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ARTHIST 2A03 Visual Literacy

Academic Year: Winter 2018

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Clorinde Peters



Phone: 905-525-9140 x

Office Hours: TSH 416: Wednesday, BY APPOINTMENT: 9-10am; DROP-IN: 10-11am

Course Objectives:

This course will seek to engage the questions: How do we understand our visual world and what skills do we need to navigate it? The discussions and course material will encourage a critical engagement with the visual world, drawing from art historical/formal analysis as well as critical approaches from Cultural and Visual Studies to examine the visual language of art, film/TV, photography, advertising, news, and digital media. Students will be expected to develop a familiarity with different theories and approaches to representation and the contextual contingencies of interpretation. Through an emphasis on reading a diverse array of written and visual texts, students will be challenged to think critically about representation, visual language, and the role of visual media in reproducing race, gender, class, sexuality, indigeneity, and citizenship. Formal analysis of visual texts from a variety of eras and cultures will range from historical objects to contemporary news media; discussions will examine current events and their visual mediation in light of cultural and political conditions.


Learning Objectives:

• Identify a framework and language for different approaches to visual literacy and its implications in

understanding contemporary sociocultural and political issues

• Apply analytical approaches to visual material, ranging from formal analysis to articulating the

sociopolitical function of visual texts, their production, circulation, and consumption

• Demonstrate skills in verbal communication and discussion through group analyses and class

presentations of visual material

• Demonstrate advanced knowledge and critical analysis of visual texts through completion of the

assigned essay

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required Texts

Sturken, Marita and Lisa Cartwright. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture, 3rd Ed.

Oxford University Press, 2018.

*all other readings will be posted to Avenue


Recommended Text

Barnet, Sylvan. A Short Guide to Writing About Art. 11th Edition, Pearson, 2015. *on hold at Mills


Method of Assessment:

Visual Text group presentation / written component (February 7) 15% (group 10% / written 5%)

Short Essay (due in class February 28) 20%

Visual Text group presentation / written component (March 21) 20% (group 15% / written 5%)

Final Essay 1500-2000 words (due in class April 4) 25%

Tutorial mark 20%

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Late assignments will be docked one grade per day late (i.e. a B+ essay handed in a day late will be

marked a B). Missed work without a previously discussed extension will receive a mark of zero.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

January 10: Introduction to Visual Literacy - sign up for group presentations


January 17: Meaning and Formal Analysis

1. Ch. 1 “Images, Power, and Politics.” In Practices of Looking.

2. Preble, “The Visual Elements.” In Preble’s Artforms, 2014.


January 24: Visual Literacy and Visuality

1. Ch. 2. “Viewers Make Meaning.” In Practices of Looking.

2. Berger, John. Ch. 1, Ways of Seeing, 1973.


January 31: Vision and Digital Worlds

1. Ch. 5. “Visual Technologies, Reproduction, and the Copy.” In Practices of Looking.

2. Dean, Jodi. “Images Without Viewers.” Parts 1 & 4. Still searching: An Online Discourse on

Photography. Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland. 5 Jan. – 29 Feb. 2016.

3. [in class] Steyerl, Hito. HOW NOT TO BE SEEN: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File. Film,



February 7: Group Presentations


February 14: Vision and the Political Economy

1. Ch. 7. “Brand Culture: The Images and Spaces of Consumption.” In Practices of Looking

2. Fraser, Andrea. “There's No Place Like Home / L'1% C'est Moi.” Continent. 2.3 (2012): 186-201.


February 21: no class- midterm break


February 28: Vision and the Public

1. Ch. 6: “Media in Everyday Life.” In Practices of Looking, 223-264.

2. Bennett, Tony. “The Exhibitionary Complex.” New Formations. 1.4 (Spring 1988): 73-102.


March 7: Vision and Feminism

1. “Spectatorship and the Gaze” and “Gender and the Gaze” In Practices of Looking, 103-109; 120-131

2. hooks, bell. “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators.” Black Looks: Race and Representation. New

York: South End Press, 1992. 115-131.


March 14: Group Presentations


March 21: Vision and Critical Race

1. “Power and the Surveillance Gaze” and “The Other” in Practices of Looking, 109-120

2. Cole, Teju. “A True Picture of Black Skin.” Known and Strange Things, 2016, pp.144-151.

3. Schutz, Dana. Open Casket. Painting, 2016

4. Walker, Kara. A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby. Installation, Domino Sugar Factory,

Brooklyn, 2014.

5. LaToya Ruby Frazier, The Notion of Family. Photographic series, 2001-2014. Available on the

artist’s website







March 28: Vision and Postcolonialism

1. “Concepts of Globalization” In Practices of Looking, 386-391

2. Enwezor, Okwui. “The Postcolonial Constellation: Contemporary Art in a State of Permanent

Transition.” Antinomies of Art and Culture: Modernity, Postmodernity, Contemporaneity. Edited by

Terry Smith et. al. Duke University Press, 2008: 207-234.

3. Martiel, Carlos. Basamento; Stampede; Kayapó Lament. Performances, 2016-2017. Available on

the artist’s website


April 4: Vision and Indigeneity

1. “Social Movements, Indigenous Media, and Visual Activism” In Practices of Looking, 402-406

2. Miner, Dylan A. T. “‘When They Awaken’: Indigeneity, Miscegenation, and Anticolonial

Visuality.” Rhetorics of the Americas 3114 BCE to 2012 CE. Edited by Damián Baca and Victor

Villanueva. Palgrave, 2010: 169-195.

3. [excerpt to be watched in class] Tagaq, Tanya. In concert with Nanook of the North. Performance,





Weekly tutorial discussions will cover material from the previous lecture, providing an opportunity to explore particular aspects of the lecture and readings more deeply. Students will be expected to have attended lecture and read the assigned reading. Come prepared with questions and discussion points. The tutorial mark is 20% of the final grade. Students will be marked on the completion of five short reading response papers throughout the term.

Other Course Information:

Please note:

Students will receive a midterm grade of at least 10% by March 16, 2018. Detailed guidelines for group presentations and essays will be posted to Avenue.


The instructor reserves the right to amend the course outline as necessary.


Course Conduct and Participation

Lectures will often include discussion. Please come to class having read the assigned reading. Taking detailed notes on the readings and preparing thoughts/questions for discussion are strongly encouraged. Be respectful of your classmates, recognizing that we all have various belief systems, perspectives, histories, ideologies, experiences, and politics. We will be reading texts that may challenge your beliefs and assumptions, so be attentive to respecting one another’s positions. Aggressive behavior, hate speech, discrimination, or oppression of any kind will not be tolerated. Please refer to the Ontario Human Rights Code for further information.

Every week, bring all the readings for class, a notebook or paper, and writing utensils. Please refrain from all recreational computer use—this includes email and social media. Cell phones must be silent and their use is not permitted at any time during class.