Art 195 - Art & Text
Luis Bunuel and salvador Dali, Un Chien Andalou, 1929
Spring 2016
Monday and Wednesday 5:30 to 6:45 pm
Instructor: Denise Johnson
Office Hours: 4 to 5:30 pm


click here for a printable syllabus



Course Description

Required of all freshman art majors this course provides students with the vocabulary for talking and writing about the visual arts, with the goal of making them active viewers and producers of visual culture.

This course introduces the student to the theory of signs and other conceptual structures as well as the formal language of the visual arts. How can we describe a work of art so that we can produce a meaning? How do we break down visual structures in a work of art? How do we construct a close read or a formal analysis of work of art? What is a “sign”? How does one understand images vis-à-vis a textual anchor (title, caption, etc)? More generally, how does one derive meaning from a visual image? How do we “read” or grasp meanings in artworks, advertisements, film, TV, architecture, and the designed objects? The exploration of these questions is often referred to as the study of semiotics.

Objectives & Outcomes
This course satisfies the 7AI and 7SI components of the General Education curriculum: students will compose critical or creative works that embody or analyze an artistic form, and students will employ theories of how people frame and analyze social and/or historical phenomena.
Upon successful completion of this course, students will:

• Understand that images, regardless of their origin and intended audience, form a system of signs that inform the content of our contemporary visual language;

• Understand how signs function in communication and the construction of reality;

• Be able to describe and discuss visual images including artworks, design works, and film;

• Develop confidence in their role as active viewers or “readers” who construct meaning;

• Develop a formal vocabulary for discussing painting, sculpture, photography, graphic design, and employ semiotics terms, cultural codes to be able to analyze a visual image vis-à-vis contemporary culture.

Art History Program Learning Outcomes
Students will be able to:

Develop the writing competencies used in the discipline of art history.


Locate works of art and visual culture within the context of world art history and articulate the relationship between intended meaning/function and audience response in specific cultural and historical contexts.


1. Recognize the theoretical concerns of art history and its allied disciplines, and discuss and apply specific theoretical perspectives to a given art historical context and to their own research projects.



Required Text
Hall, Sean. This Means This, That Means That: a User’s Guide to Semiotics. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2007.
This Means This, This Means That

Barnet, Sylvan. A Short Guide to Writing About Art. Boston: Pearson Education Inc. (any edition, 10th or 11th preferred)

A Short Guide to Writing About Art



Instructional Websites
This course will be taught from the instructional website: Lecture presentations, assignments, and other course materials will be available to students at this site, and you will need to access it regularly.
Additionally, two exams will be taken outside of class on Blackboard at



Instructional Strategies
Lectures, student presentations, active participation in class discussions, presentation by visiting artist and possibly viewing of an off-campus exhibition that may require a commute, parking fee, and/or entrance fee.
Major Study Units

? Introduction to semiotics

• Basic concepts
• Vocabulary
• The study of visual arts as a form of communication
? Formal visual analysis
? Visual structures of meaning
? Textual structures of meaning
? Strategies of interpretation
• Ways of seeing and meaning
• Interpretation
• Representation
? Framing meaning
? The audience:
• Who are the viewers?
• How do they produce meanings?
• Gazes and The Other
Methods of Evaluation
Students will be evaluated on the presentation of evidence that they have achieved the course objectives. As well, students will be evaluated on the frequency and quality of their contributions to in-class discussion; on their ability to make oral and written critical observations about the artists, movements, and concepts presented in the course; on the quality of the writing they present; and on their ability to demonstrate growth in their understanding and application of semiotic theory and how viewers formulate meaning/ interpretation of a work of art.

Class Participation - 10%

Students will earn up to 50 participation points through the following activities:


Students will participate in class discussions and will be expected to contribute consistently to in-class debate and the application of theoretical ideas to works.


Students will be required to attend one lecture in the Visual Thinker Lecture Series (two contemporary artist lectures, and one Bensussen lecture). Additional lectures may be attended for extra credit. Please be reminded that Art and Art History majors are required by the department to attend all Visual Thinker Lectures and the Art 195 assignment requires different documentation.


Glossary Project - 20%

Students are required to create a glossary of terms encountered in course readings and class discussions. The form that the glossary takes (flashