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COURSE NAME: "Special Topics in Modern and Contemporary Art: The Influence of Poetry and Prose on XXI Century Art"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2019

INSTRUCTOR: Catherine Parsonage
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: T 2:15-5:05 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: One previous course in Art History or permission of the instructor

Specialized courses offered periodically on specific aspects of the art of the modern and contemporary world. Courses are normally research-
led topics on an area of current academic concern.
May be taken more than once for credit with different topics.

Course Description

The histories of Visual Art and Literature are tightly woven; this course will introduce and examine this relationship with a specific focus on 21st century Art. The course will trace the role of the written word from its influence in the artist’s studio, through curatorial practice, to critical reception. The course will combine the analysis of a range of texts including press releases, poetry and prose with written assignments and presentations to develop critical thought, independent research and a personal writing style.  The discussion of extensive texts and gallery visits will allow students to directly encounter and investigate the impact of the written word on the visual and vice versa.  Visual culture acts as a mirror to the political and social issues of any time, looking through the lens of 21st century art will introduce students to the current and crucial debates within contemporary art, which reach far beyond the confines of the field. 

Course Content
The course will introduce a range of texts and exhibitions that explore the relationship between literature and 21st Century Art.  Beginning with an introduction to the classic forms of art writing including the press release and review, students will build on this foundation throughout the course towards the analysis of poetry, longer-form features and prose.

The course will include case studies of a range of texts by artists, journalists, critics and curators that have influenced the production and presentation of 21st Century Art.   The life and work of writers Susan Sontag, Virginia Woolf and Frank O’Hara will be explored in greater depth as figures who embody the meeting point between literature and visual art, and whose writing continues to have a profound impact.

The variety of texts and visiting guest-lecturers will introduce students to a range of voices and writing styles that will inform the development of their own.  Classes will combine lectures, in-class discussions, student presentations and gallery visits to foundations, independent spaces, museums and contemporary galleries in Rome.  Writing assignments throughout the course will work towards an independently researched final paper and presentation. Weekly podcasts and additional reading material will be available to download for each lecture. 


At the end of this course students will have a broad understanding of texts that are relevant and important to current debates in visual art and culture.

Numerous gallery visits will develop students’ skills of description and analysis, which alongside the diverse written examples will encourage a well-informed, personal, critical vocabulary.

Class presentations and conversations with visiting guests will introduce the students to multiple perspectives and develop their ability to communicate critically, thoughtfully and respectfully.

Students will utilise the rigorous analytical skills they have learnt to submit a number of written assignments including: a review, a critical essay, an interview and a longer form piece.

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
There is no set textbook for the course. Introductory reading will be listed for each class-For core bibliographic works see below-  
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
A full list of reading assignments, including articles and podcasts will be provided at the beginning of the course. -For core bibliographic works see below-  

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Further texts will be suggested at the beginning of the course, and can be tailored to students interests later. -For core bibliographic works see below-  
Attendance and ParticipationCompletion of weekly reading assignments, participation and engagement with all aspects of the course: a willingness to ask questions, share opinions and contribute.10%
AnnotationAnnotation of Press Release, with a short summary10%
Short EssaysThree written papers (15% each) A review, a critical essay and an interview. 45%
Longer Form Essay/ReviewTopic & form to be discussed and approved.25%
Presentation15 minute presentation on the topic of the longer form essay/review. 10%

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.


You are expected to participate in all scheduled classes. Absences and late arrival will be noted, and may affect your grade.

You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. 
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.


Details of essential reading assignments, articles and podcasts will be provided weekly.

Core bibliographic works for the course:

Levine, D, Rule, A. (2013) International Art English

Malcolm, J. (2013) 41 False Starts (A House of Ones Own)

O’Hara, F. (1957) Why I am not a painter

Sontag, S. (1964) Notes on Camp

Woolf, V. (1942) Death of a Moth

* Alterations and/or additions to the schedule may take place.

Week 1.1        Lecture: Introductory Seminar

General introduction to the course structure, reading list and assignments.

Week 1.2         Lecture: The Press Release

Introducing different forms of the Press Release, its classic form, fiction and essay.

Week 2.1         Lecture: International Art English & the Bank Art Collective

On the rise - and the space - of the art-world press release.

Week 2.2         Gallery Visit: T293 

Group Discussion & Review.

Week 3.1         Lecture: The Review

Introducing different forms of the Review, as classic critique, essay and prose.

Week 3.2         Gallery Visit: Gavin Brown Enterprise 

Group Discussion & Review.                       

