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Course Information

Instructor Info:Karen Koehler
Office Extension x5672
Term: 2013S
Meeting Info: Tuesday
12:30 PM - 03:20 PM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) ELH

This course will examine the art, architecture, and design of Europe and U.S. in the aftermath of the physical destruction and psychic devastation of World War II and the Holocaust. For many artists, architects and designers in the 1940s and 50s, it was essential that they address the sense of helpless tragedy that confronted and confounded them. After the war, this nihilistic vision infected and transformed the once-utopian visions of modernity. Attempts at re-writing the history of modernism, redefining political culture with a new urban consciousness and literally rebuilding the post-war world will be among the themes explored. We will consider: artists such as Wols, Dubuffet, Beuys, Bourgeois, Pollock, Rothko, and Newman; artists' groups such as CoBrA and the Situationists; architectural organizations such as Archigram and the Congres internationale d'architecture moderne (CIAM); films such as "The Rape of Europa" and "The Third Man"; photographers such as Cartier Bresson and Bourke-White; as well as schools such as Black Mountain College, the Ulm School, and the New Bauhaus in Chicago. The response of artists to WWII will be positioned against the philosophy and critical theory of Benjamin, Debord, Sartre, Adorno, and Arendt. We will conclude with a discussion of contemporary Holocaust memorials and memorialization. Students in this course will be expected to write a series of essays, to give group and individual presentations, and to write a final paper based on rigorous research. Prerequisite: any course in the history, art history, philosophy, or literature of the 20th century.

Course Objectives:

1. Attendance, essays and discussion.  This is an advanced reading, writing, and speaking intensive seminar. We meet only once a week, and therefore it is required that you attend all classes and to turn in assignments on time. All assignments must be completed in order to receive an evaluation for this class—including the short essay questions. It is important that all students make significant and productive contributions to the class discussions.

 2. Midterm presentations will focus on the work of individual architects, designers or artists. Each presentation should take about five minutes and introduce the class to the life and work of artists working in Europe or the U.S. after the war. Outline biographies and bibliographies should be distributed at the time of your presentation; you will be asked to turn in a copy of your notes or outline (handwritten or typed) that will also be included in your final portfolio. Choice of artist is due February 19thnd.

 3. Group presentation. Question: WHAT IS AN INTELLECTUAL?

The years leading up to, during, and following WWII presented tremendous challenges for modernist thought and for the artists who had aligned their work with the possibilities of cultural and social change. How could painting, photography, poetry, literature, and philosophy find its place in a world of seemingly endless devastation and human destructiveness? How does one work through the past? One way of posing the question was to reconsider the role of the "intellectual" as a leader and/or as a member of a social group or class. What was possible now? What were the responsibilities of the artist/philosopher/poet?  What was necessary if Europe was to be reborn or its best values to survive? Three thinkers offered very different but compelling answer to these questions: Jean- Paul Sartre in What is Literature?; Theodor Adorno in Can One Live After Auschwitz?; and Guy Debord in The Society of the Spectacle.

FORMAT: Each member of the class will be assigned to one of three groups (on Sartre, Adorno or Debord) to be convened during the weeks of March 26th  to April 9th. Each student will be responsible for researching biographical and other supplementary materials on one of the figures under discussion. All three authors should be read comparatively. In addition, Judt contains many useful frames for discussion, including his chapter on "Culture Wars." Each group will organize a 30 minute (approx) presentation of the question of the intellectual posed by one of the three figures. This should include the following: 1) Biographical overview; 2) A hand-out with textual examples of the author's thoughts; 3) A summary; 4) A reflection on the strengths of their position; 5) Questions for further consideration; 6) Preliminary thoughts on how these ideas relate to visual, spatial, and/or material culture; 7) A summary of each student's own reaction to the readings and discussion. (One-page) In addition, groups may which to pursue related questions such as the role or lack thereof of intellectuals in a contemporary context. Groups could also include discussion of contemporary European debates, particularly those that have to do with the so-called “culture industry” of the Holocaust and memorialization. Each student will complete a take-home essay following the presentations that will serve as a reflection for their final portfolio.

 4. College Level Scholarly Research The expectations for the work in this class includes scholarly research. This means using books, scholarly articles, and limiting your internet research to scholarly and vetted sites only. You need to use art historical databases to find articles and to conduct intentional and purposeful searches.

 5. Final presentations and papersare to be taut and rigorous case studies of a single work of art or architecture produced by your mid-term architect/artist/designer,  making use of the theoretical lenses presented in the group presentations.  This is to be a focused, critical analysis of the formal properties of this image object or building, studied in the broadest terms in its complex philosophical, social, political, economic and intellectual context. Look at the work through the lens of the group discussions on “What is an Intellectual”. Your choice of image is due April 16th. 10 minute presentation. The paper should be NO LONGER THAN 5 pages but should be written in a nearly publishable manner with full citations and bibliography.

Additional Info:

There are five books for purchase at Amherst Books:

Foster, et al., Art Since 1900, vol. 2

Judt, Postwar

Adorno, Can One Live After Auschwitz?:A Philosophical Reader

Sartre, What is Literature?

Debord, Society of the Spectacle