Art History and Visual Culture Studies

Chair: Matthew Reynolds
Dennis Crockett
Lisa Uddin (on Sabbatical, Spring 2015)
Krista Gulbransen
Affiliated Faculty:
Jessica Cerullo, Theatre (on Sabbatical, Spring 2015)
Thomas A. Davis, Philosophy
Julie Ireland, Philosophy
Kathleen Shea, Environmental Humanities/Classics
Akira R. Takemoto, Japanese
Elizabeth Vandiver, Classics (on Sabbatical, Fall 2014)

Art History and Visual Culture Studies Website »

The discipline of art history and visual culture studies embraces aspects of a broad array of academic areas, including history, politics, philosophy, aesthetics, religion, anthropology, sociology, and literature. The visual culture of various parts of the world is investigated through a variety of perspectives in order to gain insight into human values, beliefs, and self-identity. Whitman College offers major and minor study programs in art history and visual culture studies.

A student who enters Whitman without any prior college-level preparation in visual studies will have to complete 36 credits to fulfill the requirements for the art history and visual culture studies major.

Distribution: Courses completed in art history and visual cultural studies apply to the fine arts or humanities distribution areas, and to cultural pluralism as indicated.

Learning Goals: Upon graduation, a student will be able to:

  • Major-Specific Areas of Knowledge
    • Demonstrate an ability to critically situate artists, movements, artworks, artifacts, exhibitions and other visual practices within larger historical frameworks.
    • Demonstrate a familiarity with the historiography of the study of visual texts and artifacts.
    • Demonstrate a facility with contemporary cross and interdisciplinary approaches to the study of visual texts and artifacts.
    • Understand the interconnectedness of cultural production across different geographic and historical contexts.
  • Accessing Academic Community/Resources
    • Retrieve and evaluate relevant resources from libraries, databases, archives and collections.
  • Communication
    • Express ideas cogently through forms of oral and written communication, including visual analyses, in-class presentations, reviews, curatorial texts, research papers and examinations.
  • Critical Thinking
    • Synthesize, assess and apply existing scholarship to the study of visual texts and artifacts.
    • Analyze visual texts and artifacts through their socio-political roles, cultural and market values, materiality, iconology, aesthetics and ethics.
  • Research Experience
    • Generate original analyses of artists, movements, artworks, artifacts, exhibitions and other visual practices based on primary and secondary sources.

The Art History and Visual Culture Studies major: A minimum of 36 credits, including Art History 103, 490, at least one 300-level course and one non-Western course. A maximum of two approved courses from outside the department may be used to satisfy major requirements. This includes credit from off-campus programs, transfer credit, and appropriate Whitman courses that focus on the functions and/or production of visual culture (including all studio art courses). The senior assessment, administered during the student’s final two semesters, is a two-hour oral exam that focuses on coursework in the major completed at Whitman.

Honors in the major: Students do not apply for honors. Honors in Major Study will be conferred to students who: 1) receive an A- or higher in Senior Thesis (Arth 493), 2) pass the senior assessment with distinction; and 3) attain a 3.30 cumulative gpa and a 3.50 major gpa by graduation. The department will notify the Registrar's Office of students attaining Honors in Major Study by the third week in April, and students' registration will then be changed from Senior Thesis to Honors Thesis (Arth 498).Two copies of the Honors Thesis must be submitted to Penrose Library no later than Reading Day.

The Art History and Visual Culture Studies minor: A minimum of 18 credits, including Art History 103. With the approval of the department chair, one course from outside the department may be used to satisfy the minor requirements.

For the art history and visual culture studies major with an art studio minor, no course may satisfy both the major and minor requirements. When the same class is required in both the major and minor, an additional class will be required after it has been approved by the art history and visual culture studies department. The P-D-F option may not be used for the major or minor.

103 Introduction to Art History and Visual Culture Studies
4, 4 Fall: Crockett, Gulbransen; Spring: Crockett, Gulbransen

Using a variety of works in various media from antiquity to the present day, this course introduces the historical discipline of art history and the contemporary study of visual culture. Emphasis is placed on historical, social, and interpretive issues relevant to the critical analysis of artistic production and meaning. Topics to be explored include the problem of the canon and the museum; patronage and power; and the visual construction of race, gender, and sexuality. Short papers and/or presentations and exams required. Required for the art history and visual culture studies and studio art major and minor. Closed to seniors. Open to juniors by consent only.

