University at Buffalo
Department of


Art & Design

Art History

Visual Studies

Graduate Courses


Graduate programs, studio and academic courses rotate over a one-year or two-year cycle. Required courses are offered at least once per year in the Fall semester. Graduate level studio courses are offered on alternate semesters.


For current graduate course listings click here


Art Course Listings

ART 509/ 510 Graduate Seminar

The Graduate Seminar is a forum for discussing current issues and trends in contemporary artistic practice. The seminar is comprised of readings, online lectures, guest speakers, professional workshops, graduate studio visits and an art field trip to NYC.

ART 525 Interactive Computer Art

Professor: Paul Vanouse

This studio course is designed to facilitate students in exploring emerging practices in computer-based interactive forms. Students will be exposed to emerging technological tools (hardware and/or software) of particular relevance to experimental artistic practice via a series of classroom demonstrations and short workshops. Short reading assignments and presentations of work by contemporary artists will contextualize use ofthese tools and techniques. The primary focus of the course is on facilitating students to develop a self-directed, conceptually and technologically sophisticated final project. The broader objective is to equip students with an understanding of methodologies of technological engagement that will empower their future artistic endeavors. The primary software utilized in this course this semester in MAX/MSP/Jitter.

ART 547 History of Graphic Design

Professor: Christopher Lee

This course will be taught using a critical ideology centered around deconstructing the idea of a centralized structure that forces the information into a very strict rubric of time and space. The lectures will be centered around the philosophy of attempting to destabilize the canonized selection of subjects, styles, designers and products and attempt to focus on the social forces that produced the design artifacts we will study during the course. Process will be focused on more than product; culture more than style, and context more than edifying the designer as a lone hero. It will focus primarily on the designer as facilitator and attempt to unravel the thinking that results in some of the most important visual communication ever imagined by human beings.

Another focus of the course will be to look at the problems that are being caused by the current system of production and consumption of goods and services and take into consideration design’s role in the proliferation of these “wicked problems”. How do we analyze the past and come up with diverse systems that are sustainable for humanity as a whole?

Because, in the end we must look at his-tory as our-story in order for balance and equity to become the norm and design for the profiteering of a small percentage of the population to be added to the list of failed design strategies.

ART 562 Installation: Urban Space

Professor: Warren Quigley / Millie Chen

The practice of installation has been a predominant genre in contemporary art since the mid 20th century, with its origins stemming from the early avant-garde. This is a graduate and advanced undergraduate course that integrates studio practice with theory, exploring the history and practice of installation and site-specific art while integrating related issues and experiments related to the urban. Installation: Urban Space moves the consideration of material form out of the dedicated and sheltered space of interiors and private environments into the complex socio-cultural space of urban environments.

This cross-disciplinary program of study allows students of Art, Architecture, and Media Study, as well as other departments, to benefit from a circle of discussion, interchange of ideas, and opportunities for realized interdisciplinary collaborations. We examine social space and the role of material and tectonic constructs as integral and inherent components of urban environments, starting with a brief study of the history, theory and practice of locational / situated installation, intervention, and new genre public art. We will look at the transforming language of art and the built environment and how they have influenced and continue to influence discoveries and modifications of the metropolis.

ART 564 Biological Art

Professor: Paul Vanouse

Biological Art is a broad term that encompasses a growing field of artistic engagement with the knowledge and tools of life sciences. Artists working in this field generally utilize “wet” biological techniques as essential components of their process or finished works—thus Biology is not only a subject of the work, but often the medium of the work as well.

This course is a comprehensive introduction to the field of Biological Art. The course focuses upon recent advances in the life sciences, both in theory and practice. Emphasis is placed on developing critical and creative thought, discussion of ethical and cultural issues, and cross-disciplinary experimentation in art and science. Course activities include (1) lecture and group discussion, (2) laboratory-based demonstrations, exercises and projects, (3) group critique. The class will initially meet in the Center for the Arts, but on laboratory workdays we will be meeting in Cooke Hall (near the Koudelka lab).

The course is designed primarily for art practitioners, but spaces will be reserved for interested students from the life sciences and humanities who wish to engage with the interdisciplinary activities of creative bioresearch.

