Syllabus: Situation Critical—Writing Arts & Cultural Criticism in the Digital Age Online Workshop

Online @ Visual Studies Workshop, SUNY Brockport, 13-17 July 2020

Instructor

Dr. Michael J. Kramer

Overview

Interested in writing more effectively about the arts and culture in multiple modes, from traditional reviews to audio podcasting, videographic essays, social media approaches, multimedia formats, and other forms of critical engagement? In this workshop, we survey the history of arts and cultural criticism in America, with particular attention to diverse critical traditions and perspectives. Students will develop projects through collaborative workshops, ongoing dialogue, and videoconferences with established critics and editors for music, dance/theater, visual art, and more. Students can focus exclusively on drafting written criticism online through a simple WordPress website or explore the experimental digital approaches to arts and cultural criticism each day. Each student will leave the workshop with a webpage of work that can serve as the start of a portfolio of new modes of arts and cultural criticism. The majority of this online workshop will be asynchronous except for 1-2 hours per day for videoconference discussions with visiting critics.

How to Enroll

This workshop is available to participants at any level of interest or experience. No previous digital or critical expertise is required, just a willingness to explore. Students may take the course for 3 undergraduate or 2 graduate credit hours from SUNY Brockport. Click here to register online or contact tateshaw@vsw.org for more information to register by phone.

How the Workshop Works

  • The workshop is structured to get you started on writing about different forms of arts and culture.
  • You can choose to focus exclusively on your writing.
  • Or you can explore the optional digital experiments if you wish to probe new ways of pursuing arts and culture criticism online.
  • Each day, we tackle a different form of arts and culture and different digital possibilities.
  • The goal is not necessarily to complete a fully developed digital project (that takes more than a week most likely), but rather to experiment and start to think about possibilities, propose concepts and ideas, formulate plans, and do so through experimentation.
  • Each morning your task is to read over the days schedule and make a plan for yourself. We gather from 10:30-11:15 on Zoom to check in. Then you can work on the day’s tasks. There are readings and proposed assignments, but if you wish to incorporate new ideas, write about something different, or try out a digital experiment of your own, you are welcome to do so.
  • We reconvene from 4-5pm to check in about the day’s work. This is a drop-in Zoom session, so you can spend the whole time with us or pop online to say hi as you wish.
  • Most evenings and a few afternoons, a special guest will join us for an hour of informal discussion about their career, their work, their ideas, and art and cultural criticism in general. Attendance required.
  • You may conduct your work in the course in public, or you may complete your assignments just for the instructor and your fellow students by setting a password on your WordPress posts or website as a whole. Either is fine.
  • It goes without saying (but I am saying it anyway) that while there is a very wide range of discourse one can engage in with arts and cultural criticism in our course, including difficult ideas and unpopular positions, no racist, sexist, or otherwise phobic writing is appropriate. Speak your truth, but be accountable to others, please.

Other Policies

Disabilities and Accommodations

As the father of a child with neuroatypicality, Professor Kramer recognizes that students may require to accommodations to learn effectively. In accord with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Brockport Faculty Senate legislation, students with documented disabilities may be entitled to specific accommodations. Brockport’s Office for Students with Disabilities makes this determination. Please phone the Office at (585) 395-5409 or e-mail at osdoffic@brockport.edu to inquire about obtaining an official letter for the instructor detailing any approved accommodations. You are responsible for providing the course instructor with an official letter. Faculty work with the Office for Students with Disabilities to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

Discrimination and Harassment

Sex and gender discrimination, including sexual harassment, are prohibited in educational programs and activities, including classes. Title IX legislation and College policy require the College to provide sex and gender equity in all areas of campus life. If you or someone you know has experienced sex or gender discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, or stalking, we encourage you to seek assistance and to report the incident through resources at https://www.brockport.edu/about/title_ix/index.html. Confidential assistance is available on campus at Hazen Center for Integrated Care and RESTORE. Faculty are NOT confidential under Title IX and will need to share information with the Title IX & College Compliance Officer. For these and other policies governing campus life, please see https://www.brockport.edu/support/policies/student.php.

