The course syllabus will be updated to reflect any changes in readings.

ART 100: Introduction to Visual Culture /Ursinus College Spring 2014

MW 1:30-2:45 /Berman Museum of Art 016


Introduction to Visual Culture explores the ways we make, perceive, and experience images by examining visual material from various historical and geographic areas, including modern and contemporary culture. Students will engage in close readings of visual art, artifacts, mass media, and museum exhibitions. They will discuss their observations in class and write analytically about visual culture using a range of historical models and critical stances. Topics of study include the impact of changing visual technology, mass media and advertising, scientific imagery, constructions of identity, and globalization. The goals of this course are to heighten students’ awareness of the communicative power of visual images, and to provide diverse interpretive tools for the analysis of visual culture.



Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright, Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture, Second Edition (Oxford University Press, 2009).

You will be assigned other readings that will be posted to Blackboard during the semester.


Participation (in-class + blogging) 30%

Paper #1 10%

Midterm 15%

Paper #2 25%

Cumulative final exam 20%

If you have a document disability that requires accommodation, contact Yuriko Beaman ( or 484-762-4329) as soon as possible to discuss academic accommodations and/or services. Yuriko Beaman is located in the Center for Academic Support, lower level of Myrin Library.

Participation (30%)

You must come to class prepared (i.e. do the assigned reading before class) and ready to participate on a regular basis by contributing productively to class discussions, the class blog, in-class activities, and assignments. Active engagement – attending class, doing the reading, participating in discussion, going on field trips, taking good notes in class, and reading the blog – is vital to your success in this class. If you want support or have concerns about your ability to participate, please make an appointment to see me as soon as possible.

We may discuss sensitive topics that relate to religion, sexuality, and politics, and respectful behavior is expected. Silence all cell phones and put away all personal electronics. Use of the internet and cell phones is prohibited in class unless permission has been given by the professor.


You will be required to participate in a class blog

The class will be divided into three groups:

Group 1: Last name beginning with the letters A-G

Group 2: Last name beginning with the letters H-Mc

Group 3: Last name beginning with the letters Me-Z

Your group will responsible for posting, commenting, or just reading the blog throughout the semester. When posting, you will respond to prompts that I will give you. Often this will require you to submit an image and a 200-300 word reflection on it. You should relate the image to our readings and class discussion, pose questions to your classmates, or discuss questions that you have about it. (Note that some images cannot be legally posted on our website so you may need to provide a link to an external website instead.) The commenting group must post a 150-200 word comment on at least one of the posts from that week. The third group will have the week off from writing (although you can post or comment if you want!), though everyone must read the posts and comments and be prepared to discuss them in class.

During weeks that blogging is required, the instructor will post prompts before class on Monday. Posts are due on Friday by 3pm. Comments are due by the following Sunday at 6pm. Everyone should read the blog between 6pm Sunday and class on Monday at 1:30pm.

The blog posts and comments will be graded so you should demonstrate thoughtful engagement with the materials and your colleagues’ writing. Blog writing will be graded on a scale from 0-3 according to a rubric posted on the blog. Each person will post four times and comment four times, and will have the option to drop the lowest grade in each case. Blog posts must be on time to receive any credit because they will help to facilitate class discussion.

Writing Assignments (35%)

All written assignments must be submitted by e-mail on the due date. For each day a paper is late, one letter grade will be deducted from your final grade on that paper. (For example, if the paper is one day late a B paper becomes a B-, after two days it becomes a C+, after three days a C, etc…)

For Paper #1 (10%, Due February 14) you will chose an example of sculpture on campus and write a 3-page formal analysis about it.

Paper #2 (25%, Due April 11) will be a 5 to 7-page critique of the Franklin Institute exhibition One Day in Pompeii and IMAX film Ring of Fire. We will visit the museum as a class on Sunday, March 23. If you have a scheduling conflict you must speak with the professor as soon as possible and make arrangements to go to the exhibition and film on your own.

Exams (35%)

The midterm is Monday, March 3, in class. The final exam is cumulative and will take place Monday, May 12, at 1:00pm.The midterm and final exam will be essay-based and test information from required readings and in-class lectures.

Field trips

There is one required field trip – on Sunday, March 23 –- to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Transportation will be provided but you must pay the admission fee of $25.


