Writing Seminars: Mass Culture and the Avant-Garde

What is the avant-garde? Many would answer this question negatively: avant-garde art is not mainstream, not produced for large audiences, and neither conventional nor conservative. In other words, the avant-garde is frequently defined against “mass culture.” The history of cultural production in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, however, reveals that mass culture and avant-garde art movements have been in sustained dialogue. Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans,” (1962) for example, mimics the graphics of midcentury advertising; Douglas Gordon’s “24 Hour Psycho” (1993) brings Alfred Hitchcock’s Hollywood film into the art gallery. This course explores the creative cross-pollination between mass culture and avant-garde art, examining key concepts in the history of American cultural capital—middlebrow, pop culture, kitsch—along the way. In tracing the historical evolutions of these terms, we will identify the ways in which class, race, gender, and sexuality have informed them. Focusing primarily on visual media — painting, photography, film, and digital images — we will develop a language with which to discuss the history of modern art and consumerism. Ultimately, we will engage with critics and artists whose work has questioned the very definition of art itself.


Students who wish to enroll in this seminar should participate in online preregistration, which opens at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, August 23 and closes promptly at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, August 28, 2017.

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MW 1:00pm-2:15pm