Here's the abridged syllabuys for "Perceptions", one of the two classes I'm teaching at CCA this semester:
Visual & Critical Studies Program
California College of the Arts
Instructor: Matteo Bittanti
Meeting place & time: SF Campus, GCC1 GC1 12:00 - 3 pm
Start Date: January 17 2012
End Date: May 5 2012
Office hours: by appointment only
Please contact me by email to arrange an appointment.
Table of contents
1. Course Description
1.1 Course Format & Requirements
1.2 Learning Outcomes
2. Required texts
2.1 Audiovisual Material
3. Class Discussions
4. Research Project, Mid-term and Final Presentation
4.1 Mid-term Project & Presentation
4.2 Final Project & Presentation
6. Classroom Conduct & Attendance Guidelines
1. Course Description
"Perceptions" provides a general understanding of visual and critical studies in relation to histories and theories of visual perception. This course explores a series of key topics in the field of visual and critical studies concerning the relationship between images and media with the aim of developing a critical understanding of these complexities.
As "Perceptions" looks into a number of theories concerning this evolving connection, the main focus of our inquiries will be a cluster of consistently recurring ideas about vision, media, and historical development. Specifically, we will examine different iterations of the premise that vision has a history, including the claim that recognizable "modes of perception" can be periodized or historicized alongside changes in visual technology. Several examples of visual experiences will be discussed, from nineteenth-century optical toys to photography, from cinema to television, from computer-based interaction to data visualization and their relationship to notions of subjectivity, knowledge, power, and politics. Our investigation will be supported by a close critical reading of some of the most compelling theories produced in the past twenty years by bold, original, and innovative scholars such as David Jay Bolter, Anne Friedberg, Vilém Flusser, Richard Grusin, Friedrich Kittler, Lev Manovich, and Slavoj Zizek.
Students will: a) compare and contrast their narratives, in order to develop a deeper understanding of visual culture; b) use principles of visual and critical studies to analyze works of historical and contemporary visual culture; c) sharpen their research, verbal and written skills through weekly readings and the development of critical papers on topics related to images, media, and perception.
1.1 Course Format & Requirements
Classes will consist of lectures, screenings, in-class discussions, and student presentations. Our approach will be both historical and thematic. Students are expected to read and critically discuss books, essays, articles, and watch audiovisual material (films/documentaries/shorts) both in class and at home. Students are also expected to come to class with several questions in mind for discussion. Readings, questions, and extras will be posted on the password-protected class blog. Finally, students are required to write - and present to the class - a final paper of 10 pages minimum and a 3-page mid-term paper.
1.2 Learning OutcomesIn addition to the key goals described in section 1, Perceptions emphasizes the following learning outcomes:
- Methods of Critical Analysis: Students will learn to identify, actively engage with, and carry out exegeses of individual texts, both visual and textual. Students will be consistently required to dissect written texts and oral presentations and to articulate the primary and secondary claims being advanced. When identifying, clarifying, and posing relevant questions about the various types of assertions found in both texts and presentations, students will also incorporate into their analyses a reflexive and self-aware consideration of methodological issues.
- Written and Verbal Communication: Students will continue to hone their communication skills by presenting their ideas in different types of writing assignments and within class discussions and oral presentations.
- Visual Literacy: Students will learn how to recognize and decode different media aesthetics, conventions, and languages through an analysis of different kinds of visual artifacts that are derived from, produced using, or merely associated with specific media or machine technologies.
- Research Skills: Students will hone their skills in information gathering, documentation, investigation, analysis, interpretation, and evaluation.
- Interdisciplinarity: Students will understand various ways in which different media aesthetics intersect with other areas of social, technological, and cultural history.
- Professional development: Students will learn to write outlines for oral presentations and essay; to present their ideas in a professional manner, to write a long critical essay that balances their own interests with the course's main subject matter and its key issues.
2. Required texts
We will read the following books from cover to cover:
- Anne Friedberg, The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005.
- Friedrich Kittler, Optical Media, New York: Polity, 2010.
- Vilém Flusser, Into the Universe of Technical Images. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
And selected chapters from the following books:
- Richard Grusin and David Jay Bolter, Remediation: Understanding New Media, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1999.
- Slavoj Zizek, The Plague of Fantasies, London: Verso, 1997. (2nd edition)
- Margot Loverjoy, Christiane Paul and Victoria Vesna, Context Providers: Conditions of Meaning in Media Arts, London: Intellect Books, 2011.