Schedule

Monday

WordPress and Words

Today

Today we will get set up on the WordPress content management system. Each student will have a separate WordPress installation with which to experiment. If you have used WordPress before, you can explore more advanced settings. If you have not, this course will let you gain basic facility with the platform, which now runs approximately thirty percent of websites. We will also focus on writing about words today, whether that be an interest in novels, poetry, nonfiction, translation, or some other form of language.

Map out your plan for the day

9-10am

Zoom Check-in

10:30-11:15am Zoom Check-in

Readings

Additional Optional Materials:

Tools

  • WordPress
  • Advanced Rich Text Tools for Gutenberg plugin
  • Scanner or phone camera
  • Adobe Reader, Preview, Perusall, Hypothesis, or another PDF application or web-based tool
  • Powerpoint, Keynote, Google Slides, VoiceThread or another sldieshow annotation tool

Project

  • Explore the WordPress tutorial.
  • Pick out a favorite piece of writing or text.
  • In a WP post, Develop a close reading of the text. Explain what it is about it you admire (or do not admire if you want to critique it). Develop an argument about what moves you in the text. Most of all, why does it matter? What are its larger stakes culturally, politically, or socially? Use quotations to support your claims, or put another way, build your analysis out of key quotations. What are the keywords, key phrases, key moments in the text?
  • Optional digital. Experiment with the following modes of multimedia narrative analysis:
    • Text style. Upload and place an image in your post Install the Advanced Rich Text Tools for Gutenberg plugin (or search for other plugins). Explore different colors, background colors, line breaks, spacing, or other text stylings to emphasize your interpretation.
    • Annotation. You can use annotation as either an analytic tool on the way to a polished piece of close reading or as a communication tool. For an example of the former, see examples of my history students’ work in “Writing on the Past, Literally (Figuratively).” For an example of the latter, one might think of image memes with text added as one new form of digital-era annotation. Using computers to annotate texts builds on a deep tradition of marginalia, but the digital medium might offer new approaches and possibilities too. For instance, does digital annotation help you build up inductively from specific parts of a document (better close reading)? As a communication tool, are there ways to bring a reader through your interpretation by annotating a text, or placing images of your annotations into your post either as one annotated document or a sequence of annotations? How might annotation relate to the narrative of a work of criticism?
      • Scan or take a photo of the text you are critiquing.
      • Print out a copy to annotate, draw upon, and mark up. Scan the annotated copies to create image files (jpg, png, gif) to upload to your post (you’ll need to export your pdf file annotation as an image for it to show up as an image in WordPress or you could experiment with using a pdf embedder plugin). Position in your post where you believe the annotations work best to deliver a compelling essay.
      • Or, try using the comments/annotation tools in Adobe Reader, Preview, or another PDF reader to create your annotation images. You can annotate one image of the text or multiple images with different annotations depending on what narrative you want to express using annotation. Your annotations can be anything: arrows, sketches, drawings, other words, or something else. Export your annotations as image files (jpg, png, gif) rather than as a pdf. Upload to your post and position in your post where you believe the annotations work best to deliver a compelling essay.
      • Or, send me a pdf of what you wish to annotate and I will upload to a course Perusall page for you to annotate.
      • You can also try Hypothesis, which lets you and others directly annotate web documents (works best for annotating a document already published to the web).
      • Or, try sequencing a set of annotations in Powerpoint, Keynote, Google Slides, or VoiceThread as a slideshow. Add text or even audio or video annotations?
      • Your main goal is to think about criticism as an act of “writing in the margins.” What does it mean to write about someone else’s work? Is all arts and cultural criticism a kind of annotative act?!
    • If you think of another mode of multimedia criticism of a text, try it out. For instance, perhaps you want to ask your reader to click from one post to another for some reason, or to refer to a source not in your own website. Add html links, experiment with the widgets tool or menu tool, sidebars, different WordPress themes, or some other concept. If you can’t get WordPress to quite do what you envision, that is ok. Sketch out your concept and upload that. The goal here is to come up with ideas for new modes of multimedia critical essay writing even if we can’t fully implement them in one day.
  • Send in 1-2 questions for our guest this evening about cultural criticism.

Zoom Drop-in Hangout

  • 4-5pm. Drop in to join Professor Kramer and other students on Zoom, discuss the day’s work, ideas about particular texts, digital experimentation, and cultural criticism and the arts in general.

