Monday, May 26, 2014


The take-home test question is posted below and I will respond to any enquiries you might have when we next meet on Wednesday May 28. Note that due to the cancellation of tonight's class I will be moving the due date for the take-home test to Wednesday June 4.

School of the Arts
McMaster University

ART HIST 2A03 / CMST 2I03, Spring 2014

(Due: Wednesday June 4, in class)

Using full sentences, provide a written response of no more than five pages (double-spaced). Your written response must be returned to the instructor, in class, on Wednesday June 4. Electronic versions will not be accepted. Do not email your response.


Racist and offensive imagery is addressed in episode five (season one) of Ricky Gervais’s 2005-2006 HBO series Extras (guest star, Samuel L. Jackson). With reference to various moments in the episode (shown in class) discuss how this type of imagery is used make a satirical commentary on the subject of racism and the power that offensive images seem to have over us.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

ART HIST 2A03 / CMST 2I03: Test Study Images

One of the following images will be selected for the upcoming in-class test. Please refer t these as you review your notes:

Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa (c. 1503-1506, oil on panel)

Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q (1919, postcard and graphite)

Willem Kalf, Still Life with St. Sebastian Archer's Cup, (1653, oil on canvas)

Frere Luc, France Bringing Faith to the Hurons (c. 1670, oil on canvas)

Edouard Manet, Olympia (1863, oil on canvas)

Theodore Gericault, The Raft of the Medusa, (1819, oil on canvas)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

ART HISTORY 2A03 / CMST 2I03: In-Class Test Info

The in-class test is approaching. The following information is offered to help you prepare.

As noted in lecture the test will be 30 minutes in length. You will be presented with one image of a picture discussed in the lectures and you will need to respond to a question pertaining to that picture. Your response must use full sentences (no point form). The identification (title, date and artist) for the picture will be provided. A list potential test images will be provided on this blog shortly.  Here is a sample test question from a previous version of the course:

Image: Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, (oil on canvas, 1656)

Respond to the following question using full sentences. Point form will not be accepted.

QUESTION: In his painting titled Las Meninas, Diego Velázquez presents a picture of the King and Queen of Spain, their daughter (the Infanta), her maids of honor and entourage, and a self-portrait. The painting challenges the limits of conventional portraiture by clearly adopting the format of a metapicture. Briefly define the term (as it is applied here) and explain how the metapicture shapes our response to the painting.  

ART HIST 2A03 / CMST 2I03: Mitchell Book Online

I have received a link for pdf file of the Mitchell book online. While I clearly advocate buying the text (to support the author and publisher for this work) you may wish to look at the pdf while waiting for delivery of copies at the bookstore:

What do Pictures Want?

When the search window opens, select one of the four 'mirror' options on the right-hand side of the highlighted bar to download the file.


Monday, May 12, 2014

ART HIST 2A03 (Spring 2014): Readings

I have not yet managed to locate a full and free online Elkins text. However, the following link should provided a free online version of the Elkin's chapter, 'Visual Literacy, or Literary Visualcy?' by W.J.T. Mitchell:

Visual Literacy, or Literary Visualcy?

Note: after clicking on the link be sure to scroll back to the beginning of the text as it loads to the end of the chapter.


Monday, May 5, 2014

ART HIST 2A03 / CMST 2I03 Spring 2014: Course Outline

School of the Arts
McMaster University

ART HIST 2A03 / CMST 2I03, Spring Term I, 2014

Lectures: Monday & Wednesday 6:00-9:00 pm (DSB B105)
Course Instructor: Greg Davies             Email:   

Office: TSH 429                                               Blog:
Office hours: Wednesday 5:00-6:00 pm., or by appointment

COURSE DESCRIPTION:  What is ‘visual literacy’ and what does it mean to be visually literate in today’s society? These questions will be addressed through a series of lectures and open discussions aimed at increasing student awareness of the impact of visual images upon our understanding of ‘self’ and the world around us.

The visual material and issues treated in class discussions will be broad-ranging. Course participants should be aware that discussion topics and visual material may reach well beyond those conventionally treated in art history and communications lectures. A survey of the lecture titles below will indicate the general spectrum of topics to be addressed. Individual lectures will often focus on ‘case studies’ (eg., Byzantine icons, ‘Dolly’ the Sheep, etc.), with the intention of drawing group discussions on larger, relevant issues addressed in the readings and previous class discussions. Students should thus be prepared to look, read, think critically and speak up!