You will have numerous opportunities during the semester to earn extra credit by attending extra museum field trips or attending lectures on and off-campus.


Attendance will be taken at the beginning of each class and is crucial to your success in this course. You will be tested on information presented during lectures as well as information contained in the assigned readings, and participation is an important part of your final grade. More than two unexcused absences will affect your grade. (To receive an excused absence you must provide official documentation). Excessive absences by first year students and students on academic probation will be reported to the Dean’s office. Students may be dropped from a course with a grade of F for failing to meet the stated policy.

The Office of Academic Affairs, the Office of Student Affairs, and the Wellness Center do not provide excused absences from class for any reason (illness, family, personal, etc.). In the event that a student experiences a significant health problem or other issue that may prevent them from performing adequately in their academic work and/or attending class for a number of days, students should notify the Office of Student Affairs. The Student Affairs phone and email contact is Lynda Manz: or 610 409-3590. In emergencies where faculty notification is not feasible, the Office of Student Affairs staff can assist students with faculty notifications. Upon students’ return to class, it is their responsibility to talk to professors and to develop a plan for making up missed work.


If I am unable to make it to campus class and/or if the Dean declares an “inclement weather day,” I will notify all students by email and post an announcement on the class blog ( that class in cancelled. Later we will make arrangements to make up any missed work.


Note: The syllabus is subject to change – readings may be added or dropped as deemed appropriate by the instructor. Any such changes will be announced in class and updated on the class blog.

Week 1: Introductions and What is Visual Culture?Key terms: Representation, Visual CultureJanuary 20-22Read: Sturken & Cartwright “Introduction,” 1-8, Nicholas Mirzeoff, “Global Visual Cultures: Paradox and Comparison,” in An Introduction to Visual Culture, Second Edition (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), 1-16 [pdf on Blackboard].Blog: I will send an invitation to your e-mail account by Monday afternoon. If you do not already have a username on, you will receive instructions on how to create one. Log in and go to the blog entitled “Writing Visual Culture.” You can read my introductory post and then go to the “Dashboard” (button at upper left corner) to get familiar with the interface. You should practice posting and/or commenting (these will not be graded).
Week 2: Images and IdeologyKey terms: Ideology, Semiotics, PhotographyJanuary 27-29Read: Sturken & Cartwright, Chapter 1: “Image, Power, Politics,” 9-48; Roland Barthes, “Rhetoric of the Image,” Image – Music – Text (New York: Noonday Press, 32-51).Blog: Group 1 posts, Group 2 comments, Group 3 is off
Week 3: Formal AnalysisKey terms: Perspective, RealismFebruary 3-5Read: Sturken & Cartwright, Chapter 4: “Realism and Perspective: From Renaissance Painting to Digital Media,” 141-174February 5: Visit the Berman Museum of Art to see paintings by Barbara J. Zucker and practice formal analysis

Blog: Group 2 posts, Group 3 comments, Group 1 is off

Week 4: Slow and Fast Looking
Key terms: Formal elements, Agency, AbsorptionFebruary 10Wednesday, February 12 CLASS CANCELLEDRead: WJT Mitchell, “What do Pictures Want?” in What do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 28-56.Deborah Kotz, “Cure for a distracted mind: Stare at a painting,” Boston Globe, May 27, 2013 Group 3 posts, Group 1 comments, Group 2 is off
Friday, February 14: Paper #1 due
Week 5: Viewers, Audiences, and InstitutionsKey terms: Reception, Aesthetics, AppropriationFebruary 17-19
Read: Sturken & Cartwright, Chapter 2: “Views Make Meaning,” 49-92. THIS WEEK YOU WILL TAKE NOTES ON THE READING AND SUBMIT THEM AT THE END OF CLASS ON MONDAY, FEB. 17.Blog: Group 1 posts, Group 2 comments, Group 3 is off
** EXTRA CREDIT: Friday February 21, 5-6:30pmHarrison Auditorium, Penn Museum 3260 South Street, PhiladelphiaFree, with registration at“Violence in Contemporary Art,” artist Kara Walker with poet Charles BernsteinInternationally acclaimed artist Kara Walker, who explores the raw intersection of race, gender, and sexuality in her work, sits down with Penn poet Charles Bernstein for a lively conversation about how violence intersects with art in our time.Week 6

Key terms: Modernity, Spectatorship, Orientalism

Feb. 24-26

Reading: Sturken & Cartwright, Chapter 3: “Modernity: Spectatorship, Power, and Knowledge,” 93-139; additional reading TBA.

