Art and Biography

Instructor: Elisabeth Fraser

How does one write about the individual artist after the new cultural history and poststructuralism? Is the "author" still dead, as Roland Barthes declared her to be? This class will look at how art historians and artists themselves use often mythical elements of biography to explain aspects of art.

A generation ago, art historians rejected the individualism of the art-historical monograph, historians critiqued the "great-men-and-great-events" model of history-writing, poststructuralism emphasized cultural intertextuality instead of author-based notions of intentionality, and postmodernism rejected the hagiography of the towering modernist artist and the notion of the individual's autonomous art production. However, a host of new writings have begun to appear that reread the artist's biography through cultural history and this theoretical inheritance. What is this New Biography, as it has been called? How can we reconcile biographical approaches and critical theory? Can cultural history address the individual?

In this seminar, we will read about the mythic and legendary status of the artist in modern history and some of the now-classic theoretical writings that critiqued biographical approaches. The core of the class will focus on recent examples of biographical writing. We will also look at popular imagery of modernist myths, for instance the film version of Van Gogh's biography, Lust for Life.

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