Fall 2016, Winter 2017, and Spring 2017 quarters

Taught by

aesthetics and philosophy, critical theory, psychoanalysis
media arts, photography, visual studies
visual arts, painting, drawing

Historically, art and the work of art emerge as simultaneously debased and exalted cultural categories, treated as both epitome and critic of commodity culture, a space apart from and the ironic fulfillment of the market economy. In this sense, they come to us as historically specific practices and discourses specific to “modernity.”  Sianne Ngai suggests that 'zany,' 'interesting,' and 'cute' are the aesthetic categories best suited for grasping "how aesthetic experience has been transformed by the hypercommodified, information-saturated, performance-driven conditions of late capitalism."

In order to investigate this emergence, we will work between visual studies, philosophy, and art practice. The program will offer studies in visual and cultural studies, art and media practice, and 18 th -20 th century philosophy, writing regular critical essays in response to both theory and works of art. We will be interested in the increasing centrality of “aesthetics” in philosophy and the appearance of an aesthetic crisis within the worlds of art-making and criticism, the uneven emergence of industrial production and its representations, and transitions to the conditions understood as late-capitalism. Following our study of the early 20 th century avant-garde work and the emergence of cinema, we will look to the rise of conceptualism in art in the 1960s and 70s.  From there, we will turn to contemporary forms and institutions of art that are grappling with the question of art as labor and artists as workers under current economic pressures. We will also look at the interventions of feminist thinkers and artists in art history and film studies, as well as psychoanalytic and structuralist approaches to art criticism and theory.

We will study a range of theorists, artists, objects and practices, as well as popular and comedic forms. We'll read texts in philosophy and critical theory by Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Arendt, Adorno, Benjamin, and contemporary critic and thinker Sianne Ngai. We'll study artists associated with the Bauhaus, abstract expressionism, minimalism and post-minimalism, New Wave and Third Cinemas, feminist, conceptual, pop and contemporary practices of neo-pop and social practice, art fairs and collectives, and read related art historical and visual studies texts.

In the fall and winter our creative practice will focus on Bauhaus-style design and materials experimentation, with color experiments, paper sculpture, and drawing, as well as handmade and cameraless approaches to photography and film, supported by both foundational work in philosophy and art history and the development of those critical and creative research skills needed for spring project work. In the spring, we will turn to the contemporary art world and late 20 th century-contemporary film.  Each student will develop an individual line of research, reading, and creative production, resulting in a substantial interdisciplinary project, supported by their participation in small self-organizing groups. The program will go on at least one retreat, and one to two field trips to museums, galleries, and films each quarter. 

Program Details

Fields of Study

aesthetics art history media studies philosophy visual arts

Preparatory For

humanities, visual and media art, cultural studies, education and communication.


Fall Open Winter Signature Spring Closed

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Advertised Schedule

First winter class meeting: Monday, January 9th at 12pm (Sem II A1105)

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning


$265 in fall and winter and $235 in spring for overnight field trips, entrance fees, and art supplies.


2017-02-23This program will not accept new enrollment spring quarter.