this is not an online course

Course Syllabus - AVT 620: Theory, Criticism in the Visual Arts | Course Outline

Professor: Mark Cooley
Spring 2010


Required readings will either be provided by the professor in hardcopy or made available on the net. Please see course outline for a list of texts.

Catalog Description

AVT 620 Theory and Criticism in the Visual Arts (3:3:0) Prerequisite: admission to AVT graduate program or permission of instructor. Cross-disciplinary graduate seminar focusing on key theories and themes that have informed 20th and 21st century arts practice.  Looks at theory and criticism in a variety of contexts, from popular to scholarly, and considers the role of artists as thinkers and writers.

Course Statement

This course brings together, in the intensive research / discussion based format offered by a graduate seminar, various texts, artworks and media through which we will confront visual culture in relation to modern and post-modern social, political and economic conventions. This course is not an attempt to form an objective survey or chronology of critics, theorists, philosophers, artists, etc., nor is it a random sampling of issues, theories and art of interest to the professor.  Rather, this course is constructed toward developing a methodology, couched in the suppositions of contemporary theory (by way of structuralism and post-structuralism), through which students may articulate the significance of cultural artifacts such as art, mass media and digital culture. Rather than rooting the developments of culture as the fulfillment of any kind of natural order, whether that order be based in rationality, mysticism, or otherwise, the course reviews the development of art and visual culture in the industrial and postindustrial ages as a wholly human invented affair, and as such, subject to critical response from a multitude of studies invested in human affairs.  Indeed, many of the writers and artists we will confront are informed by such seemingly disparate disciplines as art, sociology, political science, economics, psychology, gender studies and others. The course consists of three parts. Part 1 of the course focuses on fine art as a concept:  Modernist notions of autonomy, transcendence and universality are challenged as we assume the meaningfulness of art as culturally constructed and construed necessarily within a conceptual framework. Part 2 of the course focuses primarily on the structure of mass media as both visual culture and institution.  Part 3 of the course situates digital visual culture within the political economy of the so-called digital revolution.

Course Requirements

Attendance and participation: This class will fail without your active participation.  It should go without saying that you should attend all class sessions and be prepared to participate knowledgeably in class discussion.

Weekly summaries:  Written responses to all readings assigned the previous week (one - two pages response for each reading). Summaries should consist of ideas you've drawn from each reading and will be graded according to your investment (as evidenced by your written responses) in the material.

Presentations: All students will present at least one 10 - 15 minute introduction to assigned readings and artist’s works. Each class will begin with student presentations and continue with discussion, lecture and media.

Research paper/project: Students will complete one exploratory research paper or art project on any topic with respect to the content of the course. Papers should be 8 - 10 pages. Art projects should be equally ambitious in terms of thought and time investment. Students must meet with the instructor at least twice about their research papers or projects.  Initial outlines due - 2/15/06

Grading: Students will receive grades for each written summary and a grade for each class presentation.  A midterm and final grade will be given for class participation.  Final paper and project grades will equal two summary grades.  From that point, all grades will be averaged equally at the end of the semester to obtain final grades.

University and School of Art Policies

As a courtesy to others in the class, and in accordance with George Mason University policy, please turn off all beepers, cellular telephones and other wireless communication devices at the start of class. The instructor of the class will keep his/her cell phone active to assure receipt of any Mason Alerts in a timely fashion; or in the event that the instructor does not have a cell phone, he/she will designate one student to keep a cell phone active to receive such alerts.

Commitment to Diversity
This class will be conducted as an intentionally inclusive community that celebrates diversity and welcomes the participation in the life of the university of faculty, staff and students who reflect the diversity of our plural society. All may feel free to speak and to be heard without fear that the content of the opinions they express will bias the evaluation of their academic performance or hinder their opportunities for participation in class activities. In turn, all are expected to be respectful of each other without regard to race, class, linguistic background, religion, political beliefs, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, veteran’s status, or physical ability.

Statement on Ethics in Teaching and Practicing Art and Design
As professionals responsible for the education of undergraduate and graduate art and design students, the faculty of the School of Art adheres to the ethical standards and practices incorporated in the professional Code of Ethics of our national accreditation organization, The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

Open Studio Hours
School of Art teaching studios are open to students for extended periods of time mornings, evenings and weekends whenever classes are not in progress. Policies, procedures and schedules for studio use are established by the SOA studio faculty and are posted in the studios.

The dates for this spring’s ArtsBus trips are February 20, March 20 and April 17.
If you need ArtsBus credit for this semester, you MUST enroll in AVT 300 by Feb 2, 2010.  Anyone who intends to travel to New York independently, or do the DC Alternate Assignment for credit MUST enroll in AVT 300. There will be NO exceptions. If you need multiple AVT 300 this semester, you must enroll in multiple sections of AVT 300. Please go to the ArtsBus website: "Student Information" for additional, very important information regarding ArtsBus policy.

