Course Descriptions

Not all courses can be offered every year.  Applicants are advised to check the website at the beginning of the calendar year for the list of COURSES OFFERED in the upcoming academic year when preparing their applications.  Current offerings are available on the MA Course page.

Human and Nonhuman in Medieval Art - Bob Mills

‘The first subject matter for painting was animal’, writes John Berger, but how have art historians responded to this basic insight? This special subject option considers how artists negotiated the human/nonhuman opposition in the Middle Ages. Bringing medieval visual culture into dialogue with contemporary philosophical and theoretical reflections on the animal, we will ask how representations of the nonhuman shaped ideas about ethics, politics, justice, identity and subjectivity in the period. We will seek to contextualise these treatments of nonhuman difference with reference to a wealth of visual material – manuscript illumination, painting, sculpture, stained glass, misericords and tapestry – that works to sustain the category of the human or to call it into question. Can art be a space of resistance to the discourse of the human? What would a ‘posthuman’ Middle Ages look like? Is it ever possible to look with, rather than through the animal? Are monsters and animals always other?

Topics addressed include anthropomorphism and animal metaphor; metamorphosis; the depiction of humans as (other) animals; animals as moral or religious figures; monstrosity and hybridity; margins and difference; medieval and modern concepts of nature and the natural world; automata and robotics; parchment as medium and the art of flaying; interspecies friendship, affect and desire; the aesthetics and politics of meat; ecocritical perspectives on art.

The Values of Design in the Italian Renaissance - Alison Wright

By considering the role of design, the course addresses central issues in the production and reception of Italian art of the 15th and earlier 16th century, considering paintings and sculpture as well as new fields of representation such as wood inlay, medals and prints and how they were evaluated in the period. We look at the theory of disegno and the practice and processes of design in Renaissance workshops. We address issues concerning illustration, narrative and allegorical invention and the inscription, dissemination and development of styles, as well as the rôle of design in communication between patron and maker.
The course offers:
- knowledge and understanding of the circumstances of production and contemporary evaluation of art and 'artists' in a period of rapid social and artistic change.
- interpretation of contemporary sources as well as recent critical frameworks
- familiarity with the facture and functions of some of the major monuments of Renaissance art but also types of production overlooked in grand narratives of renaissance art but important to the understanding of the period -- as well as to present day curatorial skill and professional expertise.
- a focus on works to be studied at first hand in London collections from Pisanello to Pontormo.

Theories of Authorship in Early Modern Italy - Maria Loh

Freud's Leonardo, Vasari's Michelangelo, Jarman's Caravaggio, feminism's Artemisia - who are these 'authors' and how did they come to be constructed? This course challenges the popular image of the artist as a solitary genius creating ex nihilo through an examination of different theories of authorship and a consideration of their application to the study of Italian Renaissance and Baroque art. Some of the issues addressed include: the role of authorship in self-portraiture, the historiography of connoisseurship, the Romantic myth of 'the Renaissance', Roland Barthes' Death of the Author, the post-Enlightenment splitting of repetition from originality. Some of the questions this course will examine include: what does 'authorship' imply in a period where artistic production was largely based on imitative practices, workshop collaboration, and the patron's demands? How do we understand authorship in an age before copyright law, originality and anxiety? Is the Old Master Author dead? Can we construct a serviceable notion of authorial intention? How does a sustained consideration of 'authorship' help us deconstruct the related themes of originality, genius, imagination and the artist in the study of Early Modern Italian Art?

