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Art as Experience

What might Lady Gaga have meant when she stated in a 2014 interview that, “Life is art all the time”? Should we understand this merely as an over-the-top exaggeration from one of today’s most eccentric pop musicians? Or is there more to the idea?

This course will treat Lady Gaga’s declaration as merely one very recent position in an ongoing conversation regarding art’s relation to lived experience. With help from philosophers and writers who have made “art” a self-conscious concern in their works, we will investigate the long history of literature that has grappled with the concept of art’s relationship to life. Is art part of lived experience? Is it somehow separate?What could it mean to experience art? What even counts as experience?
In exploring these questions, our readings will be, of necessity, interdisciplinary, drawn not only from literature but also from art history, philosophy, and psychology. Beginning with Immanuel Kant’s writings on aesthetics, and proceeding through such figures as Ruskin, Morris, Dewey, and Benjamin, we will aim to develop a sense of how thinking on this topic has evolved over centuries. This critical lens will allow us to consider how different genres of literature throughout a range of historical periods imagine the relationship between art and lived experience. These literary texts themselves will also also be diverse, ranging from William Wordsworth to Charles Baudelaire, Henry James to Alice Walker, Oscar Wilde to W.G. Sebald.
By the end of the course, students will develop a working knowledge of philosophical and literary inquiries into art as experience; learn to think across time periods, genres, and languages; and develop a sense of the salience of these kinds of discussions in contemporary society. 

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Statue of "Willie the Silent"