Visual Voices Lecture Series
Visual Voices is a year-long series of lectures by artists, art historians and other art professionals that enriches the School of Art curriculum. Visual Voices lectures are held on Thursday evenings from 7:30- 9:00 p.m. in Harris Theater.  The fall schedule includes four lectures:
Thursday, Feb 4    7:30 Harris Theater            Nate Larson                       
Thursday, Feb 11     7:30 Harris Theater            David Brown
Thursday, March 4    7:30 Harris Theater            Mary. L. Levkoff
Thursday, April 8    7:30 Harris Theater            Jo Ganter

Important Dates and Deadlines
No Classes Monday,          January 18 – Holiday - Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Last Day to Add (Full-Semester Course)    February, 2
Last Day to Drop (Full-Semester Course)     February 19
Selective Withdrawal Period (Full-Semester Course)    February 22 – March 14
Incomplete work from Fall 09 due to instructor    March 26

Once the add and drop deadlines have passed, instructors do not have the authority to approve requests from students to add or drop/withdraw late. Requests for late adds (up until the last day of classes) must be made by the student  in the School of Art office (or the office of the department offering the course), and generally are only approved in the case of a documented university error (such as a problem with financial aid being processed). Requests for non-elective withdrawals and retroactive adds  (adds after the last day of classes) must be approved by the academic dean of the college in which the student’s major is located. For AVT/School of Art majors, that is the CVPA Office of Academic Affairs, Performing Arts Building A407.

Students with Disabilities and Learning Differences
If you have a diagnosed disability or learning difference and you need academic accommodations, please inform me at the beginning of the semester and contact the Disabilities Resource Center (SUB I room 234, 703-993-2474).  You must provide me with a faculty contact sheet from that office outlining the accommodations needed for your disability or learning difference. All academic accommodations must be arranged in advance through the DRC.

Official Communications via GMU E-Mail
Mason uses electronic mail to provide official information to students. Examples include communications from course instructors, notices from the library, notices about academic standing, financial aid information, class materials, assignments, questions, and instructor feedback. Students are responsible for the content of university communication sent to their Mason e-mail account, and are required to activate that account and check it regularly.

Attendance Policies
Students are expected to attend the class periods of the courses for which they register. In-class participation is important not only to the individual student, but also to the class as a whole. Because class participation may be a factor in grading, instructors may use absence, tardiness, or early departure as de facto evidence of nonparticipation. Students who miss an exam with an acceptable excuse may be penalized according to the individual instructor's grading policy, as stated in the course syllabus.

Honor Code
Students in this class are bound by the Honor Code, as stated in the George Mason University Catalog. The honor code requires that the work you do as an individual be the product of your own individual synthesis or integration of ideas. (This does not prohibit collaborative work when it is approved by your instructor.) As a faculty member, I have an obligation to refer the names of students who may have violated the Honor Code to the Student Honor Council, which treats such cases very seriously.

No grade is important enough to justify cheating, for which there are serious consequences that will follow you for the rest of your life. If you feel unusual pressure about your grade in this or any other course, please talk to me or to a member of the GMU Counseling Center staff.

Using someone else’s words or ideas without giving them credit is plagiarism, a very serious Honor Code offense. It is very important to understand how to prevent committing plagiarism when using material from a source. If you wish to quote verbatim, you must use the exact words and punctuation just as the passage appears in the original and must use quotation marks and page numbers in your citation. If you want to paraphrase or summarize ideas from a source, you must put the ideas into your own words, and you must cite the source, using the APA or MLA format. (For assistance with documentation, I recommend Diana Hacker, A Writer’s Reference.) The exception to this rule is information termed general knowledge—information that is widely known and stated in a number of sources. Determining what is general knowledge can be complicated, so the wise course is, “When in doubt, cite.” 

Be especially careful when using the Internet for research. Not all Internet sources are equally reliable; some are just plain wrong. Also, since you can download text, it becomes very easy to inadvertently plagiarize. If you use an Internet source, you must cite the exact URL in your paper and include with it the last date that you successfully accessed the site.

A note on art and digital technologies:
Digital technologies are particularly suited to copy, sample, or appropriate, mash etc. previously created content. Many artists, visual, audio and literary, have used these techniques quite successfully in order to parody, celebrate or otherwise comment on cultural icons and what they represent. As a class, we will discuss techniques such as these and their relevance to copyright law and the university honor code, but as a rule students should always be up-front and honest with the class and professor as to what visual content has been sampled and how it has been manipulated or rearranged in any given project. Failure to do so will be considered a honor code violation.

Writing Center
Students who are in need of intensive help with grammar, structure or mechanics in their writing should make use of the services of  Writing Center, located in Robinson A116 (703-993-1200). The services of the Writing Center are available by appointment, online and, occasionally, on a walk-in basis.

See Academic Calendar for important deadlines, etc.

Course Outline

NOTICE: This course outline indicates a rough guide to where we are headed. However, additions, subtractions and reorganization of course content is likely. You will be informed of any changes during class meetings.  In addition, you should revisit this page frequently. It will be updated throughout the semester.

R 1/21 - Syllabus / Course outline and strategy / two readings of One and Three Chairs, Joseph Kosuth, 1965

Part 1:  Art as Idea - The next few weeks will be spent laying the ground work for understanding conceptual frameworks of contemporary art, while working toward a method of viewing arts function within political economies. We will challenge deeply entrenched assumptions that art is essentially autonomous, transcendent and universal (indeed, these are the conceptual building blocks of modern art) with the idea that the meaningfulness of art, in fact, the very definition of art, is contingent upon social forces outside of the art object. We will not assume that the meaningfulness of art is either fixed and timeless or relative and subjective.  Rather, by way of readings and discussion, we will investigate art as necessarily tied to social convention, and in being so, loaded with cultural habits, values and beliefs.  It is important to research exactly what these habits, values and beliefs are because they are not only the starting points from which we construct art, but the world as well.

Art as Idea: The museum

reading 1
"Museums: Managers of Consciousness", Hans Haacke, 1986

"Why are biotech companies suddenly sponsoring art about genes",  Jackie Stevens, '00

The Wexner Castle, Chris Burden,1990
Various polling projects including MOMA Poll (1970) , Hans Haacke, 1969-73
Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, a Real-time Social System. as of May 1, 1971, Hans Haacke, 1971
On Social Grease, Hans Haacke, 1975
Mobilization, Hans Haacke, 1975
MetroMobiltan, Hans Haacke, 1985
Paradise Now, Exhibition, Exit Art, 2000

R  1/28 - Due: Reading 1 response - discussion

Art as Idea: The museum & the studio

reading 2
"The Museum of Modern Art as Late Capitalist Ritual: An Iconographic Analysis",
Carol Duncan and Alan Wallach,

Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk, Performance script, Andrea Fraser, 1989

May I Help You, Performance Script, Andrea Fraser, 1991

Recommended Reading - "The Function of the Studio," Daniel Buren, 1970

Grasping the World: The Idea of the Museum (Histories of Vision). Preziosi and Farago

Examples of late modernist painting and architecture
Various works by Daniel Buren
May I Help You, Andrea Fraser and Allen McCollum, 1991
Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk, Andrea Fraser, 1989
Visitors Studio -
Various works by Guerrilla Girls

R  2/4 - Due: Reading 2 response - discussion

Art as Idea: The public

reading 3
"Cultural Pilgrimages and Metaphoric Journeys." Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art, ed. Suzanne Lacy,1995

Performer, audience, mirror,
Dan Graham, 1975
One Hand Shaking, Lowell Darling, 1978
Temple of Confessions, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Roberto Sifuentes, 1996
If You Lived Here, Martha Rosler, 1989
Flow City, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, 1985 - present
Garage Sale, Martha Rosler, 1973 - present
Revival Field, Mel Chin, 1989 - present
Various projects by REPOhistory

R  2/11 - Due: Reading 3 response - discussion

Art as Idea: The public

reading 4
"Who's Monument Where?: Public Art in a Many-Cultured Society." Judith F. Baca, Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art, ed. Suzanne Lacy,1995

Mt. Rushmore National Memorial
The Gateway Arch
and The Museum of Westward Expansion - Stop Lewis and Clark re-enactments - on the doctrine of discovery - Montana’s Lewis and Clark Memorial -
Sculpture of Abraham Lincoln standing above crouched slave wearing manacles,
Thomas Ball, made between 1875 and 1910 (Library of Congress).
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial
, 1 | 2 | 3 | Maya Lin, 1982
The Great Wall of Los Angeles
, Judy Baca & SPARC, 1976 -
The Year of the White Bear (Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit Madrid), Guillermo Gomez-Pena and Coco Fusco, 1992

R  2/18 - Due: Reading 4 response - discussion

Art as Idea: The artist

reading 5
"The Death of the Author", Roland Barthes, Image, Music, Text, 1977

The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism, Jonathan Lethem

Fountain, Marcel Duchamp, 1917
Manet-Projekt '74, Hans Haacke, 1974
Seurat's "Les Poseuses" (small version) 1888-1975, Hans Haacke, 1975
Various works by Louise Lawler

