Portraiture and Identity in Philadelphia
Instructor: Susanna Williams Gold
In this course, students will take advantage of Philadelphia's rich cultural resources to study developments in 18th- through 20th-century American portraiture in painting, sculpture, and photography. Frequent visits to local collections including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Library Company of Philadelphia will offer students the opportunity to work directly from objects as they learn how to "look" at images of people, develop a vocabulary for describing these images, and explore the ways in which portraits communicate ideas about self and society through visual properties.
Throughout the semester, we will consider the issue of identity, examining how images describe or construct the values, ambitions, accomplishments, and personalities of both the artist and the sitter. We will address questions of how pose, gesture, costume, and setting contribute to our interpretation of portraits, what roles gender, race, and class play in pictorial construction, and how one is to approach the self-portrait as opposed to the portrait of an anonymous figure or celebrity.
Our museum visits are designed to complement critical reading of recent art historical scholarship and lively classroom discussion. Over the course of the semester, students will a develop a series of short, critical essays in which they will analyze specific images or evaluate scholarly arguments in preparation for a larger research project on a single work or small group of works in one of Philadelphia's local collections. Students will have the opportunity to refine and polish their written work with peer reviews and individual student-instructor conferences, and share their final project in an informal oral presentation. Special attention will be given to research strategies and working with library resources.