Early Modern Horror (16th/17th centuries) - Maria Loh

Why study horror?  What can we learn about the past through the confrontation of horror, abjection, and obscenity?  Departing from Nicolas Poussin's Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake in the National Gallery, London, this course proposes a visual history of pathos and metamorphosis anchored around what Noel Carroll defined as 'art-horror' and what Linda Williams referred to as 'the frenzy of the visible'.  Forcing ourselves to look with critical attention at sixteenth- and seventeenth-century representations of horror--works specifically designed to elicit fright, confusion, terror, pity, and/or pain from the spectator--this course will push beyond the staid clichés about the 'Renaissance' and 'Baroque' as periods of extraordinary beauty and order and turn instead to embrace a messier, murkier, experimental, and experiential history of early modern visual culture. The course will be structured around four themes: 1) Special Affects and the Moving Image (which will look at the tension between narration and affect, on the role of gesture and theatricality, and on the staging of the passions); 2) Mal'occhio (which investigates the unsettling animation of icons, portraits, ex votos and other images set into action through ritual and ceremony); 3) Ghost in the Machine (which addresses the authority of the senses and somatic experience, the question of the early modern cyborg or the boundary between anima and machina, and how the pre-medical body was conceptualised); 4) Science Fictions: Posthuman/Premodern (which turns to how images attempted to contain fear, terror, and anxiety in the face of the unknown in a liminal period when 'science' was still looked upon with much suspicion as a form of fiction).

Cannibalism and the Early Modern Image - Rose Marie San Juan

Cannibalism, a concept invented in early modern Europe and immediately mired in controversy about what it could mean and to whom it pertained, offers an intriguing relation to the visual image. The cannibal was initially ascribed to people in the indecipherable ‘New World’ but it only became a cultural force with the production of lavish engravings in travel accounts. With the alliance of image and text, the notion of cannibalism was held in tension between the visual imagination and new claims about witnessing and recording nature and history. This course will consider the complex and interdisciplinary debates around cannibalism (from Montaigne’s seminal 1580 essay to more recent anthropological and cultural writings - Sahlins, Derrida, de Certeau, Kristeva – and films), especially how the notion of the cannibal came to have unexpected critical possibilities, negotiating new relationships in a changing world, rethinking the boundaries of oneself and others, and questioning the very premises of the European subject. The goal, however, is not to pursue philosophical questioning as an end in itself, but to draw on it to question conventionalized interpretations of the visual image. Cannibalism and the visual image do not just meet in the actual representation of eating of one’s own kind. The notion of the cannibal unleashed some of the most innovative and challenging visual images of the 16th and 17th centuries, for example: the invention of the image of ‘utopia’ in cartography (with new conceptions of space, place, boundary, frontier), the turn to images of embodied experience in new forms of painting (eating, ingestion, digestion, regurgitation, incorporation), a new kind of war image (witness evidence of atrocities in religious wars), ethnographic images of distant lands and people (especially the De Bry albums on the Americas, Africa, Asia), anatomical images of dissection (a site for the observation of European cannibalism), a different kind of mythological painting (Cronos and other transformative myths focused on eating the body). The course seeks to have an experimental approach, and proposes that the theoretical and historical conceptualizations and conflicts around cannibalism can serve to open up new possibilities for the interpretation of the visual image.

The Senses and the Rise of Capital -  Charles Ford

In this course we shall be looking at/for manifestations of the emergence of ‘visualism’ and the decline in prestige of other forms of sensory experience in [not only, but especially] middle-class, urban cultures during the long seventeenth-century. We shall look for an emerging ‘middle-class sensorium’, which can be traced in transformations in the structures of both elite and popular knowledges. In other words we shall be tracing what Donald Lowe has called the ‘History of Bourgeois Perception’. We shall read for this in paintings, literature and the procedures of emergent sciences, as well as more archaeological enquiries into the new spaces of daily life [in homes, in new kinds of civic and commercial spaces, in the new spaces of viewing, in the gardens and parks around towns]. We shall also consider general tendencies in historical methodology as regards past bodily experience and historical subjectivity [since Bakhtin, Elias, the Annales historians, Foucault, De Certeau], each of which has been developed within a particular historical and philosophical moment, paying special attention to the recent ‘anthropological turn’. (This can be read for in David Howes ed., Empire of the Senses, The Sensual Culture Reader, Oxford/NY, 2005 and Mark M. Smith, Sensory History, Oxford/New York, 2007.)