R  2/25 - Due: Reading 5 response - discussion

Art as Idea: The artist

reading 6
"From Work to Frame, or, Is There Life After 'The death of the Author'?", Craig Owens, 1992

Vaious works by Marcel Duchamp, John Hartfield, Marcel Broodthaers, Hans Haacke, Martha Rosler, Louise Lawler, Mary Kelly, Alan Sekula, Richard Prince, Sherrie Levine, Jillian Mcdonald

R  2/4 - Due: Reading 6 response - discussion

Art as Idea: The subject

reading 7
"Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses", Louis Althusser, 1971.

suggested reading
"Addressing the Subject", Catherine Belsey, 1980

"Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story", Todd Haynes, 1987, 43 min.

R  3/11- Spring break

R 3/18 - Due: Reading 7 response - discussion

Part 2: Mass media as idea - In the next couple of weeks, we will investigate production, distribution, and consumption of mass media - including an institutional analysis and methods of decoding or (re)reading mass media products. We will (re)view mass media through its structural constraints and locate its function within a political economy.  Additionally, we will investigate activities by cultural producers who use the tools of mass media production, distribution and consumption, while conveying alternative experiences to their audiences.

Mass media as idea: Journalism and News

reading 8
"What Makes Mainstream Media Mainstream", Noam Chomsky, 1997

The Myth of the Liberal Media: The Propaganda Model of News - Media Education Foundation
Propaganda and Control of the Public Mind - Enlightenment Principles - Noam Chomsky

suggested reading
On Television
, Pierre Bourdieu, 1998

art / media
Television Delivers People, Richard Serra, 1973, video
The Business of Local News, University Community Video-Minneapolis, 1974, video
Proto Media Primer, Paul Ryan and Raindance Corporation, 1970, video
About Media, Tony Ramos, 1977, video
Fifty Wonderful Years, Optic Nerve, 1973, video
Manufacturing Consent, Mark Achbar, Peter Wintonick, 1992, video
The Yes Men - B'EAU PAL, DOW, WEF, NY TImes 2, The Yes Men Fix the world

R 3/25 - Due: Reading 8 response - discussion

Mass media as idea: Advertising

reading 9
"Signs Address Somebody" Judith Williamson, from Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and meaning in Advertising 1978, 1983, 2002

art / media
A Breed Apart, Hans Haacke, 1978
Creating Consent, Hans Haacke, 1981
Various works - Barbara Kruger
Publicity Images from Ways of Seeing, John Berger, BBC video
The Corporation, Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan, video

R 4/1 - Due: Reading 9 response - discussion

Mass media as idea: Independent Media & Tactical Media

reading 10 (take a break from reading this week and watch this video)
The Corporation

art / media
Zmag, Znet
Healthcare: Your Money or Your Life, Downtown Community TV, 1978, video
Zapatista, big noise films, 1998, video
This is what democracy looks like, big noise films, 2000, video
Independent Media Center

R 4/8 - Due: Reading 10 response - discussion

Mass media as idea: Independent Media & Tactical Media

reading 11

No reading this week, but if you really miss it you can read this:

"Electronic Civil Disobedience and the World Wide Web of Hacktivism: A Mapping of Extraparliamentarian Direct Action Net Politics". Stefan Wray

art / media
Various works - Electronic Disturbance Theatre (EDT)
Various works - Crtical Art Ensemble
Various works - The Yes Men
The horribly stupid stunt that resulted in his untimely death, The Yes Men, video video promo & independent film channel piece, video

R 4/15 - Due:Reading 11 response- discussion

Part 4: Digital Culture - For the remainder of the semester, we will investigate digital culture in various contexts with an intent toward framing digital concepts and technologies as the products culture.  As in previous course sections, we will uncover various critiques of notions of autonomy, transcendence and universality applied to the terms of the so-called digital revolution.

Digital Culture: Technology & Progress

reading 12
"Speed and Information: Cyberspace Alarm!" Paul Virilio

"Beyond Postmodernism? Paul Virilio's Hypermodern Cultural Theory". John Armitage

art / media
Unknown Quantity - an exhibition conceived by Paul Virilio

R 4/22 - Due: Reading 12 response - discussion

Digital Culture: The digitized body

reading 13
"Eugenics: The Second Wave", Flesh Machine, Critical Art Ensemble

art / media
Mythic Hybrid, Prema Murthy, 2002
Various projects, Critical Art Ensemble
Various Projects, SubRosa
Yougenics, Exhibition, 2000 - 2005
Translate { } Expression, Tina Laporta, 1998

R 4/29 - Individual meetings

R 5/6 - Individual meetings

T 5/11 - 4:30 - 6:30 Final Projects due