For their final project, students are required to read and critically + creatively review one of the following novels:
- Don Delillo, Point Omega: A Novel, New York: Scribner, 2009.
- Ewan Morrison, Ménage, London: Jonathan Cape: 2009.
- Michel Houellebecq, The Map and the Territory, Trans. Gavin Bowd. New York: Knopf.
Last but not least, A Writer’s Reference (6th Edition) by Diana Hacker will be our style guide.
Additional and optional essays/papers/articles/videos will be provided by the instructor on a weekly basis, via the password-protected class blog.
Please note that since the workload is considerable, it is strongly recommended to plan ahead.
2.1 Audiovisual Material
During the course of the semester, we will watch, both at home and in class, several videos, including:
- The Genius of Photography, BBC, 2009
- The Joy of Stats, BBC, 2010
- Sophia Fiennes, The Perverse Guide to Cinema 1-2-3, 2006
3. Class Discussion
Students will be expected to come to class with the reading/viewing done and be ready for discussion. Try to think of class meetings as a resource session in which you can get your questions answered and at the same time, learn what concerns are driving your colleagues. At some point in the course, students will be asked to lead and moderate in-class conversations. To do it effectively, students will need to be able to summarize the key arguments of a specific reading and suggest how they connect to themes in our ongoing discussion. Students will also need propose key questions for subsequent discussions. Students can prepare a formal presentation or simply use their notes.
4. Midterm Project, Final Project, Mid- and Final Presentations
Students will develop two written projects and two oral presentations using principles of visual and critical studies. In order to complete this task successfully, students will be required to undertake rigorous and thorough research of the topic. Specifically, students are expected to:
a) Develop a clear and original thesis.
b) Present the thesis and organize the supporting evidence in a logical manner in the form of a critical essay.
c) Give a clear and persuasive in-class presentation of their research projects to their peers.
4.1 The Midterm Project & Presentation: "My Screenscape" (Due March 1, 2012)
In 1997, artist Alexei Shulgin wrote
“Desktop is the main element of a human – machine interface. Desktop is your window to the digital world. Desktop is your first step into virtual reality. Desktop is a reflection of your individuality. Desktop is your everyday visual environment. Desktop is an extension of your organs. Desktop is the face of your computer. Desktop is your everyday torture and joy. Desktop is your own little masterpiece. Desktop is your castle. Desktop is a seducer. Desktop is a reliever. Desktop is your enemy. Desktop is your friend. Desktop is a psychoanalyst. Desktop is your little helper. Desktop is your link to other people. Desktop is a device for meditation. Desktop is the membrane that mediates transactions between client and server. Desktop is a substitute for so many other things. Desktop is a question. Desktop is the answer.” (Alexei Shulgin, 1997)
Fifteen years later, The Guardian started a new fascinating series titled "Writers' Desktop", in which writers describe their working lives by revealing what is on their computer desktops. So far, contributions from Tom McCarthy, Steven Hall, Julie Myerson, and Louise Doughty have been published.
Taking direct inspiration from these imaginative projects, students are required to write a short essay of 1500 words (Font: Arial, Size: 12, Spacing: 1.5, excluding bibliography and footnotes) about their computer desktop's image specifically and, more in general, about their relationship with their laptop computer, by actively incorporating ideas, themes, and concepts encountered in our readings (especially Friedberg and Kittler's).
Unlike a newspaper article, the Midterm project requires a full bibliography and proper formatting (MLA). Failure to include a bibliography or improper formatting will automatically result in a lower grade.
The Midterm project must be submitted in two ways:
1) as a printed document handed brevi manu to the instructor on 1 March 1 2012;
2) as an electronic file, sent to the instructor via email by March 1 2012. Most formats are accepted (e.g. .DOC, .RTF) but not .PDF.
In addition to the written essay, students are required to give one oral presentation based on their research. Depending on the number of students enrolled, the duration of the presentation will range from 10 to 15 minutes and will take place on March 1st 2012. Students are strongly encouraged to make full use of audio-visual resources for their presentation (film clips, slide-show of still images, Powerpoint, Prezi, video etc.). Finally, all students are expected to skillfully critique their peers' presentations. The oral/visual presentation will be evaluated on the basis of the students' ability to look critically and express her or his own ideas in oral and visual form. The assessment guide will be available on the class' blog.
4.2 Final Project: "Novel/Art"
Students are required to write an essay of 3500-4000 words (Font: Arial, Size: 12, Spacing: 1.5, excluding bibliography and footnotes).