Tracing the Body: Technologies of Representation in 18th and 19th Century France - Mechthild Fend

The period between the eighteenth and the nineteenth century saw a fundamental shift in the understanding of the body and the relations between body on the one and soul or mind on the other side. In the course of what has been described by
Michel Foucault as the birth of the human sciences a range of disciplines began to focus their scholarly attention on the human being. The course will address this process of anthropologization by investigating various modes of registering the body and bodily expression. It will consider visual material from both the arts and the sciences and will explore the interrelatedness and differences between these two fields of image production. One focus will be on the body as itself a side for the expression of a person's feelings or character and on related visual practices from Le Brun's classifying drawings of the expression of passions to Duchenne de Boulogne's electrically induced and photographically registered movements of the face muscles. The notion of "expression" as such implies a perception of the body as a medium on which informations are imprinted. Such an understanding of the body as medium was particularly prominent in the late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century and the course will explore the relation between such a notion of the body and the development of various technologies of representation that are based on the principle of the trace and demand the presense of the body for the production of an image: the silhouette, casts or wax moulages, photography and finger prints.

Vision, Tourism, Imperialism: Art and Travel in the British Empire, 1760-1870 - Natasha Eaton 

This course traces the negotiations of British art with the image-making of other places through the conflictual artistic practices anticipated and produced by the figure of travel. The expansion of an art market in 18th-century Britain, a parallel investment in pleasure touring (Britain, Europe and beyond), the East India Company’s colonization of India and the institutionalized, metropolitan sponsorship of projects of exploration in Polynesia, Melanesia and Tibet generated conflicting visual economies of travel. Located in the historical framework of the Second British Empire, the course will explore the agency of the visual in the construction of other places, peoples and temporalities through an exciting range of media and ideas. This endorses a set of preliminary questions: what might be ‘eye-witness precision’ or quasi-scientific objectivity, ‘authenticity’ or an aesthetic of the Exotic? How far did this entanglement of art and travel embody a charged semiotics of nostalgia? Did British/colonial artists create an auratic sense of place whereby objects, peoples and spaces became signs of themselves? And what are the tensions between materiality and visuality enacted by travel? In the later parts of the course we track alternative regimes of travel as figured by the dialectic of tourism and pilgrimage in 19th-century India.

Art and Technology in Nineteenth-Century France - Richard Taws

This course explores the interfaces between art and technology in France during a ‘long’ nineteenth century, from the decade preceding the French Revolution to the First World War. Drawing on contemporary debates in media theory, history of technology, communication studies and media archaeology, we will examine the ways in which transformations in technology both affected, and were conditioned by, a wide variety of artistic practices in diverse media. Technological change in the production of images and objects will form a central part of the course, focusing especially on the emergence of ‘new’ media in printmaking, photography, architecture, and film. However, we will also address the more subtle ways in which technological innovation (not to mention stagnation, obsolescence or even regression) outside the field of art had a bearing on the production of art and the discourses that surrounded it. The materiality of technology, and its significance in the context of practices of consumption, communication, industrialisation, war and colonisation, will be central concerns. Challenging deterministic, triumphalist assumptions about the social and historical function of technology in modernity, particular attention will also be paid to those technologies that did not ‘succeed’; the techniques and objects that fell by the wayside, or which were perhaps never meant to endure. Although the focus of the course will be on France, other national and global contexts will be discussed where appropriate.

Politics of the Image: Germany 1890-1945 - Fred Schwartz

For historians, the parameters of this course—from the reign of Wilhelm II to the end of the Second World War—are clear. The historiographical stakes are also high: to what extent does this period represent developments typical of twentieth-century modernity, and to what extent are they specific to one nation? And as art historians know, this is a time in which the visual image becomes radically problematic and problematised. The course will attempt to combine these perspectives, considering this period in the light of the changing nature of the image: its political uses, its economic values, the bodies of knowledge brought to bear in the attempt to understand and manipulate it.
The course will attempt to set up a sort of counterpoint between, on the one hand, the basic protagonists of inherited art-historical narratives (Expressionism, Dada, Constructivism, Bauhaus, Neue Sachlichkeit, etc) and the usual tropes (the rise and fall of an avant-garde, the contrast between figurative and abstract, between tradition and modernity); and, on the other hand, a set of concepts that might help us make a different sense of the image in modernity. We will consider not only art and architecture but also film, advertising and political propaganda. These will be examined in the light of changing definitions of the subject of culture, the pressures producing and eclipsing a public sphere, the legal status of cultural products, the role of crime in culture and danger in vision, and the new networks available for the distribution and circulation of images. At the same time, the course will trace new theories of the image—from the academic history of art to the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School and beyond—that emerged out of the historical experience of this period.

