Spring 2008

Modern Icon


Natasha Staller (Section 01)


In 1834 the Inquisition finally ended in Spain; throughout the century, Spain and France witnessed anti-clerical demonstrations and legislation; Marx branded religion "the opiate of the masses." Nietzsche thundered "God is dead." As a cascade of scientific discoveries challenged belief, many avant-garde artists believed that the old symbols were exhausted, and that the old form of religious art (the Crucifixion and so on) was no longer viable. And yet, throughout the 19th, 20th and into the first glimmerings of the 21st century, artists have felt compelled to give form to spiritual ideas. Sometimes their ideas related to traditional faiths, often they were more idiosyncratic, more personal--inflected, say, by the cult of "art for art," or theosophy, or a revolutionary ideology searching for martyrs, or by a dream of abstraction that would purge every last taint of the phenomenal world. This course will explore such varied conceptions of spirituality, and the complex status of religions during a self-consciously modern age through the prism of works (pictorial and often verbal) by Goya, David, Friedrich, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, Kandinsky, Malevich, Dali, Kahlo, alvarez Bravo, Newman, Munoz, and Turrell. Requisite: One course in modern art or consent of the instructor. Limited to 12 students. Second semester. Professor Staller.