Visual Arts

Director of Undergraduate Studies: Robert Peters, Midway Studios,
Departmental Secretary: Andrea Walsh, Midway Studios,
World Wide Web:

Program of Study

The Committee on the Visual Arts (COVA) is concerned with the making of art both as an individual expression and as a vehicle for exploring creativity, perception, and the constructed world. Whether students take COVA courses to meet a general education requirement or as part of a concentration in Visual Arts, the goal is that they will develop communicative, analytical, and expressive skills through the process of artistic production. COVA 10000-level courses are intended for students with no studio background and are appropriate for meeting the general education requirement in the dramatic, musical, and visual arts. More advanced courses presume that students have taken at least one of these, usually Visual Arts 10100. (Consult individual course descriptions for specific prerequisites.)

Range of Course Offerings. Visual Arts 10100, 10200, and 10300 serve as introductory courses to the elements of visual communication and the critical investigation of art. Visual Arts 10100 and 10200 introduce elementary visual communication through the manipulation of various materials in the studio and also include readings and visits to local museums and galleries. These courses engage principles of visual language stressing the relationship of form and meaning. Visual Arts 10300 is a theory course centering on definitions of art and creation. Visual Arts 20000 to 24900 are media specific courses that begin to teach technical skills and provide a conceptual framework for working in these media (for example, painting, photography and sculpture). Visual Arts 25000 to 26900 are non-studio courses in the theory and criticism of art. Visual Arts 27000 to 28200 are more advanced studio courses.

Program Requirements

The Bachelor of Arts program in the Committee on the Visual Arts is intended for students interested in the practice and study of art. The Committee's faculty consists of a core of artists and other humanists interested in making and thinking about art. Those who concentrate in Visual Arts take an individually arranged program of studio, lecture, and seminar courses that may include some courses outside the Humanities Collegiate Division. The program seeks to foster understanding of art from several perspectives: the practice and intention of the creator, the visual conventions employed, and the perception and critical reception of the audience. In addition to work in the studio, these aims might require study of art history and intellectual history, as well as psychology, criticism, and aesthetics. Because of the diversity of student interests and the Committee's interdisciplinary orientation, requirements for the concentration are flexible. All students must take a core of Visual Arts 10100, 10200, and 10300 as early in their studies as possible. After taking the core courses, but no later than winter quarter of their third year, concentrators meet with the director of undergraduate studies to plan the rest of their program. This program must be presented in written form for the approval of the Committee. At least two of the courses beyond the core must be drawn from the second level of predominantly studio-oriented offerings (Visual Arts 20000 to 24900). The remaining five courses may be any intellectually consistent combination of Visual Arts studio courses, Visual Arts critical and theory courses (Visual Arts 25000 to 26900), and any other relevant offerings in the College. (For more information, consult the sample programs of study that follow.) As preparation for the senior project, students must take Visual Arts 29600 in the spring of their third year. This studio seminar examines approaches to independent studio projects. The culminating experience of the COVA concentration is a senior project consisting of a studio project and/or an extended paper that represents a coherent line of inquiry. This work, for which students may receive credit in Visual Arts 29900, is done under the supervision of a primary adviser and must also be approved by the director of undergraduate studies. In the summer between the third and fourth years it is expected that concentrators prepare themselves to present their ideas for the senior project at a group critique at the beginning of the academic year. (NOTE: The Visual Arts concentration, taken as it is in the context of the College's liberal arts tradition, does not normally prepare a student for admission to an M.F.A. program without additional studio work.)

Summary of Requirements

Concentration 2 COVA 10100-10200

1 COVA 10300

1 COVA 29600 (junior seminar)

1 COVA 29900 (senior project)

2 from COVA 20000-24900

5 electives relevant to the concentration


Sample Programs. The Committee encourages its students either to focus their concentration in the studio or to construct interdisciplinary concentration programs combining studio and non-studio courses that focus on a particular theme. The following examples should be taken as suggestions only:

1. A program that explores relationships of image and text in the construction of narratives, combining courses in drawing and graphics with courses in creative writing, literature, and art history.

2. A program that explores issues of identity construction through image making, and combines courses in painting, sculpture, drawing, and photography with courses in anthropology, art history, and gender studies.

3. A program in the practice of painting that explores aesthetic form as a vehicle for individual expression, including courses in art history and philosophy.

4. A studio-based program in photography that concentrates on black-and-white silver-gelatin processes, and includes a thorough investigation of the history and conceptual framework of the medium.