218 Renaissance Art Reconsidered
x, 4 Crockett

The renaissance is probably the most permanently fixed and most universally celebrated art historical period. For centuries, hordes of art historians have sung the praises of the Italian artists of the 15th and 16th centuries and their stylistic development. However, over the past 30 years a growing number of historians have abandoned art history’s celebratory mode in order to call into question the traditional geographical, chronological, and social boundaries of Europe’s “renaissance.” This course is based on this recent scholarship. Its focus is on the visualization of authority, wealth, and new forms of devotion throughout Western Europe during the three centuries following the Sack of Constantinople (1204). Two papers/presentations & two exams. Offered annually.

224 Greek and Roman Art
x, 4 Staff

An exploration of the arts of ancient Greece and Rome, including sculpture, painting, and architecture. Each iteration of the course will focus primarily on one particular theme or type of art (for instance, public monuments, portraiture, narrative art). This course pays special attention to the cultural contexts from which the art arises. May be elected as Classics 224. Open to all students. Offered in alternate years.

226 Landscape and Cityscape in Ancient Rome
4; not offered 2014-15

Despite Rome being one of the greatest cities in the ancient world, its identity was fundamentally rooted in its natural landscape. In this course we will explore how the realms of urban, rural, and wild were articulated in Roman culture, conceptually and materially. We will investigate both how the Romans conceived of the relationship between the built environment of urban space and the natural environment that supported and surrounded it and how they dealt with the real ecological problems of urban life. Central to our study will be an examination of the ways in which the rural and the wild were simultaneously the “other” and a fundamental aspect of Roman self-identity and memory. Ancient authors that we will read in this course may include Cicero, Vergil, Livy, Horace, Ovid, and Vitruvius. May be elected as Classics 319 or Environmental Studies 319.

227 European Art: 1780-1880
4; not offered 2014-15

A study of the period in which art first became a public issue in cities throughout Europe due to regularly staged, state-sponsored exhibitions and the opening of state art collections. Emphasis on the political structures of the European art establishment and various artists’ attempts to produce vital work regardless of the establishment. Issues to be discussed include the competing concepts of the public, the role of art criticism, the politics of landscape painting in Germany and England, art and socialism, modernity and the painting of La vie moderne. Three exams, a paper, and class participation are required. Recommended prerequisite: Art History 103.

228 Modern Art: 1874-1945
4; not offered 2014-15

This course approaches the history and historiography of Modern Art as problems in need of re-evaluation. Beginning with the first history of modern art in 1904, a canon of movements, artists, artworks, and theoretical writings was quickly and firmly established. The Museum of Modern Art, founded in 1929, institutionalized this canon. The theory and practice of Modern Art became further entrenched with the emergence of studio art programs in American colleges and universities. During the past four decades, however, many historians have focused on questions ignored by traditional historians of Modern Art. Some images will be studied, but primary and recent theory will be emphasized. Several short papers, presentations, and exams are required. Recommended prerequisite: Art History 103.

229 Art Since 1945
4, 4 Reynolds

This course examines some of the issues raised by artists and critics since the end of World War II, including the changing nature of the art object, how Modernism differs from Postmodernism, the influence of technological developments on aesthetic practices and the role of popular culture, mass media and new methods of scholarship in challenging the distinctions between high and low art, the universality of meaning, the genius European male artist, the precious museum work. While the majority of the material is devoted to movements and figures from the United States and Europe, the course also will investigate “the margins” — those artistic practices that may have been overlooked by the mainstream, but which nevertheless have a broad cultural base in their respective communities. Recommended prerequisite: Art History 103.

