Literal Looking: What We See in Art

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2021

Peter J. Burgard (Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures)
Freshman Seminar 31Q    4 credits (spring term)    Enrollment:  Limited to 12

What do we really see when we look at a work of art? If we have little experience, we may not get far beyond discerning the theme and ascertaining whether the work is an accurate representation of reality (in the case of representational art); confronted with abstract art, seeing the work may result primarily in confusion or frustrated musing over what the point is. If we have too much experience — the seminar will address what "too much experience" might be and how literal looking relates to it — we may see the work as a function of historical, religious, aesthetic, mythological, and other concerns, or we may get caught in the web of a work's iconography. Either way, our too little or too great experience can prevent us from seeing what is there. This seminar is an exercise in seeing what is actually there in a series of great works of art, in moving beyond too much mystification yet staying this side of too much sophistication, an exercise in evaluating composition and representation as they present themselves to the viewer directly. We will spend most of our time looking and talking about what we think we see, what we actually see, and how it informs interpretation, but we will also read short texts where professionally encumbered lookers (i.e., experts) say what we should see, so that we can compare the two and explore the degree to which literal looking aids or is aided by contextually informed looking. Works by Raphael, Caravaggio, Bernini, Velázquez, Turner, Renoir, Sargent, Klimt, Schiele, Kandinsky, Warhol, Richter.

 

 

 

See also: Spring 2021