5. A program that investigates issues surrounding representations of the body (including an engagement with contemporary and historic practices in visual art and film, as well as feminist, gender, race, and class theory) and concludes in an installation of a series of photographs.

6. A studio-based program in sculpture that examines how our sensory or kinesthetic knowledge of our bodies differs greatly from how we are seen as objects in space by others (possibly including additional courses in the history of art and in anatomy).

Grading. COVA students must receive letter grades for the twelve courses that constitute the concentration. Students must also receive letter grades if they are taking COVA courses in fulfillment of the general education requirement in the dramatic, musical, and visual arts. Students concentrating in other departments may take Visual Arts courses for P/N grades with the consent of their adviser and instructor.

Honors. COVA students who have a 3.0 or better overall grade point average and a 3.5 or better grade point average for all COVA course work may be awarded honors. The work submitted will be reviewed for honors by the COVA faculty.


Charles E. Cohen, Professor and Chair, Committee on the Visual Arts; Professor, Department of Art History and the College

Ted Cohen, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Committees on the Visual Arts and General Studies in the Humanities, and the College

TOM CUMMINS, Associate Professor, Department of Art History, Committee on the Visual Arts, and the College

Herbert George, Associate Professor, Committee on the Visual Arts and the College

THOMAS GUNNING, Professor, Department of Art History, Committees on the Visual Arts and Cinema & Media Studies, and the College

MIRIAM HANSEN, Ferdinand Schevill Distinguished Service Professor in Department of English Language & Literature, Committees on the Visual Arts and General Studies in the Humanities, Cinema and Media Studies, and the College

Reinhold Heller, Professor, Departments of Art History and Germanic Studies, Committee on the Visual Arts, and the College

ROBERT HOOPER, Harper-Schmidt Instructor, Committee on the Visual Arts

Laura Letinsky, Associate Professor, Committee on the Visual Arts and the College

Robert C. Peters, Associate Professor, Committee on the Visual Arts and the College

KIMBERLY RORSCHACH, Senior Lecturer, Department of Art History and Committee on the Visual Arts; Director, Smart Museum

Joel M. Snyder, Professor, Department of Art History, Committees on the Visual Arts and General Studies in the Humanities, and the College

Richard Strier, Frank L. Sulzberger Professor of Civilizations in the College; Professor, Department of English Language & Literature, Committees on the Visual Arts, General Studies in the Humanities, and Jewish Studies

Martha Ward, Associate Professor, Department of Art History, Committee on the Visual Arts, and the College


Students must attend the first and second classes to confirm enrollment. No exceptions will be made unless the student notifies the instructor before the first class.

Introductory Courses

10100. Visual Language I. This course fulfills the general education requirement in the dramatic, musical, and visual arts. The goal of this studio course is to investigate the basic ingredients common to the visual art experience. The course attempts to isolate principles and conventions common to two-dimensional visual images. For example, studio problems analyze the components of color, the relationship between surface organization and spatial illusion, the communicative properties of objects and materials, the recognition of accident and chance as artistic resources, and so on. Toward the end of the quarter, problems reunite isolated principles and provide opportunity for personal discovery and expression through the execution of individual works, such as paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Visits to local collections required. Lab fee $40. Staff, R. Hooper, L. Letinsky, R. Peters. Autumn, Winter, Spring.

10200. Visual Language II. This course fulfills the general education requirement in the dramatic, musical, and visual arts. COVA 10200 examines how the elements of three-dimensional form generate experience/meaning. Studio problems develop the formal and conceptual skills necessary to think visually and to "see" and experience the objects, spaces, and ideas through the lens of three-dimensional form. Emphasis is placed on the give and take process of making (which may include the construction of objects, alteration of spaces, or the placement/ arrangement/collection of objects) as a vehicle for students to learn how ideas, thoughts, and emotions take physical form. Visits to museums, galleries, and commercial storehouses of material culture required; attendance at relevant events required. Lab fee $20. H. George, R. Peters. Autumn, Winter, Spring.

10300. Theories of Art and Creation. This course considers the following problems: What kinds of definitions have been offered of the visual arts? What are the relations of visual arts to culture? Do questions concerning the way a work of visual art comes into being relate to the criticism or evaluation of the work of art? Emphasis is placed on readings that throw light on the relations among art, convention, and nature, as well as on the relations among artist, work, and audience. The course searches for a distinction between art and design, and investigates the often-cited connections between art and religion and between art and play. We compare those properties considered essential to the visual arts with properties that suggest other areas of endeavor, such as mathematics, manufacture, or magic. Staff. Spring.

