The Work of Art Theme Page

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Expanded course description & pedagogy.


"The Work of Art" explores the function that art plays in our lives on three levels:

* It examines works of art from a dance of disciplines -- philosophy, architecture, visual arts, performance, advertising, science, literature, history, popular culture, etc. -- and shows how to gain meaning from them.

* It looks at the work that goes into the production of these artifacts: the technical expertise and creativity required of artists in the disciplines. 

* It looks at the work art does in the world -- how it shapes, reflects, disguises, complicates, challenges, or brings reality to our assumptions about the world.  How is it, for example, that the artistic products of various disciplines impact our understanding of gender, class, national, and racial identities?  What are the artistic levers with which we can move our world forward?


What can looking through the lens of "art" at the products from a broad range of disciplines reveal about ourselves, our culture[s] and our society?  How does the art we do and the art we experience shape our identity? How does it disguise or reveal our essence, heal our hearts, and enable our joy? How does art influence cultural change?  How can we use the arts to build community?  These and other questions will introduce this year of inquiry into the role of art as self-expression, cultural reflection, and agent of social change.


Key concepts and ideas:


  • You are a product of your cultural, historical, and political environment.  
  • Art reflects social and political landscapes.
  • Art helps to construct social and political landscapes.
  • Forms of cultural expression (visual arts, literature, music, dance, theater, and film) have more than one layer of meaning and allegory, often communicated by different means.
  • The present is connected to the past.
  • Reason and emotion are both valid tools for understanding personal experience and igniting social change. 
  • Some artists get recognized and some get marginalized.  What is the process by which these choices are made?
  • Different identities can co-exist in one person.
  • You are teacher as well as student.
  • You participate in meaning rather than just decipher it.
  • There are limits on what we can know.  We sometimes block ourselves from what is knowable.
  • The map is not the territory.
  • You've been had.


Topical and/or thematic outline of the course.


Fall term will focus on Art As Self Expression, with particular emphasis on the Visual Arts.  This may include exploring group dynamics, definitions of art, the history and theory of art, the art of everyday life, exploring our relationship to art, artistic production and creativity, the image of the artist, telling our stories, and art and the "natural."



Winter term will focus on Art As A Reflection Of Society, with particular emphasis on the Literary Arts.  This may include art as expression of culture, cultural divisions, public art, art as social practice, ways of seeing, art and science, film as reflection of culture, and public support for the arts.


Spring term will focus on Art As Agent Of Social Change, with particular emphasis on Activist Music and the other Performing Arts.  This may include art of the protest movements, the nature of the activist impulse, guerrilla theater, the art of spin, zines as agents of social change, art and community activism, and art and the public sphere.

Books, articles, movies, and songs from which the educational experience may be drawn.


Children’s culture

Alice in Wonderland

Animorphs: K.A. Applegate. Scholastic series, 2000.  

Bunnicula: Deborah and James Howe, Aladdin Paperbacks. 1996  


Euripides. Medea and Other Plays.  Trans. P. Vellacott. New York: Penguin Books, 1963.

Cultural Studies

Fish, Stanely.  Is There a Text in this Class?  The Authority of Interpretive Communities.  Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1980.

Freire, Paulo. The “Banking” Concept of Education, in Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers, Fifth Edition, David Bartholomew and Anthony Petrosky, Eds. (Bedford/St. Martin’s, Boston, New York 1999.


Howe, Fanny. Economics. Chicago: Flood Editions, 2001.  

Walker, Alice. Merdian. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976.


Claxton, William. Jazz. Chronicle Books: San Francisco.                                       

Fordham, John. Jazz: History* Instruments* Musicians. A Dorling Kindersley Book. New York. 1993.  

Simone, Nina. “I Put a Spell on You.” The Autobiography of Nina Simone with Stephen Cleary. De Capo Press, 1993.

Non Fiction

Alison, Dorothy. Bastard Out of Carolina. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Dutton, 1992  

Alison, Dorothy. “Privacy is Not the Issue.” The Graywolf Forum. The Private I: Privacy in a Public World. Ed. Molly Peacock. Graywold Press: Saint Paul  

Crow Dog, M.  Lakota Woman. Perennial. 1994.  

