Western history traditionally held that the human figure was the original and ultimate subject of art. Typically that body was idealized; officially art’s greatest achievement was transforming lived flesh into something beautiful, flawless, and transcendent. Why, then, has art so often returned to bodies that are carnal, ugly, disgusting, or horrific? This course considers artistic modes (grotesque, abject, obscene) and subjects (excretion, mortality, perversion, deformity) that make up this alternative aesthetic history. Starting from a shared interest in the body by artists and filmmakers in the 1970s and 1980s, our thematic survey extends from prehistory to the present, while focusing on marginalized artistic periods such as the medieval and baroque. What meanings have been attributed to body horror and how have they changed? What purposes has horror served, especially in disenfranchising women; sexual, racial, and ethnic minorities; the disabled and physically different? Readings draw on philosophy, sociology, anthropology, sociology, psychoanalysis, and literature as well as art history and cinema studies. These theories will help us to understand contemporary artworks (by artists such as Robert Gober, Paul McCarthy, Kiki Smith, Kara Walker) and films (by Tod Browning, David Cronenberg, Stuart Gordon, Ridley Scott, and others).
Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)