Photographic Cultures: Photography's Public & the Production of Politics - Sarah James

It has become fashionable to talk about the ‘post-documentary’, and to position recent re-inventions of documentary as more sophisticated than the one-dimensional documentary traditions of modernism. Attempting to complicate and historicise such claims, this course will explore photo-exhibitions; photo-essays; photobooks; photo-archives; photographic practices; photo-art; film and video essays in Europe, the Soviet Union and the United States from the early twentieth century to the present day. Taking an expanded conception of photography and documentary throughout this period, we will look at the ways in which photography has been approached as a kind of social laboratory. We will explore how photography has been mobilised to produce different political agencies, publics, identities and collective experiences, and how it has been used pedagogically as a model for social and political behaviour, or as a means of political resistance. Moving from the pre-war avant-garde of the early twentieth century, through the Cold War, to the contemporary photographic art and cultures of the globalised present, we will look at the shifting relations between realism, documentary and humanism in relation to issues of seriality, sequence, sameness and juxtaposition. We will think about the relationship between photography and the masses, and its complex uses in both communist and capitalist cultures. The course will consider the application of montage to critical thought and the emergence of different approaches to realism and documentary. We will explore how different models of socialised and political seeing have been theorised, and examine the ways in which images have been mobilised by writers and philosophers to conceptualise and produce solidarity and political communities.

American Media: Publicity and the Logics of Surveillance - Stephanie Schwartz

‘We have become a society of surveillance.’ This refrain, once the stuff of fiction and born out on the pages of George Orwell’s now prescient 1984, is today a hackneyed fact. We have become a society obsessed with—as well as frightened of and exhilarated by—burgeoning technologies of surveillance. For some, the reiteration of this fact merely contributes to our complacency, to our embrace and internalization of the state’s surveillant eye. For others, it is a reminder that we are a society in urgent need of surveillant literacy.

This seminar addresses this need through a historical examination of the emergence of new devices for seeing, looking, counting, filing and recording in the 19th and 20th centuries. Our goal is not—or not simply—to acknowledge the historical precedents for today’s ‘Big Brother’ in earlier photographic and filmic practices. It is to suggest that any investigation of the post-9/11 frenzy with looking and seeing, witnessing and being seen requires a parallel investigation of how we think about, examine, critique and historicize technology. Focusing on a set of key episodes in the history of American media (1880s-1950s), this seminar calls into question what counts as a technology of surveillance. Is it the eye? Is it the lens? Or is it the ways in which the eye and the lens mediate new social spaces and publics? Should we focus on the visual or the ways in which new technologies—from statistics to biometrics, for example—account for and address the limits of looking?

The seminar is divided into four sections, opening with an examination of how we historicize technologies and how those histories have shaped our histories of surveillance. Of particular importance to this conversation will be recent debates about digitalization and the claim that photographic truth is no longer possible. What are the implications of this history for the ways we look at the past? Was truth ever the goal of recording devices and spying eyes? Taking this theoretical ground as our starting point, the class will explore three aspects of American film and photographic production, all of which stress the organization of the American public: ‘Engineering Social Space,’ ‘Bureaucracy’ and ‘Public and Counter-Publics.’ In each section, we will examine historical episodes in photography and film production alongside contemporary artistic and cultural examples of practices geared to frame and reframe debates about surveillance and what counts as public. Key issues for debate will include the differences between state and corporate surveillance as well as between private viewing and public watching, resistances to technologies, the ways in which debates about surveillance frame current studies of labor and technological determinism.

