Critical Embodiment: Art, Process and Ecologies of Scholarship

Department: Humanities  

Instructor: Katherine Agard and Bill Basquin
Instructor's Email:;  
Prerequisites: None

Course Description

This course is first and foremost an art-making course grounded in the production of writing. We aim to introduce students to a wide range of forms and strategies for writing but also research and art-making across discipline.

We will talk, walk, listen, and write in various settings to introduce students to a range of non-hierarchical ways of observing, sensing, questioning and communicating with what they come across in their environments. The course will develop students’ observation and writing skills as well as their understanding of themselves as original thinkers and contributors in community with others.

Although based in writing and art-making, this course focuses on developing personal research questions. We will also hone in on our skills for interpretation, response and criticism of phenomena both banal and extra-ordinary: “texts” as far flung as works of fiction, pop culture, geographical formations, dreams, social interactions and scientific phenomena. This course discusses methods and methodologies from social anthropology, visual art, the natural sciences, psychology and literature as tools that students can use to perform their own actions and research - in whatever fields they choose.

Course Goals/Learning Objectives 

Students will leave the course with a creative project and short critical discussion of their own choosing made in consultation with the instructors. They will also do a short reading or presentation to the group.

Content and Evaluation

  • Lectures and discussions focusing on a particular artist’s work and their process of producing it
  • Field trips to museums, natural sites and urban locations at UCSD and in San Diego
  • Homework will consist of short assigned readings and exercises for personal reflection
  • Final artistic project made through conversation with instructors. Final projects can be artistic
  • Last day of instruction will be a reading and exhibition of students’ creations. Parents and the general public are welcome to attend.

Course Outline

Week 1 - How we Notice 

Students will learn new ways of observing, gathering and processing information about new subjects. We will interview each other, be aware of our bodies during different kinds of physical activity, and talk about image and sound analysis. We will explore the UCSD campus by foot this week, visiting the Stuart Collection, natural areas and common spaces and observing them from different perspectives.

We will introduce students to the main modalities of presenting their final topics to the class: writing, video/image production or site-specific intervention/performance. In this week, we will also be performing general diagnostics to gauge student skill level and interest. 

Week 2 - How we Share 

Our goal this week is to have students share their insights with others. They will observe people, wildlife and objects in various natural and built environments and begin to guide each other in new ways of seeing. We will explore trails and beaches around La Jolla, and explore various art spaces in San Diego. We will talk to artists and scientists about the insights that lead to the creation of new work. Students will work in small groups to make texts, videos or guides that invite each other to ‘see’ things or notice things in a new way.

We will look at films, do in-class writing exercises and read texts that think about how various disciplines deal with the unexpected. We will begin proposing final creative projects based on our interactions this week.

Week 3 - How we Understand what we Notice 

Our goal this week is for students to be critically reflective about their own interests and creative process. Students will work in earnest on their individual projects. We will talk about taking and giving feedback by introducing students to group critique and workshops based on their own projects. This week will end in individual or group readings and presentations.


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