Intermediate-Level Courses

21200. Figure Drawing. PQ: COVA 10100 or 10200, or consent of instructor. The live model provides the basic reference for this course. Problems develop comprehension of traditional approaches to the human figure in art and explore the means by which the figure may embody contemporary ideas. Class sessions include studio work, criticism, and visits to local collections. Lab fee $60. Staff. Autumn.

21500. Graphics: Etching. PQ: COVA 10100 or 10200, or consent of instructor. The class consists of basic studies of the intaglio process through art historical references, technical demonstrations, and studio work. The work is critiqued during each stage of the procedure from the inception of the idea of the sketches, proof prints, final prints, and presentation of a portfolio. Various techniques are introduced, such as engraving, aquatint, mezzotint, soft ground, dry point, and lift ground. Artistic questions raised specifically by these techniques are discussed and considered in relation to the final portfolio of prints. Lab fee $60. R. Hooper. Winter.

22000-22100. Beginning Painting. PQ: COVA 10100 or 10200, or consent of instructor. This studio course introduces the student to the fundamental elements of painting (its language and methodologies) as they learn how to initiate and develop an individualized investigation into subject matter and meaning. The class emphasizes group critiques and discussion. Lab fee $50. R. Hooper, Staff. Autumn, Winter.

22200. Sculpture I. PQ: COVA 10100 or 10200, or consent of instructor. Meant as an introduction to sculpture, this course explores how it is possible through questioning, discussions, and, most importantly, making to progress towards highly individual insights into the fundamental nature of what at first appears to be an obvious and well known form: the egg. Three sculptures are made. The most important is the last, as it attempts to clearly communicate the individual insight of the sculptor into the true nature of the egg. Starting at the same point, we end with radically different sculptures resulting from individual insights and imagination. Thus, it may be understood that sculpture is human thought given esthetic and material form. Visits to museums and galleries required; attendance at relevant events required. Lab fee $30. H. George. Autumn.

22300. Sculpture II. PQ: COVA 10100 or 10200, or consent of instructor. This studio class is a continuation of COVA 22200 and also an extension of COVA 22400, but neither is a prerequisite. Historically, sculpture was a powerful and, in many cases, a fundamental means of communication, self-perpetuation, and storytelling within a culture. Together we explore how particular cultures communicated myths through their sculpture, specifically those having to do with the facets of creation. Each member of the class is asked to invent a culture and, most importantly, that culture's creation myth. That myth is communicated to other members of the class by a large and ambitious sculptural object that in specific ways recounts central aspects of the creation myth found in that fictional culture. Visits to museums and galleries required; attendance at relevant events required. Lab fee $40. H. George. Winter.

22400. Modeling the Figure. PQ COVA 10100 or 10200, or consent of instructor. A live model provides the basic reference point for this course. The work of the quarter is divided into two parts: the full figure and the portrait. Both are formed in clay using a traditional academic studio setting. The fundamental objective of this class is for the student to begin to understand the important difference between looking and knowing, between the eye seeing and the hand making. Although we inhabit a body, we have little visual understanding of its true form. Visits to museums and galleries required; one outside project required. Lab fee $50. H. George. Autumn.

23800. Video I: Beginning Video. PQ: COVA 10100 or 10200, or consent of instructor. Lab fee $50. Staff. Autumn.

23900. Video II. PQ: COVA 10100 or 10200, or consent of instructor. Lab fee $50. Staff, Winter.

24000. Beginning Photography (=CMST 27600/37600, COVA 24000). PQ: COVA 10100 or 10200, or consent of instructor. Camera and light meter required. Photography affords a relatively simple and accessible means for making pictures. Through demonstration, students are introduced to technical procedures and basic skills, and begin to establish criteria for artistic expression. Possibilities and limitations inherent in the medium are topics of classroom discussion. Class sessions and field trips to local exhibitions investigate the contemporary photograph in relation to its historical and social context. Course work culminates in a portfolio of works exemplary of the student's understanding of the medium. Field trips required. Lab fee $60. L. Brown, Autumn; L. Letinsky, Winter, Spring.

24200. Art and Experience. PQ: COVA 10100, 10200, or 10300, or consent of instructor. This course deals with art forms that deemphasize the importance of the object. These contemporary, nontraditional art forms (e.g., concept, process, performance, and body) are examined through readings that provide a theoretical and historical framework for discussion and studio investigation. R. Peters. Winter.