The paper is designed to help you reflect, analyze, and discuss core themes and ideas encountered in PERCEPTIONS, produce a critical analysis dealing with primary and secondary materials, and develop a background in the area that will allow you to pursue more in-depth research projects in the future, e.g. a thesis or a dissertation.
The final project will consist in a "critical/creative review" of one of the following novels: Don Delillo's Point Omega, Ewan Morrison's Menage or Michel Houellebecq's The Map and the Territory (see 3.1. for details).
What is meant by "critical/creative review"?
Students are expected to make connections between the ideas, theories, and concepts encountered in the class and the novels. Students should attempt to decipher the novel's themes by applying the theoretical tools discussed during the semester (e.g. What role does cartography play in Houellebecq's novel? What is the significance of Douglas Gordon's artwork, "24 Hour Psycho" in Delillo's book? What is the function of the art critic in Morrison's Ménage?).
In other words, to qualify as "critical/creative", students are expected to go beyond the simple description/summary of the novel. Instead, they will provide an interpretation based on ideas discussed by Kittler, Friedberg, Zizek, Grusin, Bolter, and Flusser. Specifically, students will compare-and-contrast the scholars' theories on media and art, vision and perception by using, as a case study, the novel.
Students may address one or more of these research questions or objectives:
- How do the visual elements described in the novel(s) relate to the ideas encountered in the readings? Which specific idea can be used to better understand the role, function, and effect of featured artworks, raning from painting to photography, from installation art to video art?
- What is the role played by visual artifacts in the novel of your choice? What is their significance and relevance within the context of the story? As the artworks described are in metonymical relationship with the Artworld, what conclusion can we draw about the function of Art as a whole in the fictional reality crafted by the writer? And does that affect "our" own understanding of the Artworld as a social and cultural space?
- What kind of language does the novelist use to describe the nature and function of images in the story? If you were to identify a framework, which one(s) would you pick (e.g. Friedberg's, Kittler's, Flusser's, etc.). Why? Are the theoretical frameworks applied in one source more useful in answering your question(s) than those adopted in another? Are the theoretical frameworks applied in one source more useful in answering your question(s) than those adopted in another? Are there any gaps in the form of relevant questions that do not appear to have been tackled by the authors you read? Can the novel help us to understand and articulate possible contradictions and inconsistencies, within a single text (e.g. Flusser's) or multiple texts (e.g. Kittler vs. Bolter & Grusin)
In short, students are expected to display the ability to:
- make non trivial connections between theory and practice
- recognize un-stated and invalid assumptions in arguments.
- distinguish facts from opinions.
- distinguish an argument’s conclusions from the statements that support it.
- recognize what kind of evidence is relevant and essential for the validation of an argument.
- recognize how much evidence is needed to support a conclusion.
- distinguish between relevant and irrelevant statements and evidence.
- identify logical fallacies.
It is essential to discuss your ideas with the instructor before developing a full proposal. It is also a very good idea to look ahead in the syllabus and get started early.
The final paper is worth 35% of your final grade (55%, including the presentation).
It is due the last day of class: April 26 2012 at noon.
The final paper must be submitted in two ways:
1) as a printed document - yes, on good old fashioned paper! - handed brevi manu to the instructor on April 26 2012 and as
2) an electronic file, sent to the instructor via email by April 26 2012.
Most formats are accepted (e.g. .DOC, .RTF) but not .PDF.
Students can include up to six images in your final paper, but only if properly credited and used to make a point. The use of images for mere decorative purposes is highly discouraged.
The paper will be evaluated on the basis of the students' ability to look critically and express her or his own ideas in the form of expository writing. The assessment guide is provided below.
In addition to the written essay, students are required to give one oral presentation based on their research. Depending on the number of students enrolled, the duration of the presentation will range from 15 to 20 minutes and will take place on the last two classes of the semester. Students are strongly encouraged to make full use of audio-visual resources for their presentation (film clips, slide-show of still images, Powerpoint, Prezi, video etc.).
Finally, all students are expected to skillfully critique their peers' presentations. The oral/visual presentation will be evaluated on the basis of the students' ability to look critically and express her or his own ideas in oral and visual form. The assessment guide will be available on the class' blog.
Final grades will be determined as follows:
- Attendance, participation - both in class and online: 20%
- Midterm project and presentation: 25%
- Final presentation: 20%
- Final paper: 35%
One of the primary goals of this class is to help the students develop a critical eye. This class presents elements of both seminar and lecture courses. As such, students will be asked to provide relevant input, during discussions and in-class critiques.
