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COURSE NAME: "American Art and Identity"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2017

INSTRUCTOR: Karen Georgi
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 1:30-2:45 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: One previous course in Art History or permission of the instructor

For decades the question "What is American about American art?" stood at the center of American art history. American painting consequently has been studied and interpreted for its putative relationship to American identity or to aspects of national self-image. Though this paradigm is now questioned, it remains deeply embedded in the study of American art. By studying the paintings along with key essays, the course will examine the historiography of American art as well as the artworks. It will analyze the paintings and the debates about their relationship to socio-political contexts that are thought to be particularly American. It will also consider the significant influence on American art by Italian artistic traditions and American ex-patriot artists.
The course investigates major genres and styles of 19th Century American painting such as landscape painting, images of the West, the "painting of everyday life," and various forms of realism and trompe l'oeil that recur throughout the century. The course is designed to analyze the wide range of pictorial practices that characterize the century while confronting and debating the important themes that have ostensibly made American art American. These include the rejection of European conventions, the democratic character of the artist and his public, empirical and scientific habits of mind, the physical place, and change and expansion. The course looks closely at artists who have become well-known figures­­—artist such as John Singleton Copley, Thomas Eakins, and Winslow Homer—as well as artists such as Asher Durand, Emanuel Leutze, Elihu Vedder and many others whose fame has not lasted into our time.
Students who conscientiously apply themselves will become familiar with the key artists and movements of 19th century American art and with the critical debates of the period as well as those in our modern historiography. They will also develop skills for visually analyzing and recognizing forms and competently assessing stylistic differences with an understanding of how such styles communicated historically. They will begin to grasp the complex role of art in society and the ideological bases for 19th century American art.
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Making American ArtPam Meecham and Julie SheldonTaylor and Francinxxxxx  
American Painting of the Nineteenth-centuryBarbar NovakOxford University Pressxxxx  
Citizen Spectator: Art, Illusion, and Visual Perception in Early N. American ArtWendy BellionU N. Carolina Pressxxxxx  
American IconologyDavid MillerYale University Pressxxxx  
Empire of the Eye: Landscape Representation and American Cultural Politics, 1825-75Angela MillerCornell U Pressxxxx  
Early Years of Native American Art HistoryJanet BerloUniversity of British Columbia Pressxxxxx  
Sisterhood of Sculptors: American Artists in Nineteenth Century RomeMelissa DebakisPenn State Pressxxxx  
American Painting of the Nineteenth CenturyBarbara NovakOxford University Pressxxxx  
On Racial IconsNicole FleetwoodRutgers University Pressxxxxx  
American Genre PaintingElizabeth JohnsYale University Pressxxxx  
The Civil War and American ArtEleanor HarveyYale University Pressxxx  
Inventing the Modern Artist: Art and Culture in Gilded Age AmericaSarah BurnsYale University Pressxxxx  
West as AmericaWilliam TruettnerSmithsonian Institutexxxx  
Winslow Homer and the CriticsMargaret ConradsPrinceton University Pressxxxx  
American EncountersWolf, Miller, et alPearsonxxxxx  

mideterm exam 25
final exam 30
term paper 20
presentation 10
reading summaries 15

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


Attendance is mandatory.

As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


The course outline will be distributed in class. Below are the topics that will be covered.


Looking for Origins: J.S. Copley and B. West

Native genius vs. foreign influence. Late 18th Century cont.

Art and Invention: C. W. Peale, T. Jefferson

Identity and Place: Hudson River School Landscape Painting

The Material World and the Ideal: Transcendental Nature

Sculpture: Figurative art, its foreign roots and expatriate artists

Genre Painting and stereotyping Americans

Identity and Gender: Genre Painting and domesticity in the Civil War Era

Identity and Race: contemporary thoughts on imaging race

Representations of the Civil War and Slavery

The Diffusion of National Imagery: The American Art-Union, Mid-CenturyPainting

Images of the Frontier and Native Americans:

Frontier cont., Manifest Destiny, Geographic surveys, Photography

Western Landscape and Eastern Enterprise: A. Bierstadt, T. Moran, C. Russell

Reformers and Non-Conformists in Art1: The American Pre-Raphaelites and“Truth in Art

Reformers and Non-Conformists 2: The “ideal” in Art: W. M. Hunt, G. Inness, E.Vedder, A. Ryder

The European Trained Generation: J. La Farge, F. Duveneck, J.A.M. Whistler

Modern Visions: T. Eakins, W. Homer

American Modernity, Painting, and the Cultures of Display: W.M. Chase, J.S. Sargent

Anti-Modernism and Aestheticism: K. Cox, T.W. Dewing