The semester has already been a productive one in and outside of the class. My students have completed three out of four blog posts assigned this semester, answering questions like “What is it to be ‘American’?” and going on nature walks without cellphones to draw connections between the early American readings and the American wilderness. For instance, one student took a Sound Studies approach to her experience on Cadillac Mountain.
This month, students were assigned the task of finding an artist whose work is closely connected to nature. They came up with a diverse range of artists and artistic mediums, drawing some excellent connections to the class discussion surrounding the romanticization of American origins and Native American encounters, and reading literature that descends from an imperialist history of Othering. At the same time, students have discovered the beauty (and danger) in depictions of the American wilderness reflected in such work as Ansel Adams’ photographs where the dramatic contrast of black and white produces a sense of awe, wonder, and fright.
The experiences of wilderness that have defined what “America” meant to 19th Century authors have also contributed to their interpretations of American art:
And their practice of reading romantic American literature with a critical eye for othering and oppression has also influenced their interpretations and experiences of African American and Native American art.
Kara Walker’s work has become especially relevant as we move toward slave narratives and approach the Civil War at the semester’s end. Many students took an opportunity to visit the MoMA, or recall their first encounters with Walker’s work. The course, I hope, has provided them with new context for experiences with American painting, photography, music, sculpture, and more. The blog has provided students a forum for continuing class discussion, and this particular assignment — to find an artist and interpret his/her work — has afforded students an opportunity to exercise their critical thinking about American literature in different mediums, drawing parallels between their findings and their coursework. Happy reading!