ART 573 Performative Action

Professor: Millie Chen

Performance art has long had a simultaneously humble and impolite history as an interdisciplinary art form that straddles body art, installation, public art, theatre, dance, music, writing and the practice of intervention. As deliberate action, situation, event, non-event, or relational practice, it is an art form that has always come closest to blurring the line between art and life. Its currency lies in its capacity to be utilized in the most extreme, urgent, and quotidian of situations. This course explores the history and social contexts of embodiment, audience interactions, situated interventions and art/life encounters.

This is a graduate and advanced undergraduate course that integrates studio practice with theories of performance and performativity. Understanding of the concepts will be developed in conjunction with the formation of related work. This three credit course consists of lectures, related studio and written assignments, and directed reading as the basis for discussion. Integral to the curriculum are a visiting artist lecture/workshop and/or class trip to attend a related event.

ART 576 Topics In Printmaking

Professor: Adele Henderson

Topics in Printmaking is an advanced undergraduate / graduate level studio course designed for production of diverse and individually directed print-related projects. You will be required to formulate, research, and execute work; to make formal presentations; to show work in progress throughout the course of the semester; to write about your work and frame it contextually.

Print labs and equipment include intaglio, litho, screen, digital/inkjet, book, typeset and relief. If you don’t have experience in the process you wish to use, you should discuss this with me and we will figure it out.  You may need to audit a 200 or 300 level course to learn the basic skills you need. Graduate students don’t need prior print experience.  This course is repeatable for credit at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

ART 589 Real-Space Electronic Art

Professor: Paul Vanouse

This course is designed to introduce students to basic principles of electronics and micro-controller programming, and to enable them to create self-generated art projects using interactive electronic technologies.  Such skills will allow students to get “beyond the box”:  To create interactive works that do not require the computer monitor as an output device or the mouse for input. It is expected that the skills learned in this course will be immensely valuable to students in subsequent courses or independent work in interactive and installation art, and will offer them the opportunity to integrate interests in sculpture and object-based art, into their computer and media art practices.



Art History Course Listings

AHI 548 History of Photography

Professor: Gary Nickard

This is a survey course based upon lectures and visual presentations that will cover the evolution of the photographic medium from its origins through its inception and the subsequent art history up through the end of the 20th century.

AHI 588 SEM Displaying Gender: Queering Museums and Exhibitions

Instructor: Elizabeth Otto

This seminar will introduce graduate students to critical museum practice through a focus on issues of gender and representation. In short, this course seeks to queer the museum and thus to destabilize and denaturalize viewing practices and cultures of display, and to examine how such practices intersect with and participate in structures of power. We will examine how sexuality and sexual identity, race, class, ethnicity, and age are visualized or hidden through curatorial practices and by public institutions. Readings will include key texts in feminist theory, queer theory, and gender studies as they relate to the study of visual culture and art institutions. Our focus will be primarily on Europe and the United States from the nineteenth century to the present, but seminar participants may engage other cultural contexts in their individual guided research projects.

AHI 592 Bauhaus

Professor: Elizabeth Otto

This class explores the Bauhaus, Germany’s renowned school of art, design, and architecture that was founded by architect Walter Gropius in 1919. Born of the cultural and political crises of the First World War and highly idealistic, the Bauhaus was intended to recreate the harmony of the medieval guild system and unify art and craft. The school’s theoretical approach shifted quickly; by 1923, its motto had become “Art and Technology, a New Unity,” and the Bauhaus transformed itself into one of the most progressive think tanks for modern art and design. The Nazis closed the school in 1933 as one of their first orders of business. Yet what transpired at the Bauhaus during the fourteen years of its existence was nothing less than a total revolution in art and life which still reverberates today.

This seminar considers the school’s utopian aims and its real-life political and economic struggles. We will focus on Bauhaus members’ visual experiments in such media as architecture, photography, weaving, design, and theater and dance and investigate key facets of the Bauhaus experience: student life and youth culture; sexuality, gender, and the body; mysticism and the occult; the Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art); design in relation to mass production, consumption, and luxury; the Bauhaus and Nazism; and the school’s global reach after World War II. Students will learn about the work of such artists and designers as Marianne Brandt, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, Oskar Schlemmer, and Gunta Stölzl. This interdisciplinary course will sharpen students’ critical-thinking skills, writing, and ability to consider theoretical problems through a range of media.