**EXTRA CREDIT: Saturday, March 1

Field trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see The Surrealists: Work from the Collection (Admission is $14 for students). If you are interested in attending this field trip, notify the instructor. Bus will leave Lower Wismer lot at 9:30 am and arrive back at Ursinus at 1:30 pm.

Week 7Key terms: MemoryMarch 3-53/3 MidtermRead for 3/5: Erika Doss, “De Oppresso Liber and Reflecting Absence: Ground Zero Memorials and the War on Terror,” American Quarterly 65:1 (March 2013): 203-214.

Marita Sturken, “Tourism and ‘Sacred Ground’: The Space of Ground Zero,” in The Visual Culture Reader, Third Edition (London and New York: Routledge, 2013), 412-427.

Blog: Group 3 posts, Group 1 comments, Group 2 is off

Week 8: SPRING BREAKMarch 10-12Key terms: Relaxation, Rejuvenation
Week 9: Looking at scientific ImagesKey terms: Truth, PositivismMarch 17-19Read: Sturken & Cartwright, Chapter 9: “Scientific Looking, Looking at Science,” 347-388; J.B. Harley, “Silences and Secrecy: The Hidden Agenda of Cartography in Early Modern Europe,” Imago Mundi 40 (1988): 57-76.Blog: Group 1 posts, Group 2 comments, Group 3 is off
**Sunday, March 23: Mandatory field trip 8:45 a.m. -3:00 p.m.Franklin Institute to see the IMAX movie Ring of Fire and One Day in PompeiiTicket cost: $25 (You must give the money to the instructor by March 1st)
Week 10: Reproducible ImagesKey terms: Aura, ReproducibilityMarch 24-26
Read: Sturken &Cartwright, Chapter 5: “Visual Technologies, Image Reproduction, and the Copy,” 183-222; Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Illuminations (New York: Schocken Books), 217-251.Blog: Group 2 posts, Group 3 comments, Group 1 is off
**EXTRA CREDIT: Saturday, March 29Visit New York City to see Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany at the Neue Galerie ( Bus ticket is $25 and museum admission fee is $8.
Week 11: The Mass MediaKey terms: Mass Media, Public SphereMarch 31-April 2Read: Sturken & Cartwright, Chapter 6: “Media in Everyday Life,” 223-264Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message,” in Understanding Media (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002), 7-21.

Blog: Group 3 posts, Group 1 comments, Group 2 is off

Week 12: AdvertisingKey terms: Desire, Consumption, FetishApril 7-9Read: Sturken & Cartwright, Chapter 7: “Advertising, Consumer Cultures, and Desire,” 265-306; Jo-Ann Morgan, “Mammy the Huckster: Selling the Old South for the New Century,” American Art 9:1 (Spring 1995): 86-109.Blog: No blogging this week so you can work on your paper
Friday, April 11: Paper #2 due
Week 13: Postmodernism and Popular CultureKey terms: Postmodernism, StyleApril 14-16Read: Sturken & Cartwright, Chapter 8: “Postmodernism, Indie Media, and Popular Culture,” 307-346; Frederic Jameson, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society”
Blog: Group 1 posts, Group 2 comments, Group 3 is off
Week 14: Photography, Instagram, and Selfies
Review pages 16-22 and 212-220 in Sturken & Cartwright; and do the following readings:

Nathan Jurgenson, “The Faux-Vintage Photo,”, May 14, 2011;

Ian Crouch, “Instagram’s Instant Nostalgia,” The New Yorker, April 10, 2012,

Jerry Saltz, “At Arm’s Length: A History of the Selfie,” Vulture, January 26, 2014.

Blog: Group 2 posts, Group 3 comments, Group 1 is off

Week 15:
Global Flows Key terms: Globalism, Cultural Imperialism, PostcolonialismApril 21-23Read: Sturken & Cartwright, Chapter 10: “The Global Flow of Visual Culture,” 389-430.

Blog: Group 3 posts, Group 1 comments, Group 2 is off


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