Core Courses

Students in the bachelor's degree program take one semester of each Core Course.

The Artist in the Western World (Fall)

HUM 213; 3 s.h./term

This course will involve students in considering two basic cultural questions: the complex role of the artist, and the complicated social place(s) where that role is generally held to be playable. At least since Shelley's mid-19th-century assertion that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world," artists have become conscious of and exhibited a manifold truth in its aesthetic, ethical, and political dimensions; formal study of the powers of art—and of particular artists, both original and interpretative—should be part of the training of all young artists.

The course assumes a few governing claims to be pertinent: that musicians are artists; that music constitutes a principal form of art; that the various arts evolve in both form and content; that, despite the many different traditions, the arts are substantially related to one another and to the particular societies where they are active; that culture acts on more than a single level and functions within an ever-larger frame of reference and activity; and, finally, that an individual artist benefits from becoming familiar with terms and instances of form and content from kinds of art other than the artist's chosen one.

Possible topics: Modern dance and music, drama and theater, cinema, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture

The Artist in the Western World (Spring)

Claims for and against the work of makers did not end (or begin) with Plato's Republic. French poet Pierre Quillard believed that bringing forth a beautiful work constitutes "an act of revolt," while Welsh poet Dylan Thomas said, "A good poem helps to change the shape and significance of the universe, helps to extend everyone's knowledge of himself and the world around him.”

Is art an act of revolt, an agent of change, or a mode of knowledge? And are artists, therefore, revolutionaries, legislators, or educators? Do they hold up a mirror to life or light a fire in human consciousness? These questions, concerning the role of the artist in community, will guide the work of this semester. We will examine the personal and the public, the ethical and the aesthetic function of the artist in society. Course texts will include: excerpts from Plato's Republic, Shelley's A Defense of Poetry, The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, William Shakespeare's The Tempest, James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, Irina Ratushinskaya's poems, Isak Dinesan's "Babette's Feast," Kevin Powers's The Yellow Birds, Caryl Churchill's Far Away, as well as films and a field trip.

Evaluation will be based upon oral presentations, library research projects, essays, and exams.

Ethics, Existence, and Art

HUM 211; 3 s.h./term

In this course, we will be retracing 20th-century ethical and aesthetic systems that led to various reconfigurations of the relationship between artist and world, as well as thinkers and texts that were influential in generating these systems. Key issues and concepts include "plastic consciousness" (Cubism and other visual "modernisms"), science and vitalism, automation of modern life (Dada, Futurism, Ford & Taylorism), ideology and the split subject (Marx and Freud, Surrealism), WWII, the decentering of human culture and the existential crisis, and the rise of mass culture. Of central importance will be the way each of these "moments" gave rise to new problems, potentials, and responsibilities of human creative energy vis-a-vis what had come to be taken—but only provisionally—as the physical world. Readings will include short novels, poems and plays, as well as theoretical articles. There will also be required viewings of film and visual art.

Kitsch: The Aesthetic, Moral, and Political Dimensions of “Bad Taste”

In this course we will explore the concept of kitsch from its first emergence in art circles of Munich in the second half of the nineteenth century to its internationalization in the early twentieth century to its omnipresence in today’s globalized society and economy. What is kitsch? Why do dictators like it? Is there something inherently evil in kitsch as Hermann Broch famously claimed? Or is kitsch simply “bad art”? What makes a description or depiction of an object “kitschy”? Why do such objects often have an intense emotional appeal as we all, particularly children, sometimes find comfort in them? As we try to tackle these and other questions, we will engage with theoretical and fictional texts, paintings, sculptures and music which will provide a springboard for discussions about the nature of art, commercialization of society and political and moral dimensions of the creative process. Professor Catriona MacLeod from University of Pennsylvania, our guest speaker, will enrich our discussions with her insights.

Readings: Karl Philipp Moritz, Heinrich Heine, Hermann Broch, Walter Benjamin, Öden von Horvath, Clement Greenberg, Gregor von Rezzori, Theodor Adorno, Michel Foucault, Susan Sontag, Umberto Eco, Milan Kundera, Matei Calinescu, Thomas Kulka and others.