Art is a universal fact of human histories and cultures. It is one that global modernity has transformed radically, however. Over few centuries, works of art became an integral part of the circuits of knowledge, commodities, and power that formed under the joint impact of technological innovation, imperialism, and capitalism. In the process, art became: the quasi-exclusive domain of specialized “art worlds”; a tool of political domination, communication, and resistance; an economic resource; and a means of complex status distinction specific to capitalist, class societies. If the centrality of art and culture to the self-proclaimed “modern” polity is undoubtable, this privileged position is threatened today in ways that need to be questioned.
The course explores these various sociological dimensions of the macro-history of art. We ask and seek to answer questions about the significance, singularity, and definition of art across time and space, with an eye to the specific issues raised by neoliberal domination and by the world-wide spread of illiberal politics in the contemporary era. The questions we ask are social-theoretical; the tools we mobilize to answer are historical and anthropological.