ARTH 429 Fall 2014 Ambiguous Icons: The Problem of Meaning in Modern and Contemporary Art

Cross Listed as ARTH561
"Our time is indifferent to the content of artistic representations as no time has ever been before. For today's artist form itself is the content." These remarks of the German critic Paul Westheim, published in 1919, sound strange today, yet they express an attitude that dominated critical and historical writing on modern art for most of the twentieth century. Although questions of "meaning" have become more central to art-historical writing of the last four decades, there is a surprising dearth of methodological discussion on this issue. No compelling models, comparable to that offered by Erwin Panofsky in his classic introduction to Studies in Iconology, have established themselves for modern and contemporary art, and many interpretations proceed on the basis of anachronistic methodological assumptions. Moreover, the study of how artworks communicate or otherwise affect us still remains relatively little studied beyond individual cases. This seminar will explore the problem of "meaning" in modern and contemporary art and examine various models for dealing with the issue, including iconography, semiotics, reception theory, and affect theory. The first half of the seminar will be devoted to selected theoretical and methodological readings on the issue as well as to case studies of individual artists. During the second half of the semester students will present papers on topics of their own choosing.
Class Format: seminar
Requirements/Evaluation: students will be responsible for leading class discussion on at least one week's selected readings, an oral report, to be presented in revised, written form at semester's end, and a ten-minute critical commentary on another student's oral report
Additional Info: may not be taken on a pass/fail basis; not available for the Gaudino option
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Enrollment Preference: 5 graduate students and senior Art History majors
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Divisional Attributes: Division I
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Enrollment Limit: 14
Expected Enrollment: 12
Class Number: 1080
ARTH 429 - 01 (F) SEM Ambiguous Icons Division 1: Languages and the Arts Mark Haxthausen
F 1:10 PM-3:50 PM Lawrence 003 1080
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