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CHID 390 A: Colloquium in the History of Ideas

Meeting Time: 
TTh 12:30pm - 2:20pm
* *
Caroline Simpson
Caroline Chung Simpson

Syllabus Description:

CHID 390                                                                                Professor Caroline Chung Simpson

Spring 2021                                                                 

TTH 12:30-2:20pm                                                               Office hrs, after class or

by appt. via ZOOM

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Meeting ID: 958 188 6647


“Art is anything you can get away with.”          --Andy Warhol, via Marshall McLuhan



As a word, art is often taken to be synonymous with a culture’s highest aesthetic, and often even ethical, values. Institutions devote an enormous amount of time and resources to identifying the best art, to preserving or cataloguing it, all in order to educate the masses about how best to appreciate it. The latter is important, it is said, if you want to call yourself a ‘cultured’ person. But what happens when so-called ‘bad art’ begins to influence or challenge the conventional processes or value systems that identify something as a creative practice worthy of appreciation? What do we make of the emergence of everyday or ‘amateur’ art practices that explicitly defy the priorities associated with artistic value, such as formal skill or training, durability and quality of materials, and originality of technique? In this course, we’ll have a go at confronting these and other questions as we consider the functions and effects of so-called ‘bad art.’ Among other things, we will consider: the forces that produced and continue to shape our ideas about art, including: the changing role of pleasure or leisure in redefining what has artistic value; the impact of technological innovation on art’s value and meaning; and the inseparability of art and capitalism.

Required Texts:

All required reading/viewing/listening is available electronically, either as a PDF file on our Canvas site, or in the form of a URL listed on the syllabus that you can cut and paste into a web browser, or, in the case of videos, via YouTube. Note that you will be given regularly scheduled class time/days to view the videos and make notes. I will provide discussion questions to consider as you watch the videos, so that when we come together as a group to talk about them, you will have had time think about and prepare your responses.


Required Work:

Regular Attendance and Daily Participation: (15% of Final Grade): This is a colloquium, which translates quite literally as “speaking together,” a chance to come together and speak to each other. So, ZOOM in to class daily prepared to speak. You may not have a lot to say in every session, but you should have something to say at least once a week, yes? Your participation will be especially vital when we discuss your comrades’ proposals in the final few weeks of class.


Jumpstart one class discussion: (25% of Final Grade): The first day of class, you will have a chance to sign-up to jumpstart discussion on a specific day. That means you (and likely a partner given the size of this seminar) will start us off. There are many ways to do this. You can offer us a few discussion questions, share your reactions to or thoughts about one or more of the readings/viewings, or ask us to engage in an activity meant to get us talking. A combination of these may be especially effective. If you have other, better ideas for getting the discussion rolling, that’s great too. Feel free to ask me if you are unsure about your approach.


Presentation of Final Project Idea (25% of Final Grade): In the last part of the quarter, you will write a brief 1 page description of your final project that includes the following: a clear description of your project idea, including your topic or focal point and what questions you will be asking of it; your reasons for undertaking the project, or, in other words, why is it important to explore this idea?; your method or approach, which includes how you intend to lay out or structure your project and why you chose that direction; and, finally, any questions or concerns you would like our feedback on. You will turn this in via Canvas (I will create a discussion board for it) at least 2 DAYS before the class is scheduled to discuss your proposal. For example, if your proposal is up on Tuesday, you should turn in your description no later than Sunday. The rest of us in this course are required to read and come to the ZOOM session when a proposal is scheduled to be discussed prepared with comments. We will likely be discussing 4-5 proposals per day, so it’s important that we all come prepared by having read and thought about our comrades’ work.


Final Project (35% of Final Grade): Your final project can be a critical examination, a creative piece, or some combination of the two. If you write a more traditional academic essay, the suggested length is 5-7 pages. If you are writing a creative piece of some kind, such as a set of poems, then the length will obviously be shorter given that a poem requires more thought and time to realize the rich, compressed language the form is known for. If you choose to do a visual work, in effect, visual art about visual art, then page length isn’t a consideration. BUT you will be required to turn in an artist’s statement, which is a 1-2 page description of what you were trying to do in the work, and some sense of the detailed way you went about it. Regardless which direction you choose, the point is to demonstrate what you have learned in this course in the richest way possible. We will discuss possible approaches or ideas for a final project throughout the quarter, in addition to setting aside time in the last three weeks to focus exclusively on this assignment. (See ‘Presentation of Final Project Idea’ above.)


Course Schedule

Week One: Introductions and the concept of ‘Anti-Art’

Tuesday, March 30: Introduction to the Course.

Thursday, April 1: Discuss Anti-Art essay below; Sign-up to Lead Class Discussion.

