (5 mins)

“Doris Salcedo’s Public Works” Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago YouTube Channel, https://youtu.be/xdt2vZ9YpwE (26 mins)

WATCH/READ ANY OF THESE:

“Antony Gormley: Sculpted space, within and without” TED YouTube, https://youtu.be/vJ66jv8ICjc (26 mins)

“Tan Zi Xi || Sassoon Dock Art Project”(2018)  https://youtu.be/jovjFSGn3ZA

“Olafur Eliasson interview: Retrospective opens at Tate Modern | Architecture | Dezeen” (2019) https://youtu.be/FaYdmuG_0Rw 

“Designing for Versailles: Olafur Eliasson | Brilliant Ideas Ep. 32” (2016) https://youtu.be/82mA_f4jcV8 

“Ai Weiwei detained. Here is his TED film” TED https://youtu.be/MVnH8ou3Kd4 

3. Assessment

3.1. Assessment Types and Weighting

Continuous Assessment: Reading, assignments and active participation – 20%

Presentation – 10%

Argumentative Essay – 35%

Final Coursework: zine – 35%