Suggested Summer Reading/Films

  • Aldous Huxley, A Brave New World (London: Chatto & Windus, 1932)
  • George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (London: Secker & Warburg, 1949)
  • Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (New York: Ballantine Books, 1952)
  • Peeping Tom, dir. Michael Powell, 1960
  • The Conversation, dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1974
  • Caché, dir. Michael Haneke, 2005

Race/place:exotic/erotic - Tamar Garb

This course will focus on recent theoretical and political debates around orientalism/primitivism in the context of post colonial scholarship. It will include consideration of foundational authors and texts (Fanon, Said, Clifford, amongst others) and art historical debates around photography and painting in Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The historiography of these debates will be crucial for the intellectual underpinning of the course which will go on to address contemporary practice that foregrounds issues of the body, identity and the historical mapping of locale in the context of art produced in post-Apartheid South Africa. Video, installation, photography, sculpture and painting from this context will be considered in relation to equivalent practices that dramatise these issues in the global context. Questions of power, agency, sexuality and visuality will be central to the course as a whole. 

Inhabiting Art: Communes, Colonies, Squatting - Petra Lange-Berndt

This course discusses the architectures, poly-sensual environments and urban structures connected to artists' houses, communes and colonies. Wewill consider issues of countercultures, community-building, artistic authorship and self-staging: Since the nineteenth century a multitude of projects has been experimenting with forms of collective habitation as well as the subcultural lifestyles associated with hotels and farms, or the activism around squatted properties. By considering related theories of authorship in relation to collectivism, to models of the group, cooperative, network, sect, horde, pack, or swarm – ranging from anarchist, marxist or feminist to postmodern thought – we will criticise and revise romantic notions of artistdom and spaces of art production. We will also investigate in which ways communes and colonies as well as the desire to speak in a collective voice are relevant for artistic practices today.

Contemporary Art and Globalization -

This course examines how contemporary art has negotiated globalization, at times finding progressive resources within its developments, at others, contesting its oppressive structures and effects. We will consider ways to theorize globalization—including Marxist analyses, neoliberal positions, post-colonial approaches, and methods of political ecology—and investigate how select models of artistic practice and activism—largely video, photography, installation, new media, and socially engaged practice—parse current developments, raising new options of resistance and inventing new modes of being and belonging in the world. The focus will be on artistic and activist practices from Europe and North America, the Middle East, and North and Central Africa (although other areas, such as Asia, may enter into discussion as well). Overall, the course will consider recent theories of the politics of aesthetics, biopolitics, the state of exception, and bare life in relation to current modes of political governance, human rights discourse, socio-political and economic exclusion, environmental migration, and climate change.

Art as theory:  the writing of art - Briony Fer 

This course sets out to examine the relationship between art and art writing. It aims to equip students with the critical skills to question the terms which produce current discursive frameworks in order to reconfigure the critical field of contemporary and recent art history. The course examines a range of theoretical and art critical positions through close textual analysis, including a sustained discussion of ekphrastic models of descriptive writing - drawn not only from conventional art historical and art critical writing but also from literary and other theoretical sources. The course investigates the possibility of understanding the artwork itself as a work of theory. Testing the limits of art historical approaches that assume the primacy of the historical and geographical circumstances of art’s production, the course is designed to open up discussion of the artwork’s theoretical and phenomenological demands on us as viewers. Rather than underestimate the theoretical content of art, this course intends to maximise it – by making the object of speculation more porous not only to different geographies but also to early modern art not normally considered in the same breath as modernist and post-modernist art. We explore the possibilities of new types of critical writing in relation to a range of work, not only from Europe and the US but also Latin America, especially Brazil. The course is structured on the basis of a series of in depth case studies, focusing on contemporary art and its recent histories. Rather than privilege the more familiar critics, the course aims to foreground artists writings and take them seriously as writing models before going onto consider larger critical and theoretical frameworks.

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