Visual Culture Immersion

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Visual culture explores the role of visual media in everyday life and its critical function in the dissemination of ideas in the public sphere. Emphasizing comparative critical approaches to the convergence of art, popular media, science, and technology, the immersion engages globalized visual media ranging from photography, television, film, new media (the web, digital imaging, and social networks), architecture, design, and art (painting, sculpture, and multimedia forms) in the context of such social arenas as art, news, science, advertising, and popular culture. The goal is to help students develop media literacy. 

Notes about this immersion:

  • This immersion is closed to students majoring in museum studies.
  • At least one course must be taken at the 300 level or higher.


Choose three of the following:
   Queer Looks
In this course we examine representations of queer sexuality in art, film and popular culture beginning in the repressive 1950s, followed by the Stonewall Riots of 1969. We situate the birth of gay liberation in the U.S. in the context of the civil rights struggles, feminism and the anti-war movement. We turn to the work of Andy Warhol that looms over the post-war period, challenged subsequently by the onset of AIDS and the work of General Idea and Act-Up, on the one hand, and the more graphically provocative work of Robert Mapplethorpe, on the other. We examine the diversification of the queer community as transgendered identity asserts itself and the opening of popular culture to issues of diverse sexual identities. We explore expressions of queer sensibility outside of North America and Europe. We turn finally to the issue of gay marriage, both in the U.S. and abroad.
   Introduction to Museums & Collecting
This course examines the history, theory, ideology, and practice of collecting within the institutional context of the museum. It considers the formation of the modern museum, and focusing on the American context, investigates the function and varieties of museums, ranging from natural history, anthropology, science and technology, history, and art. The course explores the history of the museum and its evolution institutionally, ideologically, and experientially. The course also considers the operations of museums from accessioning through deaccessioning, examining museum management, collections management and collections care. The course also explores museum governance and the professional ethics and legal constraints that affect museum professionals. The course examines how a museum carries out its mission of public education through its collections and exhibitions, as well as through its educational programs and community outreach and visitor studies. Current issues in the museum world are also considered, including: the museum's educational function versus its entertainment function; the problems of staying solvent in an era of diminishing governmental and corporate subsidies; de-accessioning collections to support the museum operations; issues of art theft and repatriation (ranging from colonial era and Nazi era plunder, the disposition of human remains and sacred objects, and illicit trafficking); the evolving responsibilities of the museum to its public and the cultural heritage; and the rise of the virtual museum. Throughout the quarter, the course examines museums and their practices through the perspectives of colonialism, nationalism, class, race, age, gender, and ethnicity. The course includes field trips to local museums and collections throughout the term.
   History & Theory of Exhibitions
Art exhibitions are organized around a curatorial premise, a statement that articulates an idea allowing for the selection of work included in an exhibition. This course begins with an overview of exhibition history, starting with the transformation of the Louvre into the first public art museum following the French Revolution, where art history, a discipline developed in the 19th century, was enlisted to organize exhibition. The course then examines the proliferation of types of exhibitions that accompanies modernism, up to the present, paying close attention to the curatorial premise animating the exhibitions.
   American Painting
A survey of the style and meaning in American paintings from the colonial limners, through the 19th and 20th centuries, to contemporary artists. It centers on what distinguishes painting of the colonies and of the United States from the European counterpart.
   African-American Art
This course provides an overview of African-American art, presented in three periods: from slavery through Reconstruction, from the Harlem Renaissance to the end of the 1930's, and modern and postmodern movements following World War II. There will be comparisons with representations of African Americans in film, music, and literature as we move through these periods. We will be sensitive to the development of artists' aesthetic language and the evolution of social and political points of view expressed in artists' work. We will examine the role of institutions in promoting African American art.
   American Film of the Studio Era
This course examines the history and aesthetics of the motion picture in the United States between the 1890s and the early 1960s; emphasis will be placed on the analysis of both the work of major American filmmakers and the development of major American film genres during the Classical Hollywood Studio period. Among the filmmakers to be studied are Griffith, Chaplin, Hawks, Ford, Capra, Welles, Curtiz, Wilder, Donen, Sirk, Ray, Hitchcock, and Kubrick. Genres to be covered include the melodrama, silent comedy, screwball comedy, western, thriller, film noir, newspaper film, and the gangster film. The films will be studied within the context of contemporary cultural and political events, and will be discussed from several viewpoints, including aesthetic, technical, social, and economic. The ways in which gender and class are constructed through the movies will also be a major focus of study.
   American Film Since the Sixties
This course examines the history and aesthetics of the motion picture in the United States since the late 1960s, when the classical studio era ended. Emphasis will be placed on the analysis of both the work of major American filmmakers and the evolution of major American film genres between 1967 and 2001. Among the filmmakers to be studied are Kazan, Cassavetes, Penn, Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg, Allen, Seidelman, Lee, Burton, Altman, Tarantino, Coen, and Lynch. The course will consider the evolution of such traditional Hollywood genres as the gangster film, the romantic comedy, and the Hollywood movie, study the development of new, blended genres, investigate the rise of the blockbuster, explore the rise of the Independents, and follow the aesthetic changes that occurred since the 1967. The films will be studied within the context of contemporary cultural and political events, and will be discussed from several viewpoints, including aesthetic, technical, social, and economic. The ways in which gender, race, and class are constructed through the movies will also be a major focus of study.
This course examines the role of women in the visual arts as both images makers and subject matter in order to see how gender plays a role in the conceptualization of creativity and art. Among the topics to be discussed are: the construction of femininity and gender in the patriarchy; art as an ideological practice; women, art, and society; art history, art education, and art evaluation; women artists and their contemporaries.