230 The Social Life of Photography
x, 4 Reynolds

This course will explore the importance of photography to our collective history. Through careful analysis of specific images alongside an overview of the medium's aesthetic, technological and ideological turns, students will be introduced to a broad range of topics, including (but not limited to): the photograph’s use as a means of documentary and artistic expression; significant photographic movements, markets and publics; theories and debates surrounding reproduction and truth claims; photography's affiliation with other modes of cultural production. Students will develop a critical toolkit for analyzing the modern world vis-à-vis this vital medium.

235 Race and American Visual Culture
4, x Uddin

This course examines visual constructions of race in American art, architecture, science and popular culture. Students consider how visual images, media and practices have shaped ideas and experiences of race in the industrial and post-industrial United States. Key questions include: what is the relationship between visual culture and racial identity? What counts as a racial representation? How are acts of looking racialized? Topics for consideration include the taxonomic and oppositional gaze, exoticism, the aesthetics of whiteness, minstrelsy and appropriation, racial viewing publics, and imaging racial justice. Students develop theoretical vocabularies, historical contexts and visual literacy skills for analyzing race in contemporary America. Lecture-based with papers, presentations and exams. Prerequisite: Art History 103.

237 Theory and Performance
4; not offered 2014-15

What theories have inspired contemporary avant-garde theatre, installation and performance art, tanz-theatre, experimental video/film, and new media? In this interdisciplinary course we will chart the evolution of performance theory from the writings of Bertolt Brecht to the present day. We will explore how artists have embraced and challenged these emerging forms, and examine seminal works from each genre in their historical, political, and social contexts. Designed to bring students from a variety of disciplines (art, art history, theatre, dance, film, and video, etc.) into a collaborative forum; coursework will include outside readings, in-class screenings, class discussions, and short essays, as well as group and individual projects. May be elected as Theatre 357.

240 Heidegger and Architecture
4, x Ireland

With their emphasis on place-making, Martin Heidegger’s later essays, “Building Dwelling Thinking,” “Poetically Man Dwells, and “The Thing,” have informed the work of a generation of architects. This seminar uses Heidegger as a touchstone for exploring the relationship between space and dwelling, placing these essays into dialogue with Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows, and Rybczynski’s The Most Beautiful House in the World, as well as the work and writings of contemporary architects. The seminar is writing intensive and highly collaborative, and will include biweekly papers and responses, and a final portfolio design project and seminar presentation. May be elected as Philosophy 302. Prerequisite: Philosophy 202 or consent of instructor.

241 Environmental Aesthetics
4; not offered 2014-15

Beginning with an examination of the claim of the beautiful in Elaine Scarry’s On Beauty and Being Just, we will turn to experiment with the perception of sculpture in space working with reflections by Kant and Heidegger, and public artworks on campus. This will lead to an examination of architecture in Karsten Harries’ The Ethical Function of Architecture, and the Japanese garden in Marc Keane’s The Art of Setting Stones. Beyond the opening exercises in the aesthetic perception, you will design your own home with a garden. May be elected as Philosophy 241.

243 Buddhist Art in Asia
4; not offered 2014-15

This course will examine the development of Buddhist art throughout Asia, from the creation of the first Buddha image to the transmission of Indian Buddhism and its artistic tradition to East and Southeast Asia. Topics will include the absence of the Buddha image, the artistic interaction between Buddhist and indigenous elements in East and Southeast Asia, the royal patronage of Buddhism. Two exams, several written assignments, and class participation are required.

245 Chinese Art and Visual Culture
4; not offered 2014-15

This course will explore art, myth, and religion from ancient China to the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1912. Introducing recent archaeological discoveries and using theoretical approaches, the course will offer a chance to investigate the intriguing relationship between statecraft and religion, and the roles of politics and patronage in art production. The Korean and Japanese responses to Chinese culture also will be discussed. Several short papers, presentations, exams, and class participation are required.

246 The Art of India
4, 4 Gulbransen

This course will explore the art production in India from the Indus Valley civilization to the present through important recent archaeological discoveries that have challenged some of the long-lasting theories on Indian art. The arts mainly will be discussed in relation to their political, religious, and social contexts. The problems and issues that relate to the studies of Indian art, such as colonialism and nationalism, will be addressed. Several short papers, presentations, exams, and class participation are required.

247 Monuments in Asia
4; not offered 2014-15

This course will explore a variety of monuments with different religious backgrounds in India, China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Special emphasis will be placed on how these monuments have functioned within specific cultural, social, and religious contexts. Two exams, several written assignments, and class participation are required.

248 Ways of Seeing: Japanese Art and Aesthetics
4, x Takemoto

This class on Japanese aesthetics will focus on the literary, visual, and performing arts of Japan. As we survey the traditional arts of Japan, we will ask questions about what it means to be a craftsman, an artist, a performer, an archer, a monk/poet, or any person who has developed the skill “to see.” More specifically, this class will address the relationship between two subjects — Japanese Buddhism and the arts of Japan, and in particular, the arts related to the serving and receiving of tea. We will pay special attention to the relationship between the artistic process and Buddhist spiritual disciplines. Classes will meet for slide lectures, discussions, and demonstrations of the Japanese tea ceremony in “Chikurakken,” the Whitman College tea room. Two examinations, oral presentations, and several short essays will be required. Two periods a week.

249 Aesthetics
4; not offered 2014-15

After developing a critical vocabulary through an examination of Hume’s notion of taste, Kant’s “reflective judgment,” and Heidegger’s reconceptualization of the work of art in “Building Dwelling Thinking,” we apply this vocabulary to architecture using Karsten Harries’ The Ethical Function of Architecture to help us critically assess the “aesthetic” governing Whitman’s Penrose Library renovation project. Then moving from the “public” to the “private,” we consider the sense of “aesthetics” at work in building your own home, using as a guide Witold Rybczynski’s The Most Beautiful House in the World. May be elected as Philosophy 239.

253 Art and the Moving Image
4; not offered 2014-15

This course will explore the vital and often overlooked history of artists experimenting with technologies of the moving image from the birth of cinema to the present day. Pioneering figures like Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol used filmmaking as an important part of their practice. Later, the advent of video provided a new tool of expression for artists like Nam June Paik and Bruce Nauman. Topics will include the use of film as a means to alter concepts of time and space, the emergence of video as a device to question political and sexual ideologies, and the explosion of new forms of image production and distribution in the digital era. Figures to be discussed include Hans Richter, Maya Deren, Jack Smith, Bruce Conner, Stan Brakhage, Yvonne Rainer, Hollis Frampton, Yoko Ono, Isaac Julien, and Ryan Trecartin. Prerequisite: Art History 103 or consent of instructor.

257-260 Topics in Visual Cultural Studies
2 or 4

Any current offerings follow.

291, 292 Individual Projects
2 or 4, 2 or 4 Staff

Projects designed by the student and under supervision of a professor that expand upon a completed 200- or 300-level course. Prerequisites: a 200- or 300-level art history course in the area of the project, and consent of the supervising instructor.

351 Los Angeles: Art, Architecture, Cultural Geography
x, 4 Reynolds

This seminar will study the emergence of Los Angeles as a center for cultural production since 1945. It will assess the relationship between urban space and the visual arts — including painting, photography, architecture, film, and video. And it will investigate the role of representation in shaping the social topography of the city. This course will ultimately seek to answer a series of questions: How has Los Angeles established itself as one of the most important global art centers? How do the city’s history and landscape create the conditions for certain artistic movements and styles? And how do Los Angeles’ ethnically and economically diverse communities use the arts to address issues of social justice and marginality? Prerequisite: Art History 103 or consent of instructor.

352 Public Art
4; not offered 2014-15

Public art has been defined as “original works of art in any medium for temporary or permanent placement in outdoor (or indoor) settings and accessible to the public for their enjoyment.” This seminar will examine specific works and key concepts to question some of our shared assumptions about the value and role of art in public spaces. Who is “the public” for which the art is made? How are projects funded and built? Why do some works cause great controversy? To address these questions, we will discuss public art’s history as well as more recent important theories such as site-specificity, relational aesthetics, the Imaginary Museum, and the role of public art in urban revitalization. In so doing, we will examine specific projects in global art centers like New York, Paris, and Berlin while also paying attention to public art programs and works closer to home, in places like Seattle, Portland, and Walla Walla. Prerequisite: Art History 103 or consent of instructor.