AHI 592 Gender, Sex and Weimar Theory

Professor: Elizabeth Otto

Germany’s Weimar Republic (1919-1933) spanned the cataclysms of World War I and Nazism. This space between fostered one of the most experimental and vibrant artistic cultures defined by movements like Dada and the Bauhaus, a culture of mass-media photography and illustrated journals, and the global dominance of the German film industry. Its capital was Berlin, known to many as the sin city of “voluptuous panic or “Sodom and Gomorrah in a Prussian tempo…the circus of perversities!” according to one commentator. Interwar Berlin was also a site of freedom for the emancipated New Woman. As one of the first urban cultures of gay liberation, it was home to Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Research, the first scholarly organization to investigate human sexuality in its diversity. At the same time, Weimar culture unfolded in the shadow of repressive forces, none more impactful than the draconian Paragraph 175, which criminalized homosexuality.

This class will investigate the historical cultures of gender and sexual identity and experimentation in their critical, theoretical, and above all visual manifestations in interwar Germany. Students will participate in engaged weekly seminar discussions, and complete a major research paper under the guidance of the professor. The course is open to graduate students and to advanced undergraduate students who are experienced in humanities research and writing methods. No previous knowledge of the historical period is necessary.

AHI 594-Gender in Weimar Culture and Theory

Professor: Elizabeth Otto

Germany’s Weimar Republic (1919-33) spanned the period between the end of World War I and the rise of National Socialism. This was a time of unparalleled dynamism and change in politics, gender relations, the writing of cultural theory, and especially visual representation, with the proliferation of such mass media as illustrated journals and the global dominance of the German silent film industry as well as the rise of such culturally-engaged art movements as Dada and the Bauhaus. This seminar focuses on the history and theory of issues of gender and sexuality in German visual culture of the Weimar Republic. The course will begin by introducing graduate students to the cultural and political landscape of interwar Germany. We will then focus on issues of masculinity and femininity through a wide range of visual culture, including architecture, painting, performance, photography, photomontage, film, mass-market print media, and advertising, as well as in central works of Weimar cultural theory that evolved to explain the proliferation and development of visual culture during this period.

AHI 508 Topics in Ancient Art: Text and Image in the Greek World

Professor: Vance Watrous

This course investigates the relationship between Greek literature and art.  Students will read major works of Greek literature, such as the Iliad, Odyssey, and Homeric Hymn to Demeter and report on the iconography of Greek art, mainly vase painting depicting scenes in literature.The two goals of this seminar are: 1) to introduce Classics and Art History students to the Iliad and the Odyssey, and the Homeric Hymn to Demeter so they can appreciate them as works of literature,  and 2) to see and understand how the stories they tell were depicted in Greek art.



Visual Studies Course Listings

VS 500 – Topics in Visual Studies

This class is a graduate level topics seminar with rotating content and is repeatable for credit. Some of the subjects for this course are as follows.

VS 500 Queer Rauschenberg

Professor: Jonathan Katz

Using Robert Rauschenberg and his work as a pivot, this course analyzes New York’s postwar queer avant-garde culture through 1970 and its relation to the expressive dictates of the contemporaneous culture of Abstract Expressionism. Rauschenberg’s partners Jasper Johns and Cy Twombly both come under consideration, as do the poet Frank O’ Hara, composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham, among others.  

VS 500- Topics in Visual Studies-Hot Art/Cold War: Abstract Expressionism and After

Professor: Jonathan Katz

This course examines histories and theories of Abstract Expressionism, assessing the explanatory value of a variety of methods–some old, some new– for making sense of this first fully American artistic movement. Among these methods are Formalism, intellectual history, socio-political history, gender studies, psychoanalysis, existentialism and vitalism. Following a careful engagement with these various theories, we will then look at several new scholarly treatments of different Abstract Expressionist artists, ranging from Ad Reinhardt to Willem De Kooning.

VS 500- Topics in Visual Studies- Art, Eros and the 1960s

Professor: Jonathan Katz

At the zenith of the civil rights movement in the USA and de-colonizing movements in Africa and Asia, just prior to the advent of second wave feminism, gay and lesbian liberation, and other social movements linking political liberation to embodied physical differences, something new was born. There arose a new vision of the body as precisely the obverse of how we now consider it—a single, universal human body shared by all, ungendered, unraced, unsexed.  This new body-in-common, unmarked even by such core physical differences as biological sex, became legible as radically dissident under a new political ideology that has thus far largely escaped historical attention: Eros.  As a potent challenge to a number of repressive orthodoxies, not least capitalism, Eros was also, perhaps not surprisingly, a central theme in a number of art works of the period, from Carolee Schneemann’s performances to Claes Oldenburg’s erotic public sculpture, Yayoi Kusama’s immersive environments, and Kenneth Anger’s films.

