MA History of Art

Ecologies in American Art, 1950 to now

Dr Lucy Bradnock

The climate crisis, according to writer Amitav Ghosh, “is also a crisis of culture, and thus of the imagination”. This course explores modern and contemporary art histories of the United States through the lens of ecology, to understand how American artists have articulated and shaped ecological perspectives, positions, and publics, and how they have understood the United States of America via recourse to the ecological.  

Rather than focusing on depictions of weather, landscape, or climate crisis per se, we take a more conceptual approach, exploring works of performance and participatory art, sculpture, and text-based projects, using the many meanings of ‘ecology’ to think about materials, audience participation and collaboration, ecological countercultures, and critiques of social or cultural power structures. We consider how an ecological approach can help us rethink familiar art historical models of site and place, materiality and value, authorship and ownership, audience and participation, institutional critique and cultural labour. 

We explore the capacity of ecocritical models to foreground colonial, regionalist, and economic structures that have shaped American art and art history via the entanglement of nature and nation from the founding mythologies of the United States to the present moment. We are attentive to the geographical, social, and cultural exclusions that have been performed in American art history and foreground the work of indigenous artists and artists of colour, as well as intersections between art, countercultural politics, and environmental justice movements.  

This course encourages you to engage with theoretical frameworks of participatory art and activism, ecological time and futurity, ecofeminism and utopianism, extractive and material politics, models of the local and the planetary, and the more-than-human. Gallery and exhibition visits will examine both historical and contemporary material. 

Course leader: Dr Lucy Bradnock

In the event that a course leader is on sabbatical, takes up a fellowship, or otherwise is not able to the teach the course, they will be replaced by another experienced course leader either for a semester or, in some cases, the academic year.

Please note: whilst many Special Options will include site visits within the UK and further afield, these are subject to confirmation.


Special Options 2023/24

Please note: Special Options vary from year to year and are subject to demand. The Courtauld reserves the right to amend or withdraw the options if necessary, and will always directly inform applicants of any changes.

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