Utopia: Art and Power in Modern Times
General Catalog Course Title:
Utopia: Art and Power in Modern Times
Terms Offered:
Fall 2016
Fall 2015
Fall 2011
Fall 2010

The 20th century was dominated by utopian visions of how to achieve a happy future society. Artists in competing social systems -- capitalist, communist, fascist and others -- played a central role in the development of these utopian visions. In the beginning of the century futurists, constructivists, and other avant-garde artists believed that the purpose of art was greater than autonomous pursuits of beauty and aesthetics. They aspired to involve art in the construction of the new society and the New Man. However, these sincere experiments contributed to the creation not only of the most liberating and progressive ideals and values but also to the most oppressive regimes and ideologies. At the same time, even the most vile political regimes of the century inspired some of the most remarkable works of art that expose the best and worst that art can achieve. Many artistic movements that developed in these diverse modern contexts, under each other's influence, came to incorporate stark contrasts of good and evil, serious and ironic, rational and absurd. Because of the unpredictable and changing nature of art forms and strategies, 20th century art offers excellent ethnographic material to discuss many issues that are central for the understanding of art in general: what is the nature and purpose of art; what aspects of art are good and bad; what can art achieve at its best and destroy at its worst; what is beauty; what is artistic freedom; what is an artist's role and responsibility in the society; what is the relationship of art to ethics and power, etc? This course grapples with these questions by focusing on the transformations of artistic forms and the role of artists in Europe and the US from an anthropological, rather than art history, perspective. Treating art forms, artistic writings, and details of artists' lives as ethnographic material the course questions what they can tell us about the cultural, social and political forces that dominated the century and continue to shape our lives today.

For more detailed information about classes, please visit the UC Berkeley Online Schedule of Classes.