Guests

  • 6-7pm. Dr. Alissa Karl, Department of English, SUNY Brockport, and Sarah Mesle, Editor, Los Angeles Review of Books and Avidly, Assistant Professor of Writing, USC.

Tuesday

Visual Arts

Today

Today we will explore visual arts analysis. What does it mean to look at something closely, in a sustained way that reveals details in the artwork? How does one then contextualize, analyze, connect those details to larger significance and meaning? Can you get your essay not to offer simple judgment of taste (good, bad, beautiful, ugly), but to explain why an artwork matters, what it has to tell us about itself, the artist, the time in which it was made, and/or why it matters now?

Map out your plan for the day

9-10am

Zoom Check-in

10:30-11:15am Zoom Check-in

Readings

Additional Optional Materials:

Tools

  • WordPress
  • Adobe Reader, Preview, Photoshop, or image editor

Project

  • Pick out a favorite work of visual arts (broadly conceived, it can be a painting, drawing, sculpture, conceptual art, whatever interests you).
  • In a WP post, Develop a close reading of the artwork. Explain what it is about it you admire (or do not admire if you want to critique it). Develop an argument about what moves you. Most of all, why does it matter? What are its larger stakes culturally, politically, or socially? Use specific references to aspects of the work to support your claims. Or, put another way, build your analysis out of particular details in the artwork.
  • Optional digital.
    • Experiment with cropping and other digital tactics of visual analysis. Use a photo editor to present a series of images and text that narrate your close reading of an object. Take us through a series of cropped images and/or annotations to unfold your critical interpretation and narrative. You may sketch out in words or drawings (on paper, then scan and upload) a concept for a sort of visual essay of criticism even if you do not fully complete the digital experiment (remember you only have one day, so concepts and ideas matter as much as realization of a project).
  • Send in 1-2 questions for our guest this evening about cultural criticism.

Zoom Drop-in Hangout

  • 4-5pm. Drop in to join Professor Kramer and other students on Zoom, discuss the day’s work, ideas, observations, digital experimentation, and cultural criticism and the arts in general.

Guest

Wednesday

Music/Sound/Audial Criticism

Today

Today we will explore music, sound, and audio forms of art as well as criticism. What does it mean to write well about music? How might sonic and audial modes of criticism function to explore music, sound, and audio art? Dive in, experiment, and I encourage you to describe concepts and ideas even if you cannot quite execute them in one day.

Map out your plan for the day

9-10am

Zoom Check-in

10:30-11:15am Zoom Check-in

Readings

Tools

  • WordPress
  • Gutenberg audio player or plugin audio player
  • Microphone (computer or phone mic is fine)
  • Audacity, Garageband, Adobe Audition, or another audio editing program
  • Spotify, Soundcloud, or other cloud audio service

Project

  • Pick out a favorite work of music, audio podcasting, or sound art.
  • In a WP post, Develop a close reading of the artwork. Explain what it is about it you admire (or do not admire if you want to critique it). Develop an argument about what moves you. Most of all, why does it matter? What are its larger stakes culturally, politically, or socially? Use specific references to aspects of the work to support your claims. Or, put another way, build your analysis out of particular details in the artwork.
  • Optional digital.
    • Audio Podcast. Develop a script and record a brief audio version of your critical essay. Do not merely read a paper into the microphone. Rather, consider how to use spoken word, sound effects, sound samples, multiple voices, or other modes of audio storytelling to convey your essay. Your script and podcast can be provisional and a draft. The ideas and concepts are more important at this stage than the execution in one day of work.
    • Annotated Playlist Essay. If you are working with music, experiment with an annotated playlist approach to your essay. How might you move between sound clips of songs and your own writing to develop close analysis and take your reader/listener through the music you are analyzing? You can either load MP3 files into the WP Gutenberg audio player or use Spotify or Apple Music or Bandcamp to embed tracks in your WP post.Again, ideas and concepts are more crucial at this stage than complete execution of idea. Experiment and see what you learn.
  • Send in 1-2 questions for our guest this evening about cultural criticism.

Guest

  • 1-2pm. David Hadju, music critic, historian, author, and editor, The Nation.

Zoom Drop-in Hangout

  • 4-5pm. Drop in to join Professor Kramer and other students on Zoom, discuss the day’s work, ideas, observations, digital experimentation, and cultural criticism and the arts in general.