This course examines the relationship among art, sex, gender and revolution from the vantage point of Eros’ brief historical moment, a vista now largely obscured by our contemporary fixation on a politics of social distinction and bodily difference. As such, this period constitutes both the theoretical prehistory of the sexual revolution, as well as perhaps the defining episode in our ongoing transubstantiation of flesh into politics.

VS 500- Topics in Visual Studies -Postwar Postmodern

Professor: Jonathan Katz

This course is fundamentally concerned with that defining trope of postmodernity, the authorial. With a combination of classically social-historical and theoretical texts, we will approach the problem of authoriality in post war American art. Our central focus will be John Cage and the artists associated with him, not least Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Cy Twombly. Central to this course will be determining the salience of the curious fact that the key figures in the promotion of the “death of the author” discourse—Barthes, Foucault, Cage, Johns, Rauchenberg, Twombly and several others—were all gay. What, in short, is the relation between an anti-biographical, anti-authorial theoretical framework, and the lived social history of gay authors?  In asking this question, we are of course violating the very premises of one key strand of postmodernist critique—and in so doing we will attempt to historicize a theoretical frame that is strikingly resistant to historical analysis.

VS 500- Topics in Visual Studies -Black Mountain College

Professor: Jonathan Katz

Black Mountain College, the singular crucible of the postwar American avant-garde, was the most unlikely of triumphs. A bulwark of Europeans intellectuals, eccentrics, Jews, blacks, homosexuals, poets, painters, dancers, photographers, along with the world’s first performance artists and other art world denizens, it was incongruously set amidst rolling farmland in the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains near Ashville, North Carolina. It was never financially stable, lasted a mere 23 years, required students to do farm work and other chores, and did away with grades, exams, and in some cases, even courses. More strangely still, its unparalleled strength as a taining ground for the avant garde was born of the intersection of three powerful, yet seemingly incommensurate streams: Bauhaus war refugees, American Abstract Expressionists and that then nascent, now defining cohort who have become the found figures of postmodernism, most of whom, though not all, were homosexual. These three populations would seem to have little to say to one another and indeed rivalries and feuds were a fact of life at the college. But among the 1250 or so students and faculty who attended BMC over its lifetime were more defining figures in American culture than any other place at any other time. These figures include diverse artists such as Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg, Anni and Josef Albers, Jacob Lawrence, Cy Twombly, Kenneth Noland, Ben Shahn, Franz Kline, Dorothea Rockburne, Jack Tworkov, Esteban Vincente, Kenneth Snelson, Ilya Bolotowsky, Stan Vanderbeek, Ruth Asawa, John Chamberlain, Henry Callahan, Ray Johnson, and Theodore Stamos; musicians such as John Cage, Lou Harrison, Stefan Wolpe, and David Tudor; dancers like Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber, Remy Charlip, Paul Taylor, Carolyn Brown; and writers including M.C. Richards, Francine du Plessix Gray, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Paul Goodman, Eric Bentley, Clement Greenburg, and Arthur Penn.

VS 500 Performance Art

Professor: Jasmina Tumbas

This seminar examines the history of performance art from the mid-1950s to the present, with an emphasis on the political and aesthetic interventions of the body in art and visual culture, as well as the relationship between performance art, subjectivity and identity including queer theory and gender studies. Ranging in topics from endurance, violence, pain, love, injustice, racism, war, and science to activism, collective collaborations, and reenactment, we will also consider the politics of the archive, the role of photography in representing ephemeral acts, processes of institutionalization, and the proliferation of performance art and theory and performativity after 1989 to the present. Among the genres we will explore are the Japanese Gutai group, happenings and Fluxus, the Situationist International, Viennese Actionism, destruction in art, and all forms of contemporary body art.

