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Art History | Seminars

Listed below are a sampling of seminars that have been offered in the past. Contact the art history main office at 202-885-1670 for information about upcoming seminars.

Norma Broude, Professor of Art History, American University

In class discussions and student reports, we will examine the controversial art of Edgar Degas against the background of shifting aesthetic and cultural practices and social norms in late nineteenth-century France. Particular attention will be paid to the reception of Degas's art as reflected in critical responses from his own period down to the present day.

National schools of Impressionism around the world (e.g., in the United States, Canada, Australia, England, Japan, Scandinavia, Russia, Spain, Latin America, etc.) will be studied as indigenous movements and in the context of influences received from France.

A striking characteristic of the era of Impressionism is the unusual number of women artists who came to the fore as part of the movement in France, as well as the proliferation of their professional activity all over the world as the Impressionist style and attitude rapidly spread. Through readings, class discussions, and the presentation of student research, this course explores how Impressionism, as a style and as a worldwide cultural phenomenon, empowered women artists and helped to support an increase in their professional aspirations and opportunities in the modern era. Particular attention will be paid to the reception of these artists' work as reflected in critical responses from their own period down to the present day.

In this course we will study the work of selected women painters, sculptors, photographers and architects from the late 18th century to the present. Through these selected topics, the emergence and practice of women artists in the modern and postmodern eras will be examined in social context and in relation to gendered theories of representation.

MODERN ART IN ITALY, 19th and 20th Centuries
In this seminar, we will examine the history of painting and sculpture in Italy from the early 19th century to the present, against the background of Italy's cultural and political heritage and the 19th-century emergence of the modern Italian state. Among the groups to be studied will be the Macchiaioli, the Divisionists, the Futurists, the Metaphysical School, Arte povera, and the Neo-Expressionists. Among painters considered will be Fattori, Segantini, Boccioni, Carra, De Chirico, Modigliani, Morandi, Cucchi, Clemente and Chia; and among the sculptors, Canova, Bartolini, Cecioni, Vela, Gemito, Rosso, Marini, Manzu, and others.

Kim Butler, Assistant Professor of Art Histoy, American University

Since the advent of postmodern criticism, analysis of the relationship between text and image has become increasingly troubled in the practice of art history. No longer satisfying as source material according to the traditional iconographical method, the value of the text itself is often seen to be diminished relative to the image, and the image itself left incomplete in important ways. This seminar explores these critical issues through examining various text-image problems over a range of periods and with a variety of methods, from iconography to semiotics.

Mary D. Garrard, Professor Emerita of Art History, American University

Garrard's seminar topics have included: Leonardo da Vinci, Mannerism, Titian, Caravaggio, Women and Gender in Renaissance Art, and Women Artists from Antiquity through the 18th Century.

Helen Langa, Professor of Art History, American University

This seminar focuses on art produced in the United States after the rejection of Abstract Expressionism as the heroic "modern art" of the post-war era. We will look at how modernist and postmodernist values shaped the making of art and its reception by critics and the public. Readings will address the definition of artistic styles and movements, the influence of critical positions, and the cultural politics of making, exhibiting and interpreting works of art.

REPRESENTING WOMEN IN THE VISUAL ARTS: England and the United States in the Victorian Era
This seminar explores how specific ideologies of nineteenth-century English and American feminine propriety and deviance were translated into visual art. We will look at works by both women and men artists and consider how they supported, contested, or subverted concepts of womanhood that included nurturing mothers and domestic "angels of the house," tough coal mining women and exhausted seamstresses, cigarette-smoking suffragettes and dangerous femme fatales.

SHAKING THINGS UP: The Politics of Identity in American Art c. 1968-2000
Seminar focuses on the influence of identity politics on American art from c. 1968 to 2000. Topics: artists' involvements with empowerment and protest movements, the "culture wars" of the 1980s-'90s, and contested museum exhibition policies. Background issues: identity politics in the work of white, African American, Chicano, and Native American/Indigenous artists; the emergence of community cultural movements, multiculturalism and the feminist art movement, art relating to HIV-AIDS and gay identity; traditional museum practices, dealing with censorship threats, and new inclusive strategies for exhibition development and publicity.

POSTMODERNISM SINCE 1970: Aesthetic Challenges, Social Critiques, and Museum Responsibilities
Seminar will explore tensions created when radical types of postmodern art developed since the 1970s (painting, sculpture, photography, installations, performance focusing on diverse forms of identity politics and multicultural critique) have been commissioned as public art or become the subjects of museum exhibitions. Discussions will begin with an overview of innovative art of the past 30+ years, and then move to consider its challenges to contemporary aesthetic and social values, and the ways in which museums and the media have dealt with the risks and the pleasures of postmodernist innovation. Seminar papers will focus on the work of individual artists, politicized art groups, or issues related to specific museum exhibitions.