Dangerous Art

“Art” is usually a word that invokes images of beauty.  We think of museums, hushed words, and names like Picasso, Dali, or Renoir.  This, however, is only half the story of the art world.  Professor Nina Mikhalevsky tells this darker side in her Freshman Seminar class, “Banned & Dangerous Art“, offered this semester and hosted on UMW Blogs.

Dr. Mikahalevsky brings a philosophical perspective to this subject: Students are required to read classic works by Plato, Aristotle, and Hume, and apply their research to understanding what makes a piece of art “dangerous.”  They also tackle the question of why we ban art, and even more difficult, the question of what art really is.

Purim by Marc Chagall.

"Purim," by Marc Chagall, has been on banned art lists.

The website is stocked with links to books, music, and artwork that have come under fire by various institutions and countries over the years. Check out the lists, if only to be surprised by what makes the list. Dr. Mikalevsky has included the main questions her students are expected to answer about each piece, which may stimulate your own philosophizing.

Dangerous, beautiful, or both, art never fails to incite conversation.

An Encoded Education

This semester Dr. Zach Whalen offered his senior seminar Code(s), Culture, and the Postmodern.  This seminar, which acts as a capstone for English majors, promises to “explore various cultures of code (where code is, further, defined in various ways)”, analyze codes of culture, andexplore the ways in which literature uses “code in a recurring thematic and structural element in contemporary literature.”

Students look at several intriguing works over the course of the semester.  Possibly the most interesting of the five required texts are two by Mark

Inside Foer's "Tree of Codes"

Inside Foer's "Tree of Codes"

Danielewski and one by Jonathan Safran Foer, which contrive to use the medium in unique ways.  “Only Revolutions” by Danielewski requires the reader to flip the book around every eight pages and includes a colorful “history gutter” running down the center of the pages.  His other novel, “House of Leaves,” is a work that features stenographic codes hidden throughout.  These codes only add to the mind-bending narrative. Foer’s “Tree of Codes” is a tough nut to crack in itself, particularly because of the way its format (pictured).  It’s hard to imagine the paperback industry dying with fascinating creations such as these.

Students are in charge of possessing their own digital spaces where they must reflect on the class each week. These posts then agregate at a course hub set up pre-semester by Whalen. It is possible to follow along with their work, tweets, and even the bibliography generated by the course.

The course culminates in a major project, the type of which is left open to the individual: One can follow the traditional route of writing an in-depth essay, or create a unique project that

demonstrates understanding of the content and explores a concept.  With the unique texts being considered, either path is sure to generate an interesting outcome.

This is definitely a class worth following.