Painting, Sculpture, and Architectural Sources

Sinha, Ajay J. Imagining Architects: Creativity in the Religious Monuments of India, University of Delaware Press, 2000.  

Art for the Millions: Essays from the 1930s by Artists and Administrators of the WPA Federal Art Project, New York Graphic Society, 1975.  

Becker, Dagen & Compere-Morel. Otto Dix. Der Krieg/The War. 5 Continents Editions, 2004.  

Mitchell, George. The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to Its Meaning and Forms. University of Chicago Press, 1988.  

Neuer & Yoshida. Ukiyo-E: 250 Years of Japanese Art. Windward, 1991.  

Ottmann, Klaus. The Essential Mark Rothko. Harry N Abrams, 2003

Performing Arts

Davis, Angela.  The Medea Project: Rhodessa Jones and the Theater for Incarcerated Women.  1995.  

Johnstone, Keith. Improv. Theatre Arts Books. 1980.

Long, Richard. The Black Tradition in American Dance. Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. New York, 1990.  

Ringgold, Faith. Dancing in the Louvre: Faith Ringgold’s French Collection and other Story Quilts. University of California Press .1998.


Barthes, Roland. Mythologies.  New York: Hill & Wang, 1972.  

Foucault, Michel. The Foucault Reader. Ed. P. Rabinow. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.  

Plato.  Republic. Trans. G. Grube. Indianapolis: Hacket, 1992.  


Bernardin, Graulich, MacFarlance, Tonkovich. Trading Gazes: Euro-American Women Photographers & Native American Women 1880-1940. Rutgers Press. 2003  

Evans, Walker. Walker Evans: Photographs for the Farm Security Administration, 1935-1938: A Catalog of Photographic Prints Available from the Farm Security Administration. Da Capo, 1975  

Lanker, Brian. I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women who Changed America  Stuart, Tabori and Chang, 1989.  

Leroux, Jackson & Freeman. Eds. Inuit Women Artists: Chronicle Books, San  Francisco, 1996.  

Newhall, Beaumont History of Photography: From 1839 to the Present, Bulfinch. 1982.

Smith, W. Eugene.  Minamata: The Story of the Poisoning of a City, and of the People Who Chose to Carry the Burden of Courage? Henry Holt & Company, Inc., 1975.  

Szarkowski John. Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, by Museum of Modern Art:  Bulfinch, 1999.  

Willis & Williams. The Black Female Body: a Photographic History. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 2002  

Zimbardo, Xavier. India Holy Song. Rizzo International. Inc. 2003


Agbabi, Patience. “R&B,” “The Tiger,” “The Change,” “Countdown to Zero,” “TheJoyrider,” “U of Woman,” “Wife of Bafa,”           “Transformatrix” Baraka, Amiri. Funk Lore. Los Angeles: Littoral Books, 1996.  

--------. The Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader. Ed. William J. Harris. New York: Thunder Mouth’s Press, 1991.  

Bernstein, Charles, ed. Close Listening: Poetry and Performed World. New York: Oxford UP, 1998.  

--------. A Poetics, Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992.


Asher, Marcia. “The Kolam Tradition.”  American Scientist. Vol. 90 2002.  

Comiso, Josefino C. and Claire L. Parkinson, "Satellite-Observed Changes in the Arctic,"  Physics Today 57 (8), 38 (August 2004).  

Martens, Pim, "How Will Climate Change Affect Human Health?", American Scientist  87 (6) 534 (November-December 1999).

Science Fiction

Delany, Samuel. The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village.  New York: Arbor House/H. Morrow, 1988.


Dick, Philip. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.  New York: Vintage, 1995.  

Visual Arts

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing.  New York: Penguin, 1972.  

Friedman, Carol. The Jazz Pictures. Stanley Crouch: Arena, 1999.


Against The Odds: Visual Artists of the Harlem Renaissance Boycott.

Andy Goldsworthy’s Rivers & Tides. New Video Group, 2004, 90 min.  

Black Is...Black Ain't. California Newsreel, 1995, 87 min.  