VS 500SEM Beyond Marina Abramovic: Art from the East of Europe

Professor: Jasmina Tumbas

This course examines art from Eastern Europe beginning with the Soviet/Zhdanovist dictate for social realism, before turning to an exploration of various forms of resistance in South East European experimental art, including, performance, conceptual, video and installation art after 1968. Considering the globalization of “the East,” we will first read the Yugoslavian group IRWIN’s book, East Art Map (2006), which introduced the idea of “mapping” for interlinking national histories and artistic manifestations of contemporary art in order to account for the historical tensions of the prior Cold War period and the radical and rapid changes that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall. We will analyze the tensions between what was called, beginning in the former Soviet Union, “official” and “unofficial” art in those regions and consider artistic strategies of resistance, political protest, and alternative forms of transnational communication such as was practiced in Mail Art. This course will also identify common patterns throughout the USSR and the Eastern Bloc of how “the East” was represented in visual culture, especially in reaction to the fall of the Berlin Wall, November 9, 1989, and the subsequent efforts for democratization of the entire region and reentry into the global art world of the 1990s-2000s. As such, this course will identify common patterns in the visual culture of representing “the Balkans” in performance and conceptual art, popular culture, and international art exhibitions.

VS 500  The Face: Aesthetics, Sexuality, Gender, Race

Throughout human existence, the face has multifariously functioned as a unique nexus between communication and identification, aesthetics and politics. This seminar will explore discourses and genealogies of the face in the 20th and 21st centuries, with an emphasis on art, philosophy, science, and critical theory. A particular focus of the course will address the face as a site of both liberation and oppression, aesthetic beauty and scientific calculation. We will discuss the face as an ethical demand as well as a boundary between human and nonhuman. Furthermore, we will attend to the ways in which different modes of representation affect the meaning faces signal, by looking at contemporary art works, portraiture, social media profiles, criminal mug shots, and biometric data. Another core focus will center upon aesthetic and political transformations of the face, through examinations of masks, veils, cosmetics, and medical procedures. Throughout the seminar, our discussions will be inflected by geopolitics, gender, race, class, and disability. We will read works by Emmanual Levinas, Judith Butler, Giorgio Agamben, Michael Taussig, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Frantz Fanon, Joan Scott, Gloria Anzaldúa, Kelly Gates, Mark Hansen, Jennifer González, and Béla Balás. Readings will be engaged with through considerations of artwork by Adrian Piper, Mongrel, Arthur Elsenaar, Metahaven, Jemima Wyman, Orlan, and Adam Harvey.

VS 500 The Great Exhibitions: A Critical Look Since 1969

Professor: Rachel Adams

This seminar will investigate the history of exhibitions, focusing on art exhibitions starting with Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form from 1969, curated by Harold Szeemann. Among the topics to be discussed are the significance of exhibitions within art and cultural history, the relationship between artistic, and curatorial practice, and the major developments in exhibition-making between 1969-2015. These developments include the growth of independent curating and new curatorial strategies, an increasing focus on thematic exhibitions, and the expansion of biennials outside the Euro-American centers. Designed to examine different curatorial and exhibition concepts, models and strategies over the last five decades, this seminar will delve into the exhibitions’ impacts on the evolution of social, cultural and geopolitical agendas of contemporary art. Students will present the results of research on a particular exhibition or series of exhibitions, and submit a final paper on that topic.

VS 501 Introduction to Visual Studies

Professor: Jonathan Katz

VS 505 Tactics of Practice: Paradigms of Art and Activism

Professor: Jasmina Tumbas

The course will analyze a number of paradigms of activist art and the political ideologies informing them, ranging from anarchism, socialism, and communism to capitalism, and including, among others, such art collectives and artists as the Situationist International, Joseph Beuys, Guerrilla Art Action Group, Hans Haacke, ACT UP, subROSA, Neue Slowenische Kunst and Laibach, Voina and Pussy Riot, Chto Delat?, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and Wafaa Bilal. These examples will function in a host of paradigmatic ways from which students will identify their own artists/collectives for their research projects, expanding the discourse about art and activism in their individual presentations, research that not only examines a body of artistic production but does so in the context of particular political ideologies and their concomitant social, economic, and political conditions. Among others, we will consider artists’ and collectives’ manifestos along with texts by Gerald Raunig, Claire Bishop, Nato Thompson, Fred Moten, Hardt and Negri, the Zapatistas, Guy Debord, Martha Rosler, The Invisible Committee, and Brian Holmes.

VS 510 Performance Art in History and Theory

Professor: Jasmina Tumbas

This seminar examines the history of performance art from the mid-1950s to the present, with an emphasis on the political and aesthetic interventions of the body in art and visual culture, as well as the relationship between performance art, subjectivity and identity including queer theory and gender studies. Ranging in topics from endurance, violence, pain, love, injustice, racism, war, and science to activism, collective collaborations, and reenactment, we will also consider the politics of the archive, the role of photography in representing ephemeral acts, processes of institutionalization, and the proliferation of performance art and theory and performativity after 1989 to the present. Among the genres we will explore are the Japanese Gutai group, happenings and Fluxus, the Situationist International, Viennese Actionism, destruction in art, and all forms of contemporary body art.

VS 500 Theory of Postmodern Art

Professor: Ted Triandos

VS 510 Breaking Down “Breaking Bad”

Professor: Bruce Jackson

“Breaking Bad” was one of the most spectacular narrative achievements in television. Its five seasons comprised some 60 hours of a single narrative arc, something no film or television program (cable or commercial) has ever accomplished. The original version of Erich von Stroheim’s Greed was a mere 8 hours; read aloud, The Iliad takes about 12 hours and War and Peace 24 hours “Breaking Bad” is one of the great epics. The acting, writing, cinematography, editing, scoring and settings were all masterful (the show won major awards in all categories). It was a story made for television (though it was shot on film), not the big screen; some of the work would have been handled differently had it been done for a theater audience. It has already had a continuing cultural influence: the New York City based One World Symphony, for example, is developing an opera based on the “Ozymandias” episode in the final season.

In this seminar, we’ll take a close look at all the components of the series; we’ll talk about what was done, how it was done, why it worked. There is one prerequisite: that members of the seminar have seen the series before the seminar’s first meeting. We’re going to be studying it, not greeting it. We’ll look at some segments during the semester, but only so we can deconstruct the work. I’ll expect participants to do class presentations on different aspects of the epic, and a term paper on a topic of their choice.

My own qualifications for, and interest in, the story of Walter White are threefold: I’ve made films, I’ve written extensively about narrative, and I was senior consultant on the field segment of the drug report for the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice (usually called “The President’s Crime Commission”), which gave me the opportunity to spend a lot of time on the ground with people on both sides of the kind of action depicted in “Breaking Bad.”

VS 510 SEM Attica

Instructor: Bruce Jackson

This seminar is about the Attica prison revolt that started September 9, 1971, and ended four days later, on Monday, September 13, 1971, in a wild fusillade of gunfire that left 9 hostages and 29 convicts dead, and many others wounded. That conclusion of the revolt was immediately followed by systematic torture of the surviving convicts. In the short term, there were felony indictments of some convicts and actual trials of a few of them (62 men were charged in 42 indictments with 1,289 separate felony counts). One of these trials resulted in a conviction; others resulted in guilty pleas in exchange for time served, or acquittals. The prosecutions stopped when the grand jury wanted to indict a State Trooper for homicide: the governor of New York shut the whole thing down.

In this seminar, which I hope will have participants from several departments, we’ll look at Attica as the cultural iconic event it was, as an event that set in motion a series of complex legal actions that continue to this day, and that occasioned several books and films of interest. We’ll look at artistic representations of that event, legal documentation and processes having to do with that event, and we’ll include in our discussions some of the few survivors of that event, including one of the attorneys in the first round of felony trials and one of the hostages.

VS 510 Documentary Praxis

Instructor: Bruce Jackson

The key difference between documentary work grounded in the real and artistic work grounded in the imagination is this: artistic work grounded in the imagination has no accountability save to its own internal coherence. If there is magic, and it makes sense in the narrative, then it is perfectly legitimate. Documentary work always has an external accountability. It strives to represent something, but it is accountable to the reality of it. James Agee, in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, referred to the difference in his writing and the people about whom he wrote: the real people had, he said, a “weight” in the world that his words and Walker Evans’ photographs could only approximate.

This is a seminar for people documenting aspects of ordinary life in visual, aural and print media. It is not a class for people learning how to use their hardware; it’s for people who know how to use it and who are engaging or who are ready to engage the quotidian with it. Participants will be expected to define a project, to present work in progress and to talk with other members of the seminar about it and listen to their responses to it, and to have, at the end of the semester, a body of work worth presenting to other people. We’ll talk about the ethical issues involved in such work. My ideal final session will be one open and public in which everyone shows something finished and edited or something in progress that is nonetheless interesting. Participants will also do a presentation for other members of the seminar about the work of a documentary artist chosen from a list I will provide or agreed on by us.

VS 521 Introduction to Critical Theory

Professor: Gary Nickard

This course provides incoming graduate students in the Department of Art with an introduction to critical theory in an effort to construct a foundation for a common critical language. Fundamental concepts and figures most relevant to artistic practice will be studied.

