Alumni Online Courses
Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art
What is art? Why and how do artworks move us? What is the nature of artistic freedom? One of Bennington’s most popular courses, Aesthetics, asks these and other pressing questions about art from a philosophical point of view. In this online version of the course specially curated for alumni, we will use both classic and contemporary sources to discuss these questions. Readings will consist of relatively short, accessible philosophical essays with links to news articles, TED talks, critical pieces, and images as we learn about the history of aesthetics, recent controversies in the art world, and Bennington College’s own unique role in American art history.
Week 1: What is Art? Two Classic Theories
Week 2: What is Taste? A Classic Theory and some Contemporary Research
Week 3: Tastemaker Clement Greenberg, Abstract Expressionism, and Bennington College
Week 4: The Artist and the Institution: A Controversy at Mass MoCA
Week 5: Appropriation Art: Cariou v. Prince
Week 6: Street Art, and the Illuminated Mural lawsuit
Week 7: Putting it all together
- Cost: $100. Travel to New York City and accommodations for the event in May are not included.
- Course duration: The course runs April 17–the week of June 1, 2017. There will be a gathering for class participants in New York City in late May.
- Time commitment: This course is designed to be flexible. It will pair weekly reading assignments in the major texts with optional supplementary materials. We will also make use of online discussion threads and other resources for discussion and debate.
- Materials: A full list of reading materials will be provided shortly before the course begins.
- Technical needs: Access to the internet.
About the instructor
This course is led by Karen Gover, a member of the faculty since 2005. Gover teaches philosophy, with areas of specialization in Continental philosophy, Aesthetics, and Ancient Greek philosophy. She studied English and Philosophy with honors at the University of Richmond and received her PhD from Pennsylvania State University with a dissertation on Heidegger and Greek tragedy. She has published scholarly articles in International Philosophical Quarterly, Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, and The Journal of Aesthetic Education. Her art criticism has appeared in Sculpture magazine, Ceramics: Art and Perception, and the online magazine Artcritical. Gover is the recipient of a grant from the German Academic Exchange service, she was a fellow at Williams College’s Oakley Center for the Humanities, and she is the 2011 recipient of the John Fisher Memorial Prize in Aesthetics. Her book, Art and Authority: Moral Rights and Meaning in Contemporary Visual Art is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.
LITERARY BENNINGTON IS A COURSE DEVOTED to exploring the lineage of literary greats since the College was first founded in 1932. We’ll read widely in the Bennington canon through the decades, rummage in the College archives for forgotten literary lore, and read through the student-run blog, “Literary Bennington,” which features author interviews, short pieces of journalism, and reviews of literary events on campus. The class will read works by Bernard Malamud, Shirley Jackson, poet Mary Ruefle ’74,The Secret History by Donna Tartt ’86 and The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai ’93.
The course will culminate in an event in New York City in late April featuring a conversation with a Bennington author.
- Time Commitment: This course is designed to be flexible. It will pair weekly reading assignments in the major texts with optional supplementary readings in the Bennington canon. We will also make use of online discussion threads and other resources for discussion and debate.
- Materials: A full list of reading materials will be provided shortly before the course begins. Books will need to be purchased or borrowed.
- Technical Needs: Access to the Internet
- Cost: $100, plus the cost of books. Travel to New York City and accommodations for the event in April are not included.
About the instructor
The course is led by Benjamin Anastas, a member of the faculty since 2012 and also a member of the core faculty of Bennington’s MFA in Writing program. He is the author of the novels An Underachiever’s Diary and The Faithful Narrative of a Pastor’s Disappearance; his memoir Too Good to Be True was published in 2012. His short fiction, essays and reviews have appeared in The Paris Review, Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, Bookforum, The New Republic, and The Best American Essays 2012.
Portraying Conflict: 35 Years of Instability in Afghanistan
This class will survey the way in which we analyze but also talk about and represent the past decades of conflict in Afghanistan. Anthropology faculty member Noah Coburn will guide students through a typical Bennington approach by looking at both how Afghanistan is understood through academic analysis and how ethnographic approaches, literature, film, art, and policy all come together to shape our understanding of this complex political landscape. Topics will include the insurgency, the challenges of development, the role of women and youth in Afghanistan’s future, and elections. Student materials will draw from policy pieces, Khalid Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed, Sebastian Junger’s Restrepo, as well as art by both Afghan and international artists. The course concludes by asking how these pieces might come together to help us better understand the legacy of conflict in Afghanistan.
Portraying Conflict will run for seven weeks beginning the week of September 8 and ending the week of October 20, 2014. In late October, all participants will be invited to an end-of-course dinner and lecture in New York City with Coburn.
Weekly readings, videos, online discussions, and podcast lectures will allow participants to meet and interact with one another virtually, share ideas, and explore using multiple media.
- Materials : There may be several book purchases and film rentals to supplement the course.