353 Art of Southeast Asia
4; not offered 2014-15

The art of Southeast Asia reflects the region’s ethnic and religious diversity. This seminar will not only explore the diverse features of Southeast Asian art and architecture, but also discuss what Southeast Asian art shares, through recent scholarly research and archaeological discoveries that have challenged the basic assumptions in the past. Two exams, several short papers, presentations, and class participation are required. Prerequisite: Art History 103 or consent of instructor.

354 Race, Ethnicity, and the Urban Imaginary
4; not offered 2014-15

This seminar examines how differences of race and ethnicity have shaped the urban American imagination, from the nineteenth century to present day. Our studies will approach U.S. cities as visual cultures by considering a range of visual forms and practices that are familiar to urban space and its experience (e.g., realist painting, documentary photography, architecture and planning, crime film and TV, surveillance, advertising). Combining readings in urban studies with art, architectural and film history, and primary historical and visual texts, we will investigate how cities have become visual sites of racial and ethnic identity formation, and how cities themselves have become “racialized” through specific representations. Particular attention will be paid to the politics and aesthetics of urban decline and renewal in various industrial and postindustrial contexts, and how race and ethnicity have intersected with class, gender and sexuality in cityscapes. Discussion-based, with presentations/papers. Prerequisite: Art History 103 or consent of the instructor.

355 German Visual Culture: 1871-1933
4, x Crockett

A seminar focused on visual production during the Wilhelmine Empire and the Weimar Republic. Extensive reading of primary sources and recent scholarship that address the ideological factors (e.g., prussianization, socialism, nationalism, cultural pessimism) behind such material issues as the creation of monuments, the transformation of interior design, the craft revival, and the origins of large-scale, suburban public housing. The course is based on student presentations and discussion, with various written assignments. Prerequisite: Art History 103 or consent of instructor. Offered in alternate years.

357-360 Seminar in Visual Culture Studies

Special studies not generally considered in other courses offered by the department. The specific material will vary from semester to semester and may cover various subjects from early times to contemporary developments in art. Any current offerings follow.

357 ST: Art of Colonial India
x, 4 Gulbransen

This seminar examines the impact of European colonial expansion on the art and architecture of South Asia between 1750 and 1947, when India and Pakistan gained independence from British control. Although multiple colonial powers were present in India beginning in the early sixteenth century, a study of the British Empire in South Asia will be the primary focus of this course. Paintings, photographs, buildings, monuments, and other objects produced by both indigenous and European artists will be considered. This course explores the ways in which visual forms engaged with imperial ideologies, either promoting or resisting Western presence in India. Issues including race, gender, religion, class/caste, and the politics of display will be addressed as they relate to artistic production in this period.  The course is based on student presentations and discussion, with various written assignments. Prerequisite: Art History 103 or consent of instructor. Distribution area: humanities, fine arts, or cultural pluralism. May be applied toward the non-Western course requirement.

421, 422 Individual Projects
2 or 4, 2 or 4 Staff

Projects designed by senior Art History & Visual Culture Studies majors under the supervision of a professor. Prerequisite: consent of supervising instructor.

490 Senior Seminar in Art History
4, x Reynolds

Weekly discussions and critical papers based on: 1) selected primary and secondary readings in the history of western art theory (ancient, medieval, renaissance, the academy); 2) primary and secondary readings in the methodology of modern art history; and 3) primary readings in contemporary approaches to art. Emphasis will be placed on the role of the art theorist/historian in the history of art. Required for the major.

493 Thesis
x, 4 Staff

Open only to senior art history and visual culture studies majors except those registered for Art History 498. Taken during the spring (or final) semester of the senior year. Devoted to the completion of a substantial written project under the supervision of at least one faculty member. Prerequisite: approval of a proposal submitted to the Art History and Visual Culture Studies Department.

498 Honors Thesis
4, 4 Staff

Designed to further independent investigation leading to the preparation of a written thesis or research project in art history. Taken during the spring (or final) semester of the senior year. Required of and limited to senior honors candidates in art history and visual culture studies. Prerequisite: admission to honors candidacy.