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The Alchemy of Art: Substance and Transformation in Artistic Practice (ARTHIST 206)

406
Subject: 
ARTHIST

This seminar considers materiality and processes of material transformation as core elements of artistic practice and the history of making, largely from Sumer (3rd Millennium BCE) until the Early Modern period (18th Century in the West), but with several modern comparisons. Major points of focus will include pre-modern perceptions of the elemental properties of materials as matter, the reflexive relationship between materials and imagination, and the diverse ways in which societies have associated specific substances with social and cultural values. Humanistic perspectives on such issues are augmented by complementary insights from the physical sciences, and references are made to current ideas regarding material agency, affordances, and the imperfect separability of nature and culture. Indeed, a central question underlying all the readings is how to distinguish natural from synthetic: where does nature end and art begin, or maybe where does nature stop?