In Dr. Phoebe Wolfskill's course AMST-A 204: Race in American Art, students will examine representations of racial identity in American art and visual culture from the colonial period through the present day.
An interview with Dr. Phoebe Wolfskill, Associate Professor in the Department of American Studies and African American and African Diaspora Studies is below.
How does this course fit the theme of this year’s Themester?
Dr. Wolfskill: Exploring issues of identity and identification is a fundamental component of my class AMST A204/ARTH 200 Race in American Art. The course allows students to consider how racial and ethnic identities are constructed over time within American art and visual culture. We examine representations of racial identity in American visual culture from the colonial period through the present day with a particular focus on evolving conceptions of Native American, African American, Euro American, Latinx, Arab, Muslim, and Asian American identities. Objects for consideration are discussed chronologically within the larger social, cultural, and political history of North America.
We evaluate the ways in which racial identity and racial conflict are presented in paintings, sculpture, prints, photographs, film/TV, and other popular imagery, focusing on relationships of power, portrayals of “otherness,” and majority and minority self-representation.
In our investigation of visual objects, we consider the political and social climate in which they were made, how they were used, and their place within visual culture and existing histories. While racial and ethnic identities are a central subject of the course, issues of gender, class, age, sexual orientation, religious practices, political leanings, rural/urban identity, and artistic training or lack thereof, will enhance and complicate our discussion of identity as intersectional.
Why is it important for students to take this course? What knowledge or skills do you hope they gain?
Dr. Wolfskill: This course promotes informed critical and ethical citizenship.
We cannot understand why/how racism continues to be a problem unless we know its history, which is central to the history of the US (and the globe).
Students must be versed in issues of diversity to negotiate the job market and life more generally. This course allows students the opportunity to study visual objects and the various individuals and communities that created them. The artists and periods under discussion purposefully diverge from the standard visual materials produced by white American artists (those who have been positioned as central to the history of art and have largely controlled the discourse).
What, to you, is the most interesting aspect of this course? What do you learn from teaching it?
Dr. Wolfskill: The course is capped at forty students, allowing for active discussion, participation at Themester events, and the use of materials throughout campus. We will study objects held in the Lilly Library, the Eskenazi Museum, and the Thomas Hart Benton murals (located in the auditorium, 100 Woodburn, and the IU Cinema). Students tend to enjoy viewing these resources outside of the classroom. Most of the students will not know much if anything about the Benton murals or the specific materials located at the Lilly or the Eskenazi until they take this class. I strive to make the students aware of and engage with the amazing resources available to them at IU.
Are there any assignments that you are particularly excited about?
Dr. Wolfskill: Students write a paper analyzing a particular visual work we’ve viewed outside of class (at the Lilly, the Eskenazi, or the Benton murals). This assignment allows for original research and interpretation, introduces students to close study of our resources on campus, and pushes them to think critically and analytically. The curators and librarians appreciate this kind of assignment because it allows them to get involved with students and know that their resources are being studied.
What type of students would you encourage to take this course?
Dr. Wolfskill: Any student interested in American studies, art and visual culture, and historical and contemporary constructions of race. My sense is that students respond to visuals and enjoy this kind of historical/political/ ethical discussion using visual materials.
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