Guest

  • 6-7pm. Ann Powers, music critic, historian, and author, National Public Radio.

Thursday

Performance/Film/TV

Today

Today we turn to performance, both on stage (dance, theater) and on screen (film, tv). How might digital modes of publication allow for new kinds of performance criticism, writing, analysis, and explication? There is plenty to explore, from multimedia essay writing to the new form of “videographic criticism,” in which the critical essay harnesses the very medium that it critiques. As with yesterday, dive in, experiment, and I encourage you to describe concepts and ideas even if you cannot quite execute them in one day.

Map out your plan for the day

9-10am

Zoom Check-in

10:30-11:15am Zoom Check-in

Readings

Optional Additional Materials:

(read the five reviews too if you have time)

Tools

  • WordPress
  • Gutenberg video player or other plugin
  • Vimeo, YouTube, or other cloud-based video service
  • Any Video Converter, Handbrake, MDRP, or other software to extract video
  • iMovie, Adobe Premiere, or other video editing software

Project

  • Pick out a favorite work of performance (online or not), film, or tv.
  • In a WP post, Develop a close reading of the artwork. Explain what it is about it you admire (or do not admire if you want to critique it). Develop an argument about what moves you. Most of all, why does it matter? What are its larger stakes culturally, politically, or socially? Use specific references to aspects of the work to support your claims. Or, put another way, build your analysis out of particular details in the artwork.
  • Optional digital.
    • Multimedia essay. Experiment with incorporating elements of video, audio, images, and text to create a review of a performance, film, or television program. Try out some versions, offer a conceptual plan for how you would develop a multimedia work of performance criticism more fully.
    • Videographic essay. Experiment with recording a video essay of criticism. See if you can use one of the video extraction tools above to use video from an online or DVD source. Then try using iMovie, Adobe Premiere, or another video editing tool to create a video essay. You can create a very small pilot or prototype experiment and then develop a script draft and conceptual plan. What would your videographic essay accomplish? How would it use the video format to convey a critical analysis effectively?
  • Send in 1-2 questions for our guest this evening about cultural criticism.

Zoom Drop-in Hangout

  • 4-5pm. Drop in to join Professor Kramer and other students on Zoom, discuss the day’s work, ideas, observations, digital experimentation, and cultural criticism and the arts in general.

Guest

Friday

Revisions, Pitches, Social Media, and Conclusions

Today

For the final day of our workshop, an opportunity to do the all-important work of revision as well as to experiment with other tools for the digital cultural critic: the subscription newsletter and social media. It’s also time to work on the art of the pitch. How do you frame a story idea for an editor effectively? Finally, today is an opportunity to reflect upon the week’s worth in a short essay. We’ll convene at 4pm for a little online Zoom celebration of the week’s work, and a chance to reflect together on how the workshop has been, and what might be better if we do it again.

Map out your plan for the day

9-10am

Zoom Check-in

10:30-11:15am Zoom Check-in

Readings

Tools

  • WordPress
  • Substack, TinyLetter, or other newsletter service
  • Social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc.
  • WordPress social media embed plugins

Project

  • Revision. Revise one work from the past week. Do not replace your old post. Repost a new version for today.
  • Pitch. Develop three versions (iterations) of your story pitch for the story you are revising. How would you present it to a potential editor or publication succinctly? Try out a few versions. Post to your WordPress page. Your pitch should be no more than a paragraph (3-4 sentences). You can also experiment with bullet points if you wish.
  • Reflection back/Projecting forward brief essay. What did you get the most out of this week? What was most frustrating? What was most satisfying? Take a moment to reflect on your work in the course this week. Then, what comes next? What would you like to keep working on, learning about, developing, and how might you go about doing so?
  • Optional Digital.
    • Newsletter. Conceptualize or even try to develop a subscription newsletter using Substack, TinyLetter, or other newsletter service.
    • Social Media. Try creating an experimental social media feed on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or another platform. See if you can use a WordPress plugin to embed your social media feed in your WordPress website. More critically, address the conceptual questions: How might you develop an “essay” of cultural criticism using these sequential “feeds”? What are the possibilities? What are the challenges? Is social media merely a mode of publicizing arts and cultural criticism or can it be the form itself?

Guest

  • 1-2pm. Becca Rafferty, Arts + Entertainment Editor, Staff Writer, CITY Newspaper.

