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Art and Destruction

Course enrollment will be available for this course once it is scheduled.

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Course Description

The history of art is often told as a story of the creation of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and buildings. But this history can also be told as a story of erasure and deletion. What is the role of destruction in the history of art?

Over several weeks in 2001 the Taliban used repeated dynamite explosions to destroy the monumental Buddhas of Bamiyan, large scale sculptures carved into cliff rock in central Afghanistan. In 2009 the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei exhibited a series of three black and white photographs in which he is shown dropping and shattering an ancient Chinese vase. The first incident has been condemned as an act of iconoclasm (literally “image breaking”) by a terrorist group, the other as a provocative example of contemporary art. Surveying case studies from across the globe and throughout time, this class will consider moments of destruction in the history of art, asking questions like: What does it mean to altar or destroy an existing work of art? What role does destruction play in the history of art? Can destruction be used as a generative or meaning-making process?

Other topics we will cover include:
-Periods of iconoclasm in the Byzantine empire
-The nineteenth-century removal of pieces of the Parthenon from Athens, Greece and the continued debate about their display in the British Museum in London
-The exhibition and destruction of so-called “degenerate art” (modern art deemed too non-traditional in style or salacious in content) by the Nazi party during World War II

Readings, homework assignments, and in-class activities will allow students to survey the varying facets of this discussion. Classroom discussions, the cornerstone of college academics, will allow students to engage with this material in a meaningful and in-depth manner. A final project will allow students to delve into a case study of their choosing. This course will be especially helpful to those students interested in world history and the history of art and architecture.

Students will acquire skills in comparative analysis, academic writing, reading comprehension and synthesis, and public presentations. By the end of this course students will have gained a strong grounding in historical research and methods of object-based analysis. Students will have learned a model for future studies at the college level.

No prerequisites except for an interest in art, history, and current events.

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