Daughters of the Dusk: Julie Dash.  Directed& Written & Produced by Julie Dash 113 min. 1991. 

Double Happiness, Written and directed by Mina Shum, 1995, 87 minutes.

Jazz - A Film by Ken Burns Paramount, 2000, 1200 min.   

Jazz Casual - John Coltrane. Wea Corp, 2003, 23 min.  

Lilith Fair - A Celebration of Women in Music Image Entertainment, 2004, 90 min.  

Margaret Cho's I'm the One That I Want. Cho Taussig Productions, 2000, 96 minutes.  

Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues Universal Music, 2004, 840 min.  

Paris Is Burning. Directed by Jennie Livingston Swank Motion Pictures, 1990, 78 min.  

Race -The Power of an Illusion, Written, Produced and Directed By, Christine Herbes-Sommers (California Newsreel, 2003), Episode One: The Difference between Us (56 min.); Episode Three: the House we Live in Written, 56 min.  

The Celluloid Closet Columbia/Tri-Star, 101 min.  

The Color of Fear, Directed by Lee Mun Wah.  Stir Fry Productions, 1904 Virginia Street, Berkeley, CA. 1994, 90 minutes.  

The Gringo in MaĖanaland, a documentary of US films about Latin America by DeeDee Halleck. Video Data Bank, 1995, 61 min.  

The Times of Harvey Milk. New Yorker Video, 2004, 88 min.  


Across the lines, Words and Music by Tracy Chapman, © 1985 SBK April Music Inc. /Purple Rabbit Music, Tracy Chapman ©1988 Elektra/Asylum Records  

AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. Ice Cube  

Anti Nigger Machine. Public Enemy  

Are My Hands Clean? Lyrics and music by Bernice Johnson Reagon., Songtalk Publishing Co. ©1985.  

Brown Skin, India. Arie, Acoustic Soul (2001)  

Chimes of Freedom, Youssou N'Dour, The Guide Wommat.  

Ethiopia, Joni Mitchell, Dog Eat Dog.  

Eyes on Tomorrow, Miriam Makeba.  

Freedom Is Coming Tomorrow, Written by Mbongeni Ngema, Gallo Music RSA, Khanyo Maphumulo and the Cast of SARAFINA, Original Soundtrack – SARAFINA! The Sound of Freedom, BMI/Motion Picture Artwork © Buena Vista   Pictures Dist. Inc., © 1992 Qwest Records, Warner Bros Records Inc.  

From South Carolina to South Africa. Gil Scott-Herron.  

HOMOPHOBIA, Written and performed by Geof Morgan, Published by Pi-Gem Music, It Comes With the Plumbing, © 1980 Nexus Records  

I Shall Be Released, Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. IIb  

Mississippi God Damn: Nina Simone. 

No answer for a dancer, Written by Consolidated, Consolidated - Business of Punishment, © 1994 Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp.  

Poverty, Written and performed by the Subdudes, © 1990 Lick Skillet Songs/Almo Music Corp. (ASCAP), Annunciation, © 1994 Windham Hill Records  

Respect, Written by O. Redding, Performed by Aretha Franklin, Irving Music, Inc. /Cotillion Music Inc., BMI. The Best of Aretha Franklin ©1984 Atlantic Recording Corporation  

Sister Rosa, Written by  C. Neville, D. Johnson, , C. Moore, C. Neville, Jr., L. Neville, J.   Neville, ©1989 Neville Music (BMI)/, SAIB Music (ASCAP), Performed by the   Neville Brothers, Yellow Moon ©1989 A&M Records  

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday. Commodore Records. 1939.

Sweet Honey in the Rock, Live At Carnegie Hall, ©1988 Flying Fish Records, Inc.  

There’s Room For Us All, Performed by Terrence Simien, Written by T. Simien, D. Johnson, J. Greenberg, Terrence Simien Music/Johnson Music/Funny Bone Music, BMI, There’s Room For Us All, ©1993 Black Top Records, Inc.  

What's Going On, Marvin Gaye, Every Great Motown Hit of Marvin Gaye  



M. C. Escher