Core Theory

Approved Core Theory Courses

By completing these courses, as well as participating in and taking advantage of additional events and resources, students will be able to cultivate strong working relationships with faculty already engaged in this practice, thus strengthening the work already being done in various different parts of the university. It will also create a network that operates across schools, disciplines, and majors, creating generative, and hopefully long-lasting, partnerships in a field where collaboration is crucial.


Art/Public Policy ASPP-GT 2001 Issues in Arts Politics Randy Martin
MCC MCC-GE 2155 Activist Art and Creative Activism Stephen Duncombe
Perf. Studies PERF-GT 2100 Performing the Commons
Anthropology ANTH-GT 1630 Art and Society Fred Meyers
MCC MC-GE 2112 Politics of the Gaze: Sensory Formations Mod Allan Feldman, Mary Taylor
Art and Art Professions ARTCR-GE 2451 Art and Ideas



Issues in Arts Politics

This seminar aims to give students both a conceptual and practical grounding in the range of issues and approaches by which arts politics can be understood. We will think about the complexities that lie between the politics that make art and the politics that art makes—which is to say the array of forces that give rise to specific artistic practices and the agency and efficacy of artistic work.

The course will be framed by the following considerations: What are the institutional, discursive, and ideological contexts that shape the objects, images, sounds or texts we call “art?” What are the links between cultural spaces– the museum, the movie-theater, the gallery, the music/dance hall, the bookstore, the fashion runway, the public street, television, cyber space– and the larger realm of politics? And how do these relationships impact, implicitly or explicitly, the ways we create, curate, or study the arts? How do consumers play an active role in the reception of artistic products and practices?  What is the relation between formally promulgated cultural policy and the tacit knowledge that artists call upon to get their work into the world? What dimensions of the broader cultural terrain are made legible through artistic practice? What are the means through which art intervenes in the political arena? “Art” will be studied as a site of contested representations and visions, embedded in power formations– themselves shaped by specific historical moments and geographical locations. Given contemporary global technologies, cultural practices will also be studied within the transnational “travel” of ideas and people. Such germane issues as the legal and constitutional dimensions of censorship, the social formation of taste, the consumption of stars, the bio-politics of the body, transnational copyrights law– will all pass through an intersectional analyses of gender, race, class, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, and nation, incorporating the insights of such areas of inquiry as multiculturalism, feminism, postcolonialism, and queer studies.

Each session is organized around the exploration of a key term, with readings that develop conceptual and practical issues. Art examples will be shown in class.

 Performing the Commons

The politics of imagining and enacting a commons have been a debated topic in the history of Western philosophy since Aristotle’s critique of Plato’s proposal for a commune in The Republic. The communitarian and collectivizing impulse can also be detected in ancient philosophy’s idea of methexis, a concept that is especially resonant in Greek tragedy, in which the concept accounts for the audience’s process of group sharing in the performance. This course will begin with these foundational theories and expand to consider the relation between the human and the non-human that compose the classical commons. Lucretius’ One the Nature of Things will also serve as a backdrop for more recent theoretical work on the nature of relationality. Our syllabus will include selections from Marx (on communism), Althusser (on the encounter), Deleuze and Guattari (on the rhizomatic), Hardt and Negri (on the biopolitical commons), Sloterdijk (on spheres), Bennet (on vital materialism) and Moten (on the undercommons). Ecologist G. Hardin’s often-cited essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” will be juxtaposed with more recent theories of urban and metropolitan commons. At the center of our itinerary will be a few weeks devoted to a closer consideration of the work of Jean-Luc Nancy and his particular emphasis on being singular plural and belonging within an inoperative community. Seminar participants will be asked to consider role of affective connectivity within the commons. They will also be encouraged to think about how far a sense of the commons might extend; ultimately inquiring as to whether it may help us contemplate the global. Throughout the course we will be mindful of identifying the animating desire for a commons that informs contemporary struggles for social justice. As the semester proceeds students will be asked to apply these theoretical tools to particular performances that attempt to transmit, describe, bolster, critique or enact a sense of the commons.


Art and Society

Considers art and aesthetic practice as both specific historical categories and as a dimension of human activity. Considers non-Western societies but shows relation to broader theories of aesthetics, iconography, and style, with reference to art everywhere. Considers mainly visual and plastic arts but also oral literature and crafts.

Politics of the Gaze: Sensory Formations Mod

The meditation and technological development of vision and its dominance over the human sensorium is integral to the emergence of the modern, including experiences of urbanism, consumer desire, gender/sexual identities, race and ethnicity, trans-cultural image systems, aesthetic production, and the making of power and political truth claims. This seminar will focus on introducing participants to the core theories and analytic methods of visual culture, and the socio-political history of the human sensorium in a variety of disciplines, including ethnography, social history, urban studies, cinema studies, social geography, material culture studies, and media studies.
originates and culminates in a politics of somatic virtuality. We will examine the body as a political semiotechnique, as material support for political ideology and spectacle and as enabled/disabled by techno-political prosthetics and as the means of political virtualization. We will track several orienting genealogies of the body that roughly run from Hegel and Kojeve to Lacan and Fanon; from Spinoza, Nietzsche and Heidegger, to Deleuze, Foucault, Agamben, Esposito and Derrida; from Merleau-Ponty to Lefort and Ranciere. Among the themes to be explored are: exposability and disposability of the body; torture, embodied witnessing and truth; postcolonial typographies of the body; second bodies, subversive mimesis and political virtuality; political animality and monstrosity; communicable and excommunicated bodies; political violence as auto-immunization.


Art and Ideas: Redefinition of Art

This course addresses the changing landscape of visual art practices from the 1960s to present day. In “Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object” Lucy Lippard characterizes the period between 1966 to 1972 as one in which the art object was dematerialised through the new artistic practices of conceptual art. Taking this as a starting point, the course will address key strategies that have developed as a result of conceptual art including relational aesthetics, situationist practices, fluxus, socially engaged art (SEA) and activist art, political art, new genre public art, happenings, and social sculpture.