Sunday, May 18, 2008

Syllabi and Other Amusements

After a couple of weeks of intensive work on syllabi and class presentations, I think the main thing that can be said is that this sort of project does not incline one to spend much time on a computer for other things. This results in a lack of inclination to blog, although on the plus side I've read more novels lately.
One of my goals for the summer is to accomplish pretty much all the prep for next year's teaching before the fall semester starts, and as I'm not teaching summer school, this should be quite doable. It also provides a nice break from certain other academic projects, which we can only hope will be beneficial to the end product.
I don't, actually, mind working on syllabi and presentations just now. Mentally, it is rather enjoyable. It gives me a chance to root through articles I haven't read in years, in order to decide what might make suitable reading for undergrads. Sometimes this is fun, sometimes it's a little frustrating.
For example, it looks as though in the fall I'll be teaching one section of Intro to Modern Art and one of American Art. I've taught Intro to Modern before and it went well, so there the question is what ought to be improved (Kristen and I are trying to think what would be a particularly good supplementary reading on Russian modernism, and I am unsure which readings on surrealism would be best, as I am too close to the subject).
I've never taught American, but I've had good preparation for it and am basing my syllabus on the one used by our department chair, which is set up in a way I like but requires some shifting around as his areas of expertise are rather different than mine. (Yes, I will be including city planning and public monuments, but I will have more to say on genre painting and early 20th century art.)
On these introductory courses, I like to combine readings from a survey text with readings that are more challenging and specific, so I was delighted to rediscover just how interesting and accessible that essays in two of my American art anthologies were. I managed to find six essays in each one that fit themes we will cover. There are very few more readings to come up with for this class (anyone want to suggest one on the rise of American history painting? a favorite on colonial/early 19th-century women's art and design?), so I am mainly working on my images for this class now.
Um, yes. Images and presentations. We have pretty much switched from slides to digital images, but this isn't to say our slide collection has really been digitized. Some of our slides were, but for the most part it seems as though each instructor is on his/her own hunting down images. We subscribe to ArtStor, so this is somewhat helpful, but for various reasons I am finding it very slow and tedious to assemble my American presentations, and have only gotten as far as (in a rudimentary fashion) early 19th-century landscape. This reminds me how, when I first taught Intro to Modern, I spent a good part of each week hunting for the images for that, which I felt left me little time to think about what I was going to say in lecture. (Fortunately, the sight of the pictures generally cues me on what I want to say about them.) The advantage of the digital presentations is, of course, that once they are made, you have them and can revise them in a leisurely way from year to year, so I am making small changes in my Modern presentations but not having to make them again from scratch. It will be nice once the American presentations reach that stage.
Meanwhile, it is probable that sooner or later I will teach a course on Czech modernism--maybe even as soon as Spring 2009--so that's more gradually underway. The presentations for that are much more fun to craft. As I have gradually been scanning more and more Czech modern art over the past 4-5 years, I have a very usable personal collection of images. While it is strongest on Czech surrealism, there is enough of everything else to get a good start on things. Rather than having to be logged into ArtStor and doing painful searches for Copley and trying to decide which Copleys to use and which photo of each painting is clearest, then downloading them and gradually incorporating them, I tend to think "Ah, Emil Filla needs to be included. These two will work for his Munch-like period, these are early cubist works, and these are examples of his (in my opinion) slavish imitation of Picasso." Or "These five views of one of Chochol's cubist houses will give a very nice idea of the building as seen from the street, so which one will be shown large and which ones will be supplementary?" And I realize that yes, I have enough Špála to show for a class, but that I should scan more because four Špála paintings are not really enough. It would be nice to have some of his controversial illustrations for Babička. And well, much more symbolist and decadent art needs to be scanned, and somewhere I need to come up with some examples of Mánes and Aleš.
This sort of thing easily takes up the whole day and wears out my computer-tolerance.
But, for amusement, I have visited Bingo and the other Animal Rescue League rabbits (there are currently several, not just Bingo, that I would really like to take home--Ms. Spots is deeply interested in the scent left on my pants). And last night our medieval Scandinavian specialist held a party celebrating the Norwegian national holiday syttende mai (Constitution Day) and I am very sorry I didn't take my camera along to photograph the elegantly iced cookies she made in the shape of the Norwegian flag, conifers, and moose. The soundtrack for the evening was a somewhat bizarre mix of Norwegian rap music (it exists and it's really strange to listen to), Norwegian-themed songs, and the occasional bit of ordinary party music. We were transfixed by a peculiar song about going out to plunder... I said I would have to give her my mp3s of Scandinavian traditional music--hardanger fiddle and so on--to round out the collection.

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