Artist, Society, and the Avant-Garde
This course explores the changing and multiple roles of art and the artist in society as these have evolved from classical antiquity to the contemporary period. We begin by exploring how the Greek and Medieval ideas of the artist as imitator and craftsman were questioned and altered during the Renaissance and later periods, when the Modern idea of the artist as individual creator, and avant-garde figure, began to take hold in Western artistic, philosophical, and political culture. The course places special emphasis on the role of the artist today, by locating a key moment of change in the late eighteenth century, when the French and American revolutions altered the political landscape of the West in fundamental ways by questioning the authority of the church and the monarchical state, and by establishing democratic institutions that, in theory at least, stressed the equality of all individuals. It is out of this crux of political and social change that the avant-garde—and our modern notion of the artist as a kind of free agent, pursuing his/her own creative, social, and political impulses—was born. The texts we will read, and the examples of visual art and music we will explore, span the period from Greek antiquity to contemporary times, and include works by Plato, Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Gustave Courbet, Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Cindy Sherman, and others.