Teaching and course descriptions. 

From Situationists to Situations: Critical Theories in Art and Social Practice 

As an emerging and richly contested field of art-making and -thinking informed by an array of disciplines, social practice is ripe for critical assessment, exploration, investigation, and inquiry. In this course, we will spend time reading and responding to theoretical texts and ideas that inform how we define, make, and talk about social practice, or the complex and shifting terrain of socially engaged contemporary art. In our process of discovery, we will explore critical theories of social practice in addition to those we can apply to a reading or analysis of its instances. In other words, we will use certain theories or theoretical frameworks to consider concrete examples of relevant artists and projects, their contexts, and their controversies. Inherent to the class experience should be a consistent reflection on your own artistic practice and relationship to theory. This is a seminar, meaning the emphasis is on reading and discussing in a participatory, small-group setting, with the added goal of practicing how we think through and articulate theoretical concepts and their bearing on social practice via presentation, conversation, research, and written assignments.

Evidence of Engagement: Contemporary Art History II

This course explores how socially engaged art generates and addresses people and publics through exhibitions, events, documentation, criticism, archives and media circulation. We will look closely at a range of historic and contemporary socially engaged projects, with an eye toward how their mode of presentation and documentation impact their meaning and role within art discourse and beyond. In light of social practice’s affinity with social change, emphasis will be placed on projects that speak to or engage political theories and activist movements, both symbolically and directly. Assignments and activities are designed to hone and expand skills and experience relevant to socially engaged art practices, including research, writing, and close reading; critical inquiry; peer learning; group facilitation; and participation in public discourse.

Research & Writing

Writing can be intimidating for anyone, including artists who might be more inclined to express ideas in visual language and design, embodied performance, ephemeral experiences, or real-world contexts. However, confidence in reading others’ writing, and in producing one’s own, can contribute to the conceptual and creative qualities of one’s artistic practice (asking good questions, attaching words to ideas, fleshing out concepts, experimenting with language) as well as practical and professional aspects of one’s “career” (artist statements, grant writing, interviews, theses/projects). In this class, we will read, write, and talk about and through a range of topics and themes that inform the broader question of “why write?” for artists, including:

  • Writing on writing – reading and discussing short essays by writers on writing

  • Posing questions, inquiries, problems, and provocations that help us formulate writing

  • Connections between art and poetry

  • Experimental writing and related exercises that assist us in developing our writing voice

  • The (artist) interview/conversation, the art manifesto, and project case study as form

  • “Artists’ writings”, including artists writings on artists’ writing; artists’ writings on art; artists’ writings on their own art; artists’ writings on the art world; and artists’ writings on the whole world (selections, “Social Medium: Artists’ Writings, 2000-2015, editor J. Liese).

We will also spend time unpacking the idea and act of reading language-based texts (as opposed to, say, visual objects) as well as the notion of “art as research” (different from, or complementary to, more traditional forms and methods of academic or disciplined research). In turn, you will complete assignments that provide an opportunity to practice and/or draft pieces of writing that support graduation requirements, including letters, interviews, case studies, and graduate project/thesis statements). I hope our time together sparks a desire to read more, write better, and closely consider the role, import, and specificity of artists’ writings within a broader social, political, and cultural context (most importantly our own).