Theory and Criticism Courses

25100. Aesthetics and Theory of Criticism (=COVA 25100, GSHU 30500, PHIL 31300). This course is an introduction to problems in the philosophy of art with both traditional and contemporary texts. Topics include the definition of art, representation, expression, metaphor, and taste. T. Cohen. Autumn.

25400. Introduction to Film I (=ARTH 19000, CMST 10100, COVA 25400, ENGL 10800, GSHU 20000). The first part of this course introduces basic concepts of film analysis, which are discussed through examples from different national cinemas, genres, and directorial oeuvres. Along with questions of film technique and style, we consider the notion of the cinema as an institution that comprises an industrial system of production, social and aesthetic norms and codes, and particular modes of reception. Films discussed include works by Hitchcock, Porter, Griffith, Lang, Renoir, Sternberg, and Wells. J. Stewart. Autumn.

25700. Scene Painting (=COVA 25700, GSHU 26200). PQ: Consent of instructor. This course is an exploration of the basic tools and techniques of classical theatrical scene painting. Scene painting is a unique art that uses techniques and tools not associated with other types of painting. Some projects include faux finishes, foliage, scrim, and backdrops. M. Lohman. Spring.

25800. Cinema and Magic (=ARTH 26200/36200, CMST 25600/35600, COVA 25800). PQ: CMST 10100 or equivalent. This course traces relations between motion pictures and traditions of magic, both as a theatrical entertainment and as a belief system. The invention of cinema's roots in the magic lantern and other "philosophical toys" that trick the senses into seeing visual illusions are explored. The early trick films of Melies and others are discussed. The relation between cinema and hypnosis is also explored. We consider the appeal of magic systems of thought (i.e., spiritualism, theosophy, and ritual magic) for avant-garde movement and their relation to experimental films by Epstein, Artaud, Deren, Anger, Smith, Fischinger, and others. T. Gunning. Spring.

25900. Charlie Chaplin: The Man, the Artist, and the Cultural Hero (=ARTH 28900/38900, CMST 26400/36400, COVA 25900). Three aspects stressed in the course title define the approach to (and explain the significance of) this key figure in the history of film and twentieth-century culture. As a man, Chaplin was a frequent target of large-scale political and sexual scandals. As an actor-director, he was responsible not only for the Tramp figure but also for such genres as social comedy and comedy melodrama. As a myth, Chaplin's figure was key to a number of twentieth-century art movements (e.g., Expressionist poetry, Cubist painting, and Soviet Constructivist art. Y. Tsivian. Winter.

26000. Visual Style in Still and Moving Images (=ARTH 18300, COVA 26000). This course surveys elements of styles and techniques common to the visual arts. We examine light and color, framing and editing, and action and narration, as well as blocking, interior design, and mise-en-scène as used by artists, photographers, and filmmakers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Y. Tsivian. Autumn.

26100. Scenic Design (=COVA 26100, GSHU 26500). PQ: GSHU 25900 or consent of instructor. This course considers the process of stage design from both aesthetic and practical points of view. It surveys the historical development of scenography in relation to technology and theatrical style. The influence of tradition on modern stage design is investigated through a comparison of period designs and contemporary solutions established by scenographers. M. Lohman. Winter.

26200. Costume Design for the Stage (=COVA 26200, GSHU 26300). PQ: GSHU 25900 or consent of instructor. This course is a collaborative interpretation of character and theme through rendering and fabrication of costumes for the stage. Students develop a visual vocabulary through use of texture, color, and period. Staff. Spring.

26300. Art and Film in the Weimar Republic (=ARTH 26000/36000, CMST 22100/32100, COVA 26300, GRMN 23100/33100). This course explores the visual culture of Weimar, Germany, with particular focus on the fine arts and more popular imagery, the intersections with Weimar Cinema, and their interactions with the contemporary social and political milieus. We consider such art and film movements as expressionism, dada, and neo-objectivity; artists' groups encompassing the Bauhaus, the November Group, and the Association of Revolutionary Visual Artists of Germany; artists ranging from George Grosz and Otto Dix to Kurt Schwitters and Wassily Kandinsky; and films including The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis, M, and Kuhle Wampe. Screenings required. R. Heller. Autumn.