Annotated Press Release & Summary text is due


Week 4.1         Lecture: Camp is a Tender Feeling

This Lecture will concentrate on the seminal text Notes on Camp by Susan Sontag, 1964.  It will introduce the students to the ideas, aesthetics and sensibility of camp.           

Week 4.2         Gallery Visit: Lorcan O’Neil

Group Discussion & Review.    


Week 5.1         Lecture: Camp is a Tender Feeling (continued)

This lecture continues to consider Notes on Camp and its influence particularly on the exhibitions Notes on Neo Camp, curated by Chris Sharp.

Week 5.2         Gallery Visit: Indipendenza
Group Discussion & Review.  

Review (900 words) is due.


Week 6.1         Lecture: The Classics that Persist

This lecture will introduce the writers Virginia Woolf, JG Ballard & Samuel Beckett: writers who have had a profound affect on art production and curation.

Week 6.2         Conversation: Visiting Curator (tbc)

A curator will be invited to present three texts that have been seminal for them during their career.
There will be a group discussion on the introduced texts and the role of curator in the production of press material. 

Week 7.1         Lecture: The Classics that Persist (continued)

This lecture will introduce the exhibitions, artists and events that have been directly influenced by Woolf, Ballard & Beckett.

Week 7.2         Gallery Visit: Emanuel Layr

Group Discussion & Review.  


Week 8.1         Lecture: Jutta Koether & The Berlin Key

This lecture will focus on Jutta Koether’s 2010 exhibition Berliner Sclhüssel, at Galerie Buchholz and Bruno Latour’s text The Berlin Key.
Jutta Koether is an artist, musician and critic. Bruno Latour is a French philosopher, anthropologist and sociologist.

Week 8.2         Gallery Visit: Monitor

Group Discussion & Review.  

Critical Essay (900 words) is due

Week 9.1         
Lecture: The Interview

This lecture will introduce the form of the artist in conversation, with a discussion about how information is rehearsed, crafted and communicated.

Week 9.2         Conversation: Artist – Studio Tour of Castro Projects

Tour lead by director of Castro Projects, students will have the opportunity to meet and talk with the artists in residence.

Week 10.1       
Lecture: The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson

This lecture will focus on The Argonauts by poet, writer and art critic Maggie Nelson.
The Argonauts is described as a genre-bending memoir, which weaves the personal with seminal texts on gender and sexuality.

Week 10.2       Gallery Visit: Frutta

Group Discussion & Review.  

Interview/Essay (900 words) is due

Week 11.1       Lecture: The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson (continued)

This lecture will build upon the previous lecture in Week 10, pinpointing and expanding certain theoretical texts within the book.

Week 11.2       Conversation: Visiting Poet/Writer (tbc)

A writer will introduce and present 3 texts that have been seminal for their career.

Proposal for longer form essay/review due

Week 12.1        Lecture: AbEx and Disco Balls by Amy Sillman

This lecture & discussion focuses on the essay AbEx and Disco Balls by Amy Sillman published an Art Forum 2011. 

Week 12.2       Lecture: Raspail by Isabelle Graw

Raspail by Isabel Graw is an essay published by Artforum in 2008. It discusses fashion, symbolic value and art.

Week 13.1      
Lecture: More orange than the ear can hold

This lecture will introduce poetry as curatorial idea and as press release.  It will focus on the poet Frank O’Hara and the historical relationships between poets and visual artists.

Week 13.2       Lecture: Oranges and Sardines

This lecture will be a discussion of the themes outlined in the first lecture More orange than the ear can hold.
We will analyse the poem Why am I not a painter, Frank O’Hara, 1971 and its use as the curatorial inspiration for the exhibition Oranges and Sardines, curated by Gary Gerrels, Hammer Museum, LA, 2009.

Week 14.1       Lecture: More orange than the ear can hold (continued)

This lecture will focus on the exhibition Sputterances, curated by Sanya Kantarovsky, NYC, 2017.
The exhibition takes its curatorial cue from a poem by eminent Dutch artist René Daniels. Poet Ben Lerner contributes in response to exhibition 

 Week 14.2      Gallery Visit: Fondazione Giuliani
Group Discussion & Review.  

Longer form Essay/Review due (2000 words)


Week 15.1       In-Class Presentations. FINAL REVIEW

(10-15 min presentation per student of longer form essay)

Week 15.2        In-Class Presentations FINAL REVIEW

(10-15 min presentation per student of longer form essay)