ART AND POLITICAL STRUGGLE: A GENERATIVE SEMINAR
WRIT 5500 section 003
Instructor: Amy England
In some sense, of course, all art is political–the artist’s
decision not to engage in political questions is itself a
political decision, and any work of art has embedded in it
assumptions about how power is or should be structured.
Here, however, we will examine and practice the potential ways
in art can participate directly in the political debates of our
The first half of this class will be spent on various political
works by artists and writers over the last century. Each
week, you will be responsible for the reading, with some
optional background reading as well. I’ve included a
general discussion question with each reading as a starting
point, but hope that the discussions will be driven by the
students’ interests rather than my questions.
The last half of the semester will be spent on creative
workshops. All of you will have work discussed in workshop
three times, and should bring copies for the class a week before
your turn is scheduled. You might choose to work toward
one long project and turn in pieces of it as the semester goes
on; you might choose to do a series of shorter pieces or try
different genres. Again, if you’re having trouble thinking
of something, I’ll suggest possible exercises related to the
Requirements: A maximum of two class absences, or the equivalent
time in late arrivals and early departures. The creative
projects are open in terms of using text, image, video,
etc. We’ll discuss the possibility of the class focusing
on a single topic; this would be useful in sharing resources and
Bertold Brecht: Mother Courage and Her Children.
Grove Press: 0802130828
Aime Cesaire: Notebook of a Return to the Native Land.
Ursula K. LeGuin: The Dispossessed. Eos:
George Orwell: Homage to Catalonia. Harvest Books:
Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno, Bob Spunkmeyer: The Yes Men:
The True Story of the End of the World Trade Organization.
The Disinformation Company,
Class I, Jan. 24: Picturing War. Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,”
selections from Goya’s series of etchings, “The Disasters of
War,” Jeff Wall’s “Dead Troops Talk.” Source text: Susan
Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others. Discussion:
Robert Fiske of the London Independent has argued that if the
public saw journalistic images of war proportionate to the
suffering it causes, public support for wars would
evaporate. Agree, disagree, comment.
NO CLASS JANUARY 31st–will be rescheduled during crit week.
Class II, Feb. 7: The Ethics of Witness. Orwell’s Homage to
Catalonia. Discussion: What is the responsibility of
the artist to take a political stance? Can the need for
taking such a stance override the making of art altogether? What
risks are we willing to take to make it? Optional reading:
excerpt from Chomsky and Herman’s The Manufacture of
Consent. This can be checked out from my mailbox in the
writing office. How does Chomsky and Herman’s model of
news media influence your reading of Orwell’s remarks on the
lack of comprehensive news coverage on the Spanish Civil War?
Class III, Feb. 14: The Music of Rage. Cesaire’s Return
to My Native Land, selections from Blake’s Songs of
Experience (“Holy Thursday”, “London,” “The Chimney
Sweeper,” “The Garden of Love”, all online at
among other sites. You can see Blake’s engraved pages of these
poems in The Illuminated Blake, available on reserve.
Optional readings: Cesaire interview (docutek); excerpt from
Erdman’s Prophet Against Empire (handout); chapter 1 of
Edward Said’s Orientalism (docutek). Discussion
question: What vision of human rights is here proposed? How
closely do they accord with your own ideas of the basic rights
of individuals and of nations?
Class IV, Feb 21: Revealing Absurdity. The Yes Men.
Optional: look over the website of the Critical Art Ensemble
(http://www.critical-art.net). Optional reading:
excerpt from Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man
(docutek). How is art in our society limited by its
Class V, Feb. 28: The Cunning of Fable. Brecht, ‘Mother
Courage’. Optional reading: Brecht: “Five Difficulties”
(docutek), Walter Benjamin: “Artist as Producer” (docutek),
Terry Eagelton: “Artist as Producer” (docutek). How does art
function as a political force? Stefan Brun, the codirector of
the Prop Theater, will give a talk on Brecht for the first half
of the class.
Class VI, March 6: Song and the Call to Arms. Showing of
video “Amandla.” Optional reading: excerpt from Naomi
Klein, Shock Doctrine (docutek). Discussion
question: How much can art be of its moment, how tied to the
particulars of a certain political situation, and still be
art? Also, how is the relationship between art and
audience different with political art?
Class VII, March 15: Visions of Utopia. Ursula K. LeGuin: The
Dispossessed. Optional reading: from The Radical
Reader (docutek) . Discussion question: How would
your version of utopia accord with or differ from
LeGuin’s? We have in recent decades witnessed a backlash
against the utopic ideal as dangerously unrealistic. What
is the social and aesthetic usefulness of such an idea?
Class VIII, March 13:
March 20: SPRING BREAK
Class IX, March 27: Workshop.
Class X, April 3:
Class XI, April 10: Workshop
Class XII, April 17: Workshop
Class XIII, April 24: Workshop
Class XIV, week of April 28-May 2, Crit Week. Make-up
class, day and time to be announced.
Class XV, May 8: Workshop.
© 2014 Amy England, all rights reserved