Zoom Drop-in Hangout

  • 5-6pm. Drop in to join Professor Kramer and other students on Zoom. Reflect on the week’s work, ideas, observations, digital experimentation, and cultural criticism and the arts in general. Celebrate the conclusion of the workshop.

Go Deeper Into Art, Culture, and Criticism: A Very Selected Bibliography (With Items To Be Added)

  • Matthew Arnold, “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time,” Essays in Criticism (originally published in The National Review, 1864; reprinted, Macmillan & Co., 1865), 9-36
  • Walter Pater, “Preface” and “Conclusion,” The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry, ed. Donald L. Hill (1893; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), xix-xxv, 186-190
  • Oscar Wilde, “The Critic as Artist: With Some Remarks Upon the Importance of Discussing Everything,” in Intentions (London: Methuen and Co., 1913), 95-220
  • George Santayana, “The Genteel Tradition Defined,” from Critics of Culture: Literature and Society in the Early Twentieth Century, ed. Alan Trachtenberg (New York: Wiley, 1976), 14-35
  • Van Wyck Brooks, “On Creating a Useable Past,” The Dial 64 (11 April 1918), reprinted in Critics of Culture: Literature and Society in the Early Twentieth Century, ed. Alan Trachtenberg (New York: Wiley, 1976), 165-180
  • TS Eliot, “The Perfect Critic,” The Sacred Wood (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1921), 1-14
  • HL Mencken, “Footnote on Criticism,” in Prejudices, Third Series (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1922), 84-105
  • Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936), in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968), 217-252
  • R.P. Blackmur, “A Critic’s Job of Work” in Language As Gesture: Essays in Poetry (1933; reprinted, New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1952), 372-399
  • C. Wright Mills, “On Intellectual Craftsmanship,” Appendix to The Sociological Imagination (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959)
  • Manny Farber, “White Elephant Art and Termite Art” (1962), in Negative Space (New York: Da Capo, 1998), 134-44
  • Susan Sontag, “Against Interpretation,” in Against Interpretation (1966)
  • Raymond Williams, “Criticism” and “Culture,” in Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976), 84-93
  • “Culture” in New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society, eds. Bennett, Grossberg and Morris (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005), 63-69
  • Stuart Hall, “Notes on Deconstructing ‘the Popular’” in People’s History and Socialist Theory, ed. Raphael Samuel (Boston: Routledge, 1981): 227-39
  • Charles Lemert, “What Is Culture? Amid the flowers, seeds, or weeds?” in Durkheim’s Ghosts: Cultural Logics and Social Things (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 36-58
  • T.S. Eliot, “The Three Senses of ‘Culture,’” in Notes Toward the Definition of Culture (London: Faber and Faber, 1948), 21-34.
  • Matthew Arnold, “Sweetness and Light,” in Culture and Anarchy: An Essay in Political and Social Criticism (1867-9), republished in Arnold: Culture and Anarchy and Other Writings, ed. Stefan Collini (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 58-80.
  • Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” in Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments (1947; reprint, Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2002), 94-136
  • Clement Greenberg, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” Partisan Review 6, 5 (Fall 1939): 34-49.
  • Dwight Macdonald, “Masscult and Midcult,” in Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain, ed. John Summers (New York: New York Review Book, 2011), 3-71, originally published in Partisan Review 27(Spring 1960): 203-233
  • Hannah Arendt, “The Crisis in Culture: Its Social and Its Political Significance,” Between Past and Future (1961; reprint, New York: Penguin, 1993), 197-226
  • Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson, eds., Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain (1976; reprint, New York: Routledge, 2012)
  • Clifford Geertz, “Ch. 1: Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” “Ch. 8, Ideology as a Cultural System,” and “Ch. 15 , Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight,” in The Interpretation of Cultures (1973; reprint, New York: Basic Books, 2000)
  • bell hooks, “Cultural Criticism and Transformation” Video, 1997
  • Robin D.G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002)
  • Bruno Latour, “Why Has Critique Run Out? From Matter of Fact to Matter of Concern,” Critical Inquiry 30 (2004), 225–48
  • Jonathan Letham, “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism,” Harper’s Magazine (February 2007)
  • Rita Felski, “Context Stinks!,” New Literary History 42, 4 (Autumn 2011), 573-591

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