VS 525 Designed Play

Professor: Stephanie Rothenberg

From early amusement parks to the ‘80’s video arcade craze to the current phenomena of portable entertainment gadgets and mega-leisure-malls, the design of “play” and its seamless integration into daily routine has become increasingly more prevalent in our everyday experiences. Play is being used for corporate team building, retail and museum design and edutainment. Advertisers have transformed game logic into a new marketing device. Computer electronics feature not only the latest business software but the hottest new digital games. In the current zeitgeist of ludic behavior, how do we delineate between what is work and what is play? As both consumers and cultural producers, is it important that we still maintain these boundaries? And why?

“Designed Play” will focus on the changing role of “play” and its impact on contemporary cultural production as a design medium. The course will examine the historic and current relationships between play as an activity independent of economic interests to play as a form of content – a “medium” to be designed and strategically incorporated into our daily experience.

VS 550 Art And Psychoanalysis

Professor: Gary Nickard

This is a graduate and advanced undergraduate seminar that will present an investigation into the psychoanalytic theories of Freud and Lacan as well as various thinkers who have applied, adapted, or challenged their theories.  This course will frame the discussion of psychoanalytic theory in relation to visual art and culture.

VS 570 Methods in Visual Studies

Professor: Jonathan Katz

This course models various methods for interpreting 20th century visuality. As such, it is primarily concerned with a range of approaches to the interpretation of visual materials, with a distinct emphasis on modern and contemporary art. Its subject is thus what is often termed “theory,” but since I have been unable to think about theory in the abstract, we will “do” theory in conjunction with both actual visual material and a broader, enveloping social history. This is necessary both to offer theory a model for its deployment and to frame any given theory through its own social and cultural investments. Centrally, this course doesn’t assume theory to be a body of texts brought to inarticulate visual works in order to explicate them. On the contrary, visual materials instantiate, and advance, their own theoretical perspectives, perhaps most powerfully where they naturalize or make transparent their own theoretical perspectives.

VS 579 Revolutionary Sublime

Professor: Gary Nickard

An advanced undergraduate seminar.  Investigates the visual art that arose from revolutionary tensions between theory and everyday life in key European and American political upheavals.

VS 580 Discourse and Deconstruction

Professor: Gary Nickard

Provides the student with a critical examination of how the medium of photography has been philosophically problematized by poststructuralist theory, focusing upon visual culture and visual art. Lectures and directed reading provide the basis for discussion.

VS 587 Vision, Space, and Power

Professor: Gary Nickard

This is a seminar on theories of space and its visualization that will examine, from a philosophical perspective, the general questions of how the visualization of space have shaped human understanding and organization of the empirical world.   A primary objective will be to question how vision socially structures space and how these structures have evolved over time.

 VS 590  Theories of Montage

Professor: Elizabeth Otto 

Since the early 20th century, montage – the practice of creating new images by cutting and pasting photographs, postcards, magazines and newspapers – has been promulgated as a privileged medium of representation in the context of modernity.  This has been the case not only in avant-garde art but also in advertising, film, and even, as best exemplified by the work of Walter Benjamin, in the writing of history and philosophy.  Crossing borders between mass culture and art, recontextualizing images from everyday life and making the familiar strange, montage challenges viewers to make meaning out of a disjunctive array of fragments.  Montage can be understood as a materialization of trauma or psychic shock from war experiences.  It has served as an ironic tool of political rebellion.  And in its capacity to create plausible visual fictions, montage has also been the medium of advertisers and propagandists.

This course sets out to examine historical approaches to the theorizing of montage and the more recent, broad-based reconsideration of the place of this once marginal form in the history of twentieth-century and contemporary art.  The seminar is structured around a series of key historical periods and art movements in which the iconography of fragmentation came to play a crucial role and for which theories of montage enable a deeper understanding.  Seminar meetings will focus on such topics as the rise of Modernism in France, photographic archives and albums, the transnational origin of the cinema, Soviet film and Russian constructivism, Berlin Dada, the Bauhaus, Surrealism and Pop art.  We will explore a number of interpretive approaches to montage in the visual arts and film including psychoanalysis, the work of theorists in the circle of Germany’s so-called Frankfurt School, semiotics, issues in gender and sexuality, and interpretations of the relationships between war trauma and revolution and visual production.


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202 Center for the Arts, North Campus
Buffalo, New York 14260-6010
(716) 645-6878
(716) 645-6970 fax
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