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First-Year Writing Seminar: Portraiture and Power

Semester and Year FA 2015
Course Number FIRST-UG400
Section 001
Instructor Nina Hien
Days TR
Time 2:00 PM - 3:15 PM
12:00 AM - 12:00 AM
Units 4
Level U


Open to Gallatin first-year students only.


From Velazquez’s dazzling and enigmatic Spanish Baroque painting “Las Meninas,” which depicts the artist himself in the presence of the royal family, to the current moment when the digital “selfie” is thought to function as a gauge of cultural narcissism, this writing-intensive class will examine “the portrait” and its prominent and peculiar place as a visual and textual object in global contexts through description, formal analysis and contextualization. What forms of power and identity are portraits capable of representing and revealing? How can portraiture expose the ways that a society classifies its people, establishes its hierarchies and presents its value systems? In addition to examining portraiture as an art practice, we will explore it as a vernacular and ritual form in diverse time periods and geographical locations. We will devote some attention to the practice of street photography as well as to the formation of iconic images and the representational politics of figures including Mussolini, Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh. We will consider what influences different and transforming media technologies have on representing people and the self. In two five-page essays and three drafts of a 10-page final essay, students will develop academic writing and rhetorical skills through an engagement with visual and textual material. Course material may include essays or works by Italo Calvino, George Simmel, Vivian Maier, Michel Foucault, Richard Brilliant, Nancy Burson, Graham Clarke, Geoffrey Batchen and James Elkins.


All Syllabi

Course Type

First-Year Program: Writing Seminars (FIRST-UG)