The Art of the Document
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Level: Undergraduate
Division: Parsons The New School for Design
School: School of Art and Design History and Theory
Department: Art and Design History
Course Number: PLAH 3002
Course Format: Seminar
Location: NYC campus
Permission Required: No
  • Art History, Theory & Criticism
This course will address the tension between art and document, or making and recording, in twentieth-century visual culture. Although not always understood as “art,” documentary practices have long had their own aesthetics, and this course will begin by introducing students to some of the key photographic and filmic works in the documentary tradition, examining not only their role in political and social reform, but also their formal dimensions and visual rhetoric. We will consider documentary’s troubled and uncertain relation to “high” art at this point, and locate this work within a broader historical dialectic of realism and modernism. We will then turn to the second half of the twentieth century to address the increasing adoption by postmodern art practices of an aesthetics of the document and of documentary modes, from pop art to conceptual art to performance to postmodern photography. By examining the way artists have relied on found objects, photography and film, and preexisting linguistic and social systems to make their work, we will consider how they transform our notions of the style, form, and truth-content of documents and documentary.
Course Open to: Degree Students
Course Pre/Co-requisites:
Open to: All university degree students. Pre-requisites: first-year university writing course and at least one prior history or methods course in art, media, film, or visual culture.


Open to Undergraduate students.