Writing Visual Culture in Cambridge, England
/ Course Objective

July 14 – 28
3 Humanities and Sciences Credits
Course Number: HWD-2382-A
Tuition: $4,100

Faculty: Kyoko Miyabe

This course is designed to help students become aware of the impact of their own work by becoming better observers and communicators.

The supplementary readings will familiarize students with existing ideas, theories and viewpoints, which will provide the lens and vocabulary that they can use to develop, examine and express their own thoughts and observations. By immersing themselves in these historically and culturally rich cities, students will expand their perspective, enhance their understanding of visual culture, and learn how words, like visual languages, can be a powerful tool to help refine and communicate their ideas.

Students are required to attend all workshops; complete all reading and writing assignments, including daily short writing assignments; final portfolio which includes two revised pieces developed from the short writing assignments (one 2-3 page paper and one 4-5 page paper); and a class presentation based on the longer piece.

Workshop 1
Image and its meaning 1: Who creates meaning?
Discuss how the artist’s / producer’s intended meaning is not always conveyed to the viewer; how information about the artist / producer, the portrayed subject, the specific historical / cultural moment in which the image was produced as well as in which the image is viewed can add to or alter our understanding of the image.

Case Study: Controversy over Dana Schutz’s painting based on a photograph of Emmett Till at the Whitney Biennial 2017; Annie Leibovitz’s photography of Yoko Ono and John Lennon (taken hours before Lennon’s death); Frans Hals’ Regents of the Old Men’s Alms House; Dorothea Lange’s photograph, Migrant Mother etc.


  • Calvin Tomkins, “Why Dana Schutz Painted Emmett Till,” The New Yorker April 10, 2017; and other selected reviews about the painting and its controversy
  • Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright, Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture, Chapter 2, “Viewers Make Meaning”
  • John Berger, Ways of Seeing, pp.11-16
  • Simon Schama, Face of Britain: History of the Nation through Its Portraits, pp.236-38 

Workshop 2
Image and its meaning 2: placement and presentation
Discuss how the physical location of the image (e.g. artworks in museums; street art; physical work vs. reproduction on the Internet) and its presentation (e.g. wall text in museums; juxtaposition with other artworks; the physical space of the museum / gallery) can affect the way the meaning of an image is conveyed and interpreted.

Case study: Compare response to the artwork on museum website and response at the site (Fitzwilliam Museum and Tate Modern; consider the gallery space; wall text; nearby artworks; framing etc.)


  • Excerpts from Brian O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube
  • Sturken and Cartwright, Practices of Looking, Chapter 1, “Images, Power, and Politics”

Workshop 3
Appropriating images: parody and pastiche
Discuss iconic / advertisement images that imitate, emulate, or remake already existing images. What is the meaning of the original image? Of the “new” image? What is the tension between the two? What knowledge does it presume the viewers to have? What is gained / lost through this parody, pastiche or remake?

Case study: Shepard Fairey’s Barak Obama “Hope” poster; based on the work of an AP photographer; copyright issues; parodies of his poster; advertisement http://www.designer-daily.com/advertising-inspired-by-famous-painters-19619


  • Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”
  • Sturken and Cartwright, Practices of Looking, Chapter 5, “Visual Technologies, Image Reproduction, and the Copy”

Workshop 4
Power of images
Discuss how images have the power to control viewers’ response, desire and knowledge; image as a means not to represent but to construct reality.

Case study: How Queen Elizabeth I controlled the production of her portraits to ensure her persona as the Virgin Queen; photographs of disasters, tragedy; advertisements and branding; selfies


  • Schama, Face of Britain, pp.32-41
  • Excerpt from Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida
  • Sturken and Cartwright, Practices of Looking, Chapter 7, “Advertising, Consumer Cultures, and Desire”

Workshop 5 – 9

  • Peer / group critiques
  • Research & revisions
  • Review citations, paraphrasing
  • Prepare for class presentations

Other reading / viewing assignments will include excerpts from:

  • Susan Sontag, On Photography
  • Virginia Postrel, The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness
  • Banksy dir., Exit Through the Gift Shop
  • BBC, How Art Made the World: The Epic Story of How Humans Made Art and Art Made Us Human