   Visual Culture Theory
Visual culture studies recognize the predominance of visual forms of media, communication, and information in the contemporary world, investigating both high cultural forms such as fine art, design, and architecture and popular low cultural forms associated with mass media and communications. Visual culture studies represents a turn in the discourse of the visual, which had focused on content-based, critical readings of images, and has since broadened its approach to additionally question the ways in which our consumption and production of images and image based technologies are structured. Analyzing images from a social-historical perspective, visual culture asks: what are the effects of images? Can the visual be properly investigated with traditional methodologies, which have been based on language, not imagery? How do images visualize social difference? How are images viewed by varied audiences? How are images embedded in a wider culture and how do they circulate?
   Imag(in)ing Rochester
This course examines the ways in which culture, ethnicity, languages, traditions, governance, policies and histories interact in the production of the visual experience. We will approach the campus of RIT and the city of Rochester and their various urban spatial forms as image experiences, subject to interpretative strategies and the influence of other discourses. We will wander the well-traveled and the unbeaten paths, participating in and interrogating a wide range of our campus' and city's treasures and embarrassments, secrets and norms. In addition to these field trips, we will be reading from literature and cultural studies, as well as viewing films, advertisements and websites, and possibly attending theatrical and music performances or sporting events.
   Memory, Memorials, Monuments
In this course we examine the public remembering and memorialization of historic events that leads to memorials and monuments in the fields of architecture, sculpture, and film. We begin by examining the nature of memory, and specifically of collective memory, and its relationship to historical events and its subsequent transformation in the process of memorialization. We then look at examples of the sculptural monument, a traditional form of memorial, and the evolution of its vocabulary in the second half of the 20th century. We also examine the memorial work undertaken by those museums whose primary function is to engage in remembering historical events, a recent phenomenon in the field of museum building. We screen films and examine how documentaries and dramatizations engage the spectator by remembering history differently, The course culminates by examining the debates surrounding the remembering of 9/11 and of more recent traumatic events.
   Traumatic Images
This course investigates visual culture and its imagistic response to life's crises. Problems of identity and identification will be explored and confronted through works of photography, painting, mixed media, new media and film of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Beginning with the late 19th Century vogue for images of hysterical women, crippled black-sheep family members and dead loved ones (as corpses and as ghosts), we then move on to consider the last century's fascination with pain and suffering, disease and violence, struggle and survival and then the 21st century's emphasis on terrorism. Specifically, we will focus on the gendering of images and imaging as disturbing pictures work to defy the formal and theoretical distinction between private and public, personal, and collective experience and manage the often conflicting responsibilities to self, family, religion, race, nation, and society.
   Art of Dying
This course explores the experience of dying a profoundly human and universal experience as it is represented by artists who are themselves facing immanent death. The unique and deeply personal process of each dying artist is crucially informed by social, cultural and historical as well as artistic contexts. The course will focus primarily on visual artists and writers living with and dying of disease - such as AIDS, cancer and cystic fibrosis as well as mortality and age. Topics such as aesthetics, artistic media, representation, grief, bereavement, illness, care-giving, aging, and the dying process will be considered within the context of issues of race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, gender and community values. Some of the artists covered will be Jo Spence, Hannah Wilke, Elias Canetti, Bob Flanagan, Herve Guibert, Tom Joslin, Laurie Lynd, Audre Lorde, Charlotte Salomon, Keith Haring, Frida Kahlo, Bas Jan Ader, Ted Rosenthal, Felix Gonzalez Torres, Keith Haring, Eric Steel, Derek Jarman, Eric Michaels, and David Wojnarowicz. We will also explore some of the critical theory of Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Elaine Scarry, Susan Sontag, and Ross Chambers.
   Deaf Art & Cinema
Students will examine the context in which specific cultural groups have chosen to create works about their experiences. They will go on to explore a wide range of artistic works representing the Deaf experience in visual arts and cinema. Students will be expected to analyze works in terms of cultural symbols and themes. Attention will be given to historical context (personal and collective) that has helped to shape many of these works, motifs, and messages. Students will write and present in-depth papers examining specific works and artists/filmmakers. In addition, students will be expected to create an original artwork and a collaborative short film.
   Museums & the Digital Age
The digital revolution has profoundly influenced how we think about the world around us. Information once available only to experts is now accessible digitally to a much broader audience. Museums, archives, and libraries have adapted to this democratization of knowledge and decentralization of access in myriad ways. As visitors to museums—whether online or onsite—each of us is part of the creation, consumption, and reception of digital information. What does this mean for museums and for us as audiences and consumers of such information? How has the combination of digital technology and social media increased visitors’ abilities for interaction with cultural institutions, their collections, and other visitors? This course will examine the history and evolution of museum practices as they adapt to new technologies and rethink traditional museum practices. The course has no pre-requisite and is open to students of all majors.
   Visitor Engagement & Museum Technologies
All of us, as museum visitors, have the capacity to engage with collections and to create meanings as a result of such interaction. This course considers the history and theory of visitor engagement at museums, galleries, and sites of cultural heritage tourism; examines the import of technology into this history; and articulates the role of visitors as participants who curate their own experiences. Two key questions will be addressed in this course: 1) How does technology provide a platform for contribution, collaboration, co-creation, and co-opting of experiences among all visitors? and 2) Can technology mediate the best possible experience for visitors? The course has no prerequisite and is open to students of all majors.