Spring 2007                      
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 time.

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 discussion questions.

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 information.

Required texts:  
Bertold Brecht: Mother Courage and Her Children.  Grove Press: 0802130828
Aime Cesaire: Notebook of a Return to the Native Land.  Wesleyan: 0819564524
Ursula K. LeGuin: The Dispossessed.  Eos: 0061054887
George Orwell: Homage to Catalonia.  Harvest Books: 0156421178
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 ttp://, 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 (   Optional reading: excerpt from Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man (docutek). How is art in our society limited by its commodification?

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: Workshop                                                                                                                              

Class IX, March 27: Workshop.
Class X, April 3: Workshop                                                                                                                                

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