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Defining Art

As we get ready to see Imitation of Life next week, I wanted students to think more deeply about their own definitions of art. To facilitate this, I used a lecture from last year about how writers define terms for their own use. Т In terms of argumentation, defining is an essential skill. I exhorted students to list what art is, what it isn’t, to think of relatedТ terms and identify subtleties in differences, to identify the social Т function of art, to find examples of misunderstandings of art, to research expert opinions on art, to name exemplaryТ artists/works of art, and to define art through simile/metaphor.

Tomorrow, I will share some notes pulling our thinking together [What Is Art?] before we turn to John Berger’s “Understanding a Photograph” in which he defines what art is, what it is not, what photography is, and what it is not. I hope the pre-reading activity engages and energizes them to read Berger (a bit more academic). They will buddy read and take notes in a graphic organizer to answer the key questions above. Berger’s ideas of presence and absence in photographs, his emphasis on authorial choice ( I have decided that this moment is worth seeing), and his ideas about time in addition to space will be useful theoretical concepts to help students think about Sherman, especially the Film Stills.

After Berger, we will test Walter Benjamin’s idea that a photograph is meaningless without a caption. I will lecture a bit, and then we will test out Benjamin’s theory on several contemporaryТ photographs (Sherman, Mann, Opie, Avedon, Weems, Sugimoto). Т Students will attempt to control meaning with captions. Т This should set up some interesting perspectives as we look at Sherman’s body of untitledТ work. I’ll keep you posted about our thinking!


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