Teaching Warhol

Here’s the draft syllabus for a seminar I’m teaching next semester. Feedback very welcome.

Age of Warhol

This course is a revision of one I’ve taught to undergrads and grads the last few summers — The Downtown Scene, 1960-80 — stripping out almost everything but Warhol and expanding the amount of time I was able to devote to several aspects or periods of his career. It’s idiosyncratic: I have the 33 1/3 books in there not just to flesh out the discussion of 1970s vaguely Warholian music scenes but more importantly because Cyrus and I are both teaching here and can carry on an interesting conversation. (My book talks more about “Warholism” than his does, though some may argue that Warhol was more obviously important to the Stones than to Television during those years. Actually, I began teaching the Downtown Scenes course, an expansion of a few lectures from our Writing New York course, to help prepare me to write the Television book, though I’m now launching a much larger book project on New York in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, which I’m calling “The Age of Warhol,” even though I think we’re still living in that age more or less.)

Worth noting when you look at the reading list: I’m able to order books without worrying too much about cost due to the fact that my students are very lucky to enjoy a generous book subsidy. The course would look very different otherwise.

This syllabus from Liz Kotz helped me think through and refine my approach; I’m being as interdisciplinary or perhaps multidisciplinary as possible. The course will be listed as an Arts and Humanities colloquium and will count toward a range of majors: art, literature, music, film. I had very useful feedback from Kenneth Goldsmith, whose curatorial prowess (in print and on ubu.com) is absolutely essential to the course design. It looks as if he’ll be able to visit late in the semester, which will be fantastic for the students. If you’re looking to spend a little time fooling around on the web today, start with ubu’s Warhol pages. This bit in particular is an hour well spent:


Happening from Django's Ghost on Vimeo.

Previously, elsewhere.


6 responses to “Teaching Warhol”

  1. KS says:

    This looks like an amazing course! I love to read syllabi and find it impressive that you would openly share something so personal, something you have put a lot of work into developing. I am curious about how you actually calculate 20% of the students’ grades based on their blog participation. That sounds like a huge time sink for you, and perhaps a difficult way to gage their efforts. I abandoned attaching value to course discussions on Blackboard or the like due to these matters and simply made it optional. Perhaps I should revisit this idea. Anyway, thanks for sharing.

  2. Bryan says:

    I’ve come to feel over time that syllabi aren’t worth protecting — or at least that the benefits of letting other people in outweigh the chance that someone might “steal” something. In this case, a lot of the readings are to be expected: a lot of classic essays, the main anthologies/coffee table books. And if I’ve missed something really good, I need someone else to tell me! (Goldsmith, for instance, not only tipped me off to the Colacello memoir for my weeks on the 70s but also let me know the audio files — which are terrific — are on ubu, which I’d never noticed before.) I am happy to credit other people’s syllabi or give props for assignments I use — I’m even moving toward a credits section on final syllabi to make it plain that courses don’t emerge in vacuums.

    And I hadn’t thought about the fact that my blog assignment here is a little different than the one in the course I’m currently teaching, where it really does add up to something like 20% of the work and depends on a rigid course-role system to generate content and comments for the site. That assignment (which I think is working rather well) is much more intensive than the Tumblr will be, although the Tumblr will require them all to post before every class meeting. I’ll probably either tweak the percentage or think of a way to make the assignment more substantial without taking away from what appeals to me about the Tumblr format: it should be visual or pithy, not text-heavy.

    I think what makes this course unique among other Warhol syllabi I’ve seen is that it’s not just an art history course. And it’s not just a lit course, either, or a cultural history course. I have a chance to depart from the “Literature in the Age of Warhol” rubric, which is how I’ve been teaching my summer grad course, and actually spend more time on art and film and even the silly corners of Warhol’s career, which is where some of the most interesting stuff is hiding. I’ve done some of this stuff in the other courses, but always on a back burner to a set of other authors who were Warhol’s contemporaries or interlocutors. I’m not doing that so much here.

  3. Bryan says:

    Felix Salmon’s “Occupy Art” piece, also posted today, has me thinking abt the rationale for my course description. Not sure I’ll change it, but worth thinking abt.

  4. lane says:

    sounds like a great course. i’m not sure what the audience will be … I’m assuming these students are upper class Emerite Citizens that are under cultural expectations that they are believing and practicing Muslims?

    The discussion surrounding Warhol’s work has, over the last 25 years changed so dramatically with regards to his being a homosexual. Will the class reflect this change, and what are the implications of this discussion in a conservative religious environment?

    But beyond Warhol’s own sexual orientation, his circle includes and celebrates so many transgressive viewpoints, Junkie Pride, Trans Pride, Fat Pride, Afro Caribbean Pride,,, etc. that it seems tricky.

    Obviously, his output is so gigantic that one can easily compose a class that avoids the Tranvestitism and explicit porn. … but,,, it seemed interesting to ask.

    I guess… Warhol epitomizes The Decadent West.

    Rawk On!

  5. T-Mo says:

    I’m buying my plane tickets now so I can take this class. It sounds amazing! I loved _The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (from A to B and Back Again)_ when I was in college. A friend and I used to page through it, reading random quotes out loud and laughing for hours.

  6. Bryan says:

    4. That’s a reasonable question, Lane. Two part answer: The audience is pretty global — our students come from all over the world, not just the UAE. So the bigger challenge may be making sense of the relationship to American culture, which won’t be taken for granted although, in many cases, “America” is probably best signified for global teens by a Warhol Coke bottle. Second part: the UAE has an art world, interested in material produced in the Arab world but also in art as a global commodity. The same Abu Dhabi island where NYU’s permanent campus is under construction will also host the Louvre, the Guggenheim, etc., and the neighboring emirate Sharjah has one of the oldest art fairs and some of the biggest arts foundations in the region. So although the explicit sexuality in some of the work would certainly post a problem for some viewers, that makes the question of Warhol’s status in the region all the more interesting. For what it’s worth, he’s one of a handful of artists Larry Gagosian showed here a couple years ago.

    I have on the syllabus the Colacello chapters in which Warhol flies to Iran to make portraits of the Shah’s family. So the question of American decadence will be part of the conversation.

    You’re right that most of the recent work takes Warhol’s sexuality for granted or makes it an explicit topic of inquiry, and so will the course, although I’ll issue warnings about mature content. (I have no idea where my students will come from: this semester I have eleven students who come from nine countries: Australia, Azerbaijan, Germany, Hungary, Kenya, Lebanon, South Korea, the UK, and the US.) My academic freedom is protected here in a way it wouldn’t be at an American religious college, certainly.

    5. So much of the material is like that. So fun. And yet we’ll talk a lot about boredom. I’m going to screen all of Empire (out of class) if I can get away with it. Sort of restage this.