Each student will be evaluated on the basis of the Visual and Critical Studies Assessment Grid (available on ythe class blog).
Each area of assessment corresponds to the following numeric evaluation:
2 developing skills
3 proficient skills
4 exceptional skills
6. Classroom Conduct & Attendance Guidelines
1) Promptness is a basic requirement. Repeated lateness lowers your class participation grade considerably.
2) The use electronic devices, gadgets, and gizmos - including smart phones - during class is not permitted. Note-taking on a laptop is not allowed. Please wait for the break to make phone calls or use the internet. Computers may only be used for in-class presentations. In class texting will automatically result in a lower grade.
3) Sleeping, chatting in the back of the room, reading external materials, working on external projects during the class session - any of these behaviors can result in immediate ejection from the class and in lower grades.
4) If more than one class is missed due to illness, students must submit written verification from a physician and notify professor via e-mail or in writing. Written medical documents must be submitted within two weeks of an absence. Any student with more than two unexcused absences during the semester will find that each additional absence, after the second, lowers his or her class participation grade by one full letter. In other words, the third unexcused absence would lower a B to a C; the fourth would result in an F.
5) Students are not allowed to eat during class.
6) There are no make-up presentations or assignments.
7) Students who miss a class must collect the material discussed in class. In most cases, such material will be available on the class blog. At any rate, always make sure to contact the instructor email about the availability of such materials.
Thank you for your cooperation!
Please note that the schedule is subject to change
WEEK 1: January 19, 2012
Introduction to the course
WEEK 2: January 26, 2012
- Anne Friedberg, The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005. "The Window", pp. 25-58.
- Friedrich Kittler, Optical Media, New York: Polity, 2010. "Preface", "Theoretical Presuppositions" and "Technologies of the Fine Arts", pp. 19-70.
WEEK 3: February 2, 2012
- Anne Friedberg, The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005. "The Frame", pp. 59-100.
- Friedrich Kittler, Optical Media, New York: Polity, 2010. "Technologies of the Fine Arts", pp. 70-118.
WEEK 4: February 9, 2012
- Anne Friedberg, The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005. "The Age of Windows", pp. 100-148.
- Friedrich Kittler, Optical Media, New York: Polity, 2010. "Optical Media", pp. 118-145.
WEEK 5: February 16, 2012
- Anne Friedberg, The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005. "The Screen", pp. 149-190.
- Friedrich Kittler, Optical Media, New York: Polity, 2010. "Optical Media", pp. 145 - 207.
WEEK 6: February 23, 2012
- Anne Friedberg, The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005. "The Multiple", pp. 191-249.
- Friedrich Kittler, Optical Media, New York: Polity, 2010. "Optical Media", pp. 207 - 230.
WEEK 7: March 1, 2012
Midterm due - students presentations.
WEEK 8: March 8, 2012
- Vilém Flusser, Into the Universe of Technical Images (Electronic Mediations). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
WEEK 9: March 15, 2012
- Richard Grusin and David Jay Bolter, Remediation: Understanding New Media, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1999. pp. 2-88.
WEEK 10: March 22, 2012
Spring Break - no class.
WEEK 11: March 29, 2012
- Richard Grusin and David Jay Bolter, Remediation: Understanding New Media, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1999. pp. 88-220. [March 15 2012]
WEEK 12: April 5, 2012
- Slavoj Zizek, "Cyberspace, or The Unbearable Closure of Being," and "Appendix I. From Sublime to the Ridiculous. The Sexual Act in Cinema," in The Plague of Fantasies, London: Verso, 1997. Pp. 161-245.
Screening: Sophia Fiennes, The Perverse Guide to Cinema 1-2-3, 2006.
WEEK 13: April 12, 2012
- Kevin Kelly, "Becoming Screen Literate", The New York Times, November 23, 2008.
- Lev Manovich, "What is Visualization?", 2010. manovich.net.
- Will Brooker, "Now You're Thinking With Portals: Media Training for a Digital World",International Journal of Cultural Studies, 2010, 13: 553 - 573.
- Warren Sack, "Aesthetics of Information Visualization", in Margot Loverjoy, Christiane Paul and Victoria Vesna, Context Providers: Conditions of Meaning in Media Arts, London: Intellect Books, 2011, pp. 123-151.
Screening: BBC, The Joy of Stats, 2010 (excerpts).
WEEK 14: April 19, 2012
Final presentations 1 of 2.
WEEK 15, April 26, 2012
Final presentations 2 of 2.
Final Project paper due at 4 pm.