Tutor: Dr John R. Blakinger
Since 2016, acts of resistance have exploded across the art world: artists, curators, critics, and historians have joined marches and strikes, staged protest spectacles, and organized for change in novel ways, from showcasing immigrant artists to condemning cuts to arts funding. Inspired by current events, this course explores the charged relationship between aesthetics and politics in American art. It asks: What is the role of the artist in resistance? How does visual representation ignite social, cultural, and political change? Engaging issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, this course proposes resistance as the defining characteristic of what it means to be American. It examines dissent as the quintessential American value. We will first consider historical examples of resistance at the intersection of art, activism, and visual culture, including artistic responses to the American Revolution and the Civil War; modernism and the Great Depression; the exile, diaspora, and internment of artists during the Second World War; the Art Workers Coalition and antiwar agitation in the Vietnam era; critiques of racism, sexism, and structural bias in the arts; and queer activism during the culture wars. The second part of our course will consider contemporary confrontations defining American art now. We will debate the J20 Art Strike; the backlash at the Whitney Biennial; the uproar over Confederate monuments; and artistic responses to economic inequality, environmental catastrophe, and political crisis. The transnational repercussions of American resistance will also animate our conversations. This course uses art from the past to understand resistance today.