26400. The Sites of Twentieth-Century Art (=ARTH 26500/36500, COVA 26400). PQ: Any 10000-level ARTH or COVA course. This course examines how the modes of distribution and the destinations (both real and imaginary) of twentieth-century art have affected the production and reception of cultural objects. We examine in detail a series of examples drawn from both European and American art to address such concerns as the following: the interdependence of modernism and the museum, the decorative painting and the domestic interior, the fears of and hopes for the mechanical reproduction of art, the archive as a site of radical resistence (the situationalists), public space and performance gesture, and "site-specificity" in contemporary sculpture. M. Ward. Winter.

26500. History of International Cinema I: Silent Era (=ARTH 28500/38500, CMST 28500/48500, COVA 26500, ENGL 29300/48700, MAPH 33600). This is the first part of a two-quarter course. The two parts may be taken individually, but taking them in sequence is helpful. The aim of this course is to introduce students to what was singular about the art and craft of silent film. Its general outline is chronological. We also discuss main national schools and international trends of filmmaking. Y. Tsivian. Autumn.

26600. History of International Cinema II: Sound Era to 1960 (=ARTH 28600/38600, CMST 28600/48600, COVA 26600, ENGL 29600/48900, MAPH 33700). PQ: COVA 26500 or consent of instructor. This is the second part of the international survey history for film covering the sound era up to 1960. The crystallization of the classical Hollywood film in terms of style and genre, as well as industry organization, is a key issue. But international alternatives to Hollywood are also discussed. Texts include Thompson Bordwell, Film History, an Introduction, and works by Bazin, Belton, Sitney, Godard, and others. Screenings include films by Hitchcock, Welles, Rossellini, Bresson, Ozu, Antonioni, and Renoir. T. Gunning. Winter.

Advanced-Level Studio Courses

27200. Advanced Painting. PQ: COVA 22000 and 22100, or consent of instructor. Presuming fundamental considerations, this studio course emphasizes the purposeful and sustained development of a student’s visual investigation through painting, accentuating both invention and clarity of image. Group critiques and discussion. Lab fee $50. R. Hooper. Spring.

27500. Video III. PQ: Video I or II, or consent of instructor. Lab fee $50. Staff. Spring.

27800. Advanced Photography (=CMST 27700/37700, COVA 27800). PQ: COVA 10100 or 10200, and 24000 or 24100; or consent of instructor. Throughout the quarter, students concentrate on a set of issues and ideas that expand upon their experience and knowledge, and that have particular relevance to them. All course work is directed towards the production of a cohesive body of either color or black-and-white photographs. An investigation of contemporary and historic photographic issues informs the students' photographic practice and includes critical readings, as well as class and individual critiques. Visits to local exhibitions and darkroom work required. Lab fee $60. L. Letinsky. Spring.

28200. Sculpture III. PQ: COVA 10100 or 10200, or consent of instructor. This studio class is a continuation of COVA 22200, 22300, and 22400 but they are not prerequisites. The first half of this class is devoted to learning about formalist/nonrepresentational sculpture, both its beginning in the Soviet Union, and its later rebirth as minimalist art in the 1970s. One large nonrepresentational work is constructed in the first half of the quarter, while the second half is devoted to a more "open problem" that is carved from stone in the outdoors. The second problem combines aspects of both the formalist and the figurative tradition in sculpture using a traditional material: stone. The goal of the class is to pose the question: although these two traditions appear to be very different, are they? And then, can aspects of both be used to form a new sculptural understanding? Visits to museums and galleries required; attendance at relevant events required. Lab fee $10 plus cost of stone. H. George. Spring.

Independent Study Courses

29600. Independent Research in the Studio: Junior Seminar. PQ: Consent of director of undergraduate studies. This seminar is required of all junior concentrators. Students identify artists to whom they have affinities and carry out research in the ways those artists constructed their images. This experience is intended as preparation for successful completion of the senior project. Class includes discussion of methodologies, individual presentations, and examination of actual work. R. Peters. Spring.

29700. Independent Study in Visual Arts. PQ: COVA 10100 or 10200, and consent of instructor. Students are required to submit the College Reading and Research Course Form. Independent study in visual arts is similar to a reading course in an academic area. We presume that the student has done fundamental course work and is ready to explore a particular area of interest much more closely. Staff. Autumn, Winter, Spring.

29900. Senior Project. PQ: Consent of director of undergraduate studies. Students are required to submit the College Reading and Research Course Form. In the Committee on the Visual Arts, this required course provides an opportunity for a "summing up." It is a chance to work in a sustained way on a group of paintings or photographs, for example. This work is then presented as a graduation show. As an alternative, one might do a paper that examines issues that may have emerged from the studio and academic experience. Staff. Autumn, Winter, Spring.