Please note that there are two course texts to be purchased (listed below). As the course progresses students will also be asked to consult relevant web sources. These will also constitute a course requirement.

COURSE TEXTS: The required course texts (available at the bookstore) are:

W. J. T. Mitchell, What do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images, (Chicago, 2004).

James Elkins, ed., Visual Literacy, (London, 2007).

COURSE EVALUATION:  The final grade for this course will derive from three pieces of work. There will be one in-class test, one take-home test and a final examination. The marking scheme for each is listed below.

Test: 25%                     (MAY 21, IN CLASS; 30 minutes)
Take-home test: 35%   (DUE JUNE 2, IN CLASS)
Final exam: 40%           (JUNE 18, IN CLASS: 2 hours)

The requirements for each will be discussed in class. Please be aware that a guideline for the take-home test, including information on late penalties and the correct procedures for submission, will be distributed in class on May 12, 2014.

The instructor and university reserve the right to modify elements of the course during the term. The university may change the dates and deadlines for any or all courses in extreme circumstances. If either type of modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. It is the responsibility of the student to check their McMaster email and course websites weekly during the term and to note any changes.
It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from the student's own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student. Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Extensions or other accommodations will be determined by the instructor and will only be considered if supported by appropriate documentation.  Absences of less than 5 days may be reported using the McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF) at  . If you are unable to use the MSAF, you should document the absence with your faculty office.  In all cases, it is YOUR responsibility to follow up with the instructor immediately to see if an extension or other accommodation will be granted, and what form it will take. There are NO automatic extensions or accommodations.

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process.  Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.
Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage.  This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: “Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty”), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty.  For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at
The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:
1.Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
2.Improper collaboration in group work.
3.Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

In this course we will be using Avenue to Learn Students should be aware that, when they access the electronic components of this course, private information such as first and last names, user names for the McMaster e-mail accounts, and program affiliation may become apparent to all other students in the same course.  The available information is dependent on the technology used.  Continuation in this course will be deemed consent to this disclosure.  If you have any questions or concerns about such disclosure please discuss this with the course instructor.

The University provides a variety of support services to help students manage their many demands. Reference librarians can provide invaluable research assistance. The Student Accessibility Services Centre (SAS) provides assistance with personal as well as academic matters. MUSC B107 and

GRADING SCALE:  The McMaster grading scale may be consulted at:


All readings are taken from the course texts:
W. J. T. Mitchell, What do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images. [MITCH.]
James Elkins, ed., Visual Literacy, [ELK.]

Preface: Why ‘Visual Literacy’?

May 5             Introductory class discussion (no readings assigned)

 May 7
James Elkins, “Introduction: The Concept of Visual Literacy and Its Limitations” [ELK.], pp. 1-10.
W.J.T. Mitchell, “Visual Literacy or Literary Visualcy?” [ELK.], pp. 11-13.

A Picture Says a Thousand Words

May 12
Peter Dallow, “The Visual Complex: Mapping Some Interdisciplinary Dimensions of Visual Literacy,” [ELK.], pp. 91-104.
Jon Simons, “From Visual Literacy to Image Competence,” [ELK.], pp. 77-90.

Living Images

May 14
W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 6. Offending Images,” [MITCH.]

May 19           NO CLASS (VICTORIA DAY)

May 21           TEST (In class: 30 minutes)
 (‘Living Images’ discussion continues after test: W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 6. Offending Images,” [MITCH.])


May 26, 28
W.J.T. Mitchell, “Preface,” pp. xii-xvii; “Images,” pp. 1-3.; “Vital Signs: Cloning Terror,” pp. 5-27. [MITCH.]

Narrative and Image

June 2             (TAKE-HOME TEST DUE IN CLASS)
W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 13. The Ends of American Photography: Robert Frank as National Medium,” [MITCH.]

June 4
W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 14. “Living Color: Race, Stereotype, and Animation in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled,” [MITCH.]

Visualizing Desire

June 9            
W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 2. What Do Pictures Want?,” [MITCH.]
W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 3. Drawing Desire,” [MITCH.]

June 11
W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 8. Romanticism and the Life of Things,” [MITCH.]
W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 9. Totemism, Fetishism, Idolatry,” [MITCH.]

Imagine: Picturing the Unseen

June 16
W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 7. Empire and Objecthood,” [MITCH.]
W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 15. The Work of Art in the Age of Biocybernetic Reproduction,” [MITCH.]


June 18           FINAL EXAM (in class: 2 hours)