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ARTH 388 Narration and Art: Thinking with Mieke Bal

  • Wednesdays, 11:45am - 2:15pm
  • EV 1.605
  • Instructor: Dr. Laurie Milner

In this course, we will explore the development of ideas about narrative and art by the Dutch interdisciplinary cultural theorist, critic, and video artist Mieke Bal (b. 1946) and consider their implications for writing about art today. This will involve reading a selection of her texts, responding to them, and doing some of our own writing experiments.

We will begin with introductions to narratology and the three-layer system proposed by Bal to facilitate interpretive description and discussion of cultural artefacts that ‘tell a story’ (Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative, 1985). In lectures, discussions, readings, and videos, we will explore how Bal’s definitions, which are precise and systematic, might apply in the analysis and interpretation of selected art objects and performances. This will lead us to discussions of the multiple temporalities at play in narrative artefacts and in each beholder’s experience of them. Understanding that beholding and writing are spatial and temporal events involving matter, perception, memory and desire, our discussion will open to the manifold identifications and meanings that are activated in our encounter with art.

In her recent writings on contemporary art Bal aims to provide a reading of the relationship of politics and art that is not hinged to the content or subject matter of either. “In exploring what makes art political”, she writes, “I explore where art’s political efficacy can be located; how it performs; how it exerts agency; and what the point is of art’s political agency for the larger domain or culture” (2010). These relations and effects will be discussed and explored through the analysis of a range of contemporary art objects and practices.

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