- Technical Needs: Access to the Internet
- Cost: $90; course materials, travel and accommodations to the optional New York City gathering are not included.
About the instructor
A faculty member at Bennington College since fall 2012, Noah Coburn is a political anthropologist who focuses on local politics, violence and intervention in Afghanistan and Central Asia. His book Bazaar Politics: Pottery and Power in an Afghan Market Town (2011) was the first full-length ethnographic study from Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion. More recently, his book Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan (2014) focused on the role of elections in reshaping the Afghan political landscape, and in 2014, he served as an observer in and around Kabul for the think tank Chatham House during the Afghan presidential and provincial council elections.
Understanding Japanese Culture and Aesthetics through Ikebana
Japanese faculty member Ikuko Yoshida will explore the Japanese sense of beauty and the relationship between humankind and nature through the examination and practice of Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. Ikebana was derived from a Buddhist ritual of offering flowers to the deceased and became an art form that encapsulates Japanese aesthetics by the end of the fifteenth century.
In order to fully understand the art of Ikebana, one must learn not only the technique of arranging flowers, but also the philosophy and the representation behind it. Students will examine Japanese aesthetics and culture in literature (Haiku), history, and linguistics while also exploring the perception of nature in society. After investigating the history and philosophy of Ikebana, students will apply their knowledge in practice, learning to arrange flowers using various shapes of containers, in various spaces, and for various occasions.
At the end of the course, students will be invited to campus to participate in an Ikebana exhibition.
- Time Commitement: Understanding Japanese Culture and Aesthetics through Ikebana will run for seven weeks beginning in the spring of 2015. The first part of the course will focus on theory; in the second half of the class students will put into practice the characteristics of Japanese aesthetics. All participants will be invited to campus for the exhibition.
- Materials: The participants will need vases; kenzan, a device used to stand flowers in the container (otherwise, use of a floral foam/green sponge is fine); Ikebana scissors, or gardening scissors to cut flowers and branches.
- Cost: $90; course materials, travel, and accommodations to the optional campus gathering are not included.
About the instructor
With particular interests in the areas of linguistics, second-language acquisition, rhetorical thinking, Japanese aesthetics, and Japanese literature, Ikuko Yoshida joined the Bennington faculty of the Isabelle Kaplan Center for Languages and Cultures in 1998. Her Bennington course, What do Japanese students learn about WWII?, was selected as one of the top ten courses by the Educational Policy Improvement Center. She holds a BA from Kanazawa Gakuin University, Ishikawa, Japan, and an MA from Saint Michael’s College in Burlington, Vermont, where she graduated with distinction. She is a certified Ikebana instructor of the Ichiyo School of Ikebana in Japan.
Americans in Paris
Experience what it is like to be a student at Bennington again from your home, office, or cafe by participating in a seven-week online course, Americans in Paris, taught by French faculty member Stephen Shapiro. Open to all alumni.
This class will survey the rich history of Americans’ fascination and engagement with the city of Paris. Beginning with Jefferson and Franklin, the class will look at succeeding generations of travelers and expatriates who have made Paris their home; study American travelers of the 19th century who popularized the “Grand Tour” as a way to complete their cultural education; artists who found inspiration in Parisian artistic circles; African-Americans who found freedoms unheard of in segregated American society; and the expatriate writers of the early 20th century. The course will conclude with a look at contemporary visions of Paris on film and television.
Weekly online discussion forums and podcast lectures will allow participants to meet and interact with one another virtually, to share ideas, and to deepen their understanding of Paris’ enduring appeal to the collective American imagination.
And, for participants who dream of springtime in Paris, Shapiro will lead a cultural tour of the city for course participants (and all alumni, parents, students, and friends in the area). The walking tour is set for Saturday, April 12, 2014 culminating in an alumni gathering at the home of Alexandra Hughes ’73. Travel to Paris and accommodations are not included in the course fee.
- Time Commitment: This course is self-structured. There will be weekly readings, film and television viewings, and participation in online discussion forums on your own schedule. There will be several real-time live discussions to be arranged at an agreed-upon time with participants once the course begins.
- Materials: A full list of reading and viewing materials is available at americansinparis.bennington.edu. Some readings will be available for viewing online, others will need to be purchased or borrowed.
- Technical Needs: Access to the Internet, a DVD player, and ability to listen to mp3 files.
- Cost: $90; Travel and accommodations to Paris for the walking tour and alumni event on April 12, 2014 are not included.
About the instructor
About Stephen Shapiro: A faculty member at Bennington College since fall 2010, Shapiro is a scholar of 17th-century French literature and culture. His current research projects focus on the use of the footnote as a strategy of dissident political commentary, Racine’s play Esther and early modern carnival culture, and the culinary memoir. Shapiro holds a BA in Classics and Latin from Yale University and an MA and PhD in French from New York University.