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Skidmore College
First-Year Experience

Scribner Seminar Program
Course Description

The Seductive Figure: The Heroic and Grotesque as Symbolic Form in Art

Instructor(s): Joanne Vella, Studio Art

An exploration of good and evil as examples of the heroic and the grotesque through portrayals of the human figure in visual and literary art of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. Students will scrutinize characteristics of the heroic and grotesque in works of art to consider notions of separateness and interdependence of these extremes and dispel myths based on oversimplification, stereotyping, and compartmentalization of human nature. This course considers artistic portrayals of the human figure that reflect the rapidly changing technological, political, and social structures of the modern and contemporary world—how each generation of artists reinterprets the human subject, invents appropriate figurative forms, and struggles to create its own aesthetic. Startlingly diverse, extreme, and bizarre interpretations—heroic as well as grotesque—will be studied, attesting to the complex forces bearing on the human condition. Students will analyze the human figure as "loaded" symbolic form created by artists obsessed with such themes as war, love, alienation, sexuality, heroism, and beauty. Psychological, philosophical, sociological, historical, and critical perspectives will provide the context for studying painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, and many other art forms by many artists including Rodin, Kahlo, Matisse, Goya, Giacometti, Bacon, Toulouse-Lautrec, Sargent, Fischl, Spero, Golub, and Picasso, as well as literary art by Mann. In addition to written work, research, discussions, and projects, students will create drawings and paintings as a means to examine and contemplate the students' own human nature and our collective humanity full of lofty ideals and visceral passions.

Course Offered: