Course Description

In 1980 John Berger famously asked, “Why Look at Animals?” Berger’s question serves as a launching point for this special studies seminar. In this course we will consider representations of animals in various forms of visual culture. From Albrecht Dürer’s The Rhinoceros (1515) to Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1992), nonhuman species have been a consistent component of Western art. Further, the animal body has been at the forefront of many technical innovations in visual culture. For example, Edweard Muybridge’s photographs for his 1887 publication Animal Locomotion have been celebrated as both expanding the boundaries of photography and an important foundation for cinematography. Likewise, Eduardo Kac’s creation of Alba the “GFP bunny” in 2000 raised numerous questions about the practice, ethics and materiality of making art. As this example demonstrates, the relationship between animals and visual culture goes beyond that of simple representation and has important implications for inter-species relationships. For instance, in recent years artists like Olly and Suzi have begun to “collaborate” with nonhuman animals in their art-making endeavours and organizations like the “Elephant Art Gallery” showcase works purportedly created by pachyderm painters.

Through directed readings, research assignments and seminar-style discussions, this course will engage with such questions as: Why do animals figure so prominently in the history of art? What are the ethical implications of picturing animals? What does it mean when artists collaborate with animals? Are animal images art or science? What can we learn from images of animals and what can these representations tell us about ourselves?