“Anti-art and the Concept of Art” by Paul N. Humble

(Available under File on Canvas)

Dada Manifesto by Hugo Ball

“We Need a New Skin Color: The Racial Imagination of Dada” by Barry Schwabsky

“The Dadaists’ Fevered Dreams of Africa” by David Nechvatal

“Dada and Surrealism Faced with Colonialism” by Martine Antle

(Available under File on Canvas)

“Speaking of Black Dada” by Mazzy Mae Green



Tuesday, April 6:

Some useful starting points (even if you ultimately disagree with them), by Beverly Kaye

“Outsider Art,” a brief introduction by Christine Smallwood

“Art Brut Origins and Interpretations” by Katherine M. Murrell on the Anthony Petullo Collection.

"Against Outsider Art" by Jesse Prinz

(Available Under File on Canvas)

“Outsider Art is a Lie,” an argument by Adam Turl

Outsider Artists, as described by Christies



Thursday, April 8:

View Film Below on Your Own During Class Time; Consider discussion questions posted under “Discussion” on Canvas.

--View “In the Realms of the Unreal: On Henry Darger”

“What is Outsider Art in Unthinkable Times,” by Edward M. Gomez

And here is an on-line site where you may find many resources or collections of other kinds of outsider art that you might compare to Darger’s work:


Week Three: Obscenity as/in Art

Tuesday, April 13:  

Discuss: “In the Realms of the Unreal”

Thursday, April 15:  

“When Art Fought the Law, and Art Won,” by Alex Palmer

Kriston Capps on the Corcoran Exhibit in 2019:


A Few of the Photos from Robert Mapplethorpe’s “The Perfect Moment” exhibit that prompted the charge of obscenity:


Jim and Tom, Sausalito:,0.5041,0.56

Man in a Polyester Suit:

Self Portrait with a Whip:

Ken and Tyler:

Leather Crotch:


Jack Smith’s “Flaming Creatures.” Despite it being ‘banned, it’s nonetheless on YouTube for all to see:

Constantine Varvis’s description of the film:

“A Feast for Open Eyes” by Susan Sontag, a vigorous defense of Jack Smith’s film:


Week Four: Camp and Bad Aesthetics

Tuesday, April 20:

“Notes on Camp,” by Susan Sontag:

Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz on MoMA’s “Camp: Notes on Fashion” exhibit:

Bruce LaBruce’s response to Sontag’s famous claims about camp:

“How Donald Trump Hi-Jacked Camp”

Again, come with an example of ‘camp’ in your opinion Again, we will discuss!


Thursday, April 22: 


View ‘The Room”, a truly ‘bad’ film famous as such, via the link below during regular class time. No discussion questions this time. It’s THAT bad.

Zoom reaction version on "The Room," where the audience's mass response is recorded.


Read two essays on bad art, the first by John Dyck and Matt Johnson, the second by Per Algander:

(They are both available under File on Canvas.)

Come with an example of ‘good-bad art’ in your opinion. We will discuss.




Week Five: Bad Aesthetics Pays

Tuesday, April 27:


Discuss your reactions to “The Room” and the essays from Thursday



Thursday, April 29: The Appeal of Amateurism

“In Defense of the Poor Image” by Hito Steyerl:

“Images” by Virginia Heffernan:

(The Heffernan is available under File on Canvas.)

Rupi Kaur, a Sampling:


“The Cult of the Noble Amateur,” by Rebecca Watts:


“The Death of the Artist—and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur” by William Deresiewicz:

 Discuss Final Project Proposal



Week Six: Capitalism Killed/Is the Art Star

Tuesday, May 4:

View the film, “Made You Look” via the link below and consider the discussion questions posted on Canvas


Thursday, May 6:

Discuss “Made You Look”; Discuss final project proposal process.


Week Seven: Discussion of Student Proposals

Tuesday, May 11: 4 Open Office Hours during class time—Work on Final Proposals 

Thursday, May 13: Discuss 4 Proposals


Week Eight: Discussion of Student Proposals

Tuesday, May 18: Discuss 4 Proposals

Thursday, May 20: Discuss 4 Proposals


Week Nine: Discussion of Student Proposals

Tuesday, May 25:  Discuss 5 Proposals

Thursday, May 27:  Discuss 4 Proposals


Week Ten: Discussion of Student Proposals

Tuesday, June 2:  No Class; Work on Final Projects

Thursday, June 4: No Class; Work on Final Projects.


Your Final Projects are Due Thursday, June 10, no later than 5pm. You may email your final projects if that is possible. Otherwise, take a video of the object you’ve made and send that.



Catalog Description: 
Investigates the theoretical and practical problems of interpretation and knowledge production in a topic chosen by the instructor. Primarily for majors. Prerequisite: CHID 101.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
September 1, 2021 - 2:52pm