Visual and Material Culture: Course

How to Recognize a Work of Art When You See One

Zehavi Ohad, Dr., Semester 1, Sunday, 14:30-16:00
Zehavi Ohad, Dr., Semester 2, Sunday, 12:30-14:00
We tend to think about the work of art in relation to an artist, who creates it and endows it with meaning, and to a viewer, who experiences it and makes sense of it. In this seminar we will carefully study the complex relationship between these three fundamental notions – artist, work and viewer – and question their very validity and concreteness. Is there really an artist, an autonomous creative force, or are artists themselves merely a creation? Does a work of art exist without an act of interpretation? Does the work's meaning stem from the intentions and motivations of the artist, or is it totally dependent on the reactions of the viewer? And what can viewers do when encountering a work of art: should they merely perceive it, comprehend it, interpret it, or are they free to deal with it in any way they choose? Broader issues will ensue, concerning the nature of the art field and the power relations between the various social positions within it, the role of art institutions such as the art academy, the museum and the gallery in the formation of the art work, the domestication of the artist and the control of the viewer, and the great power of art critics and interpreters. We will address these issues through the theoretical works of thinkers such as Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault, Ronald Barthes, Stanley Fish, Susan Sontag, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Ranci?re and Irit Rogoff, and in the process will examine different ways of writing on works of art (if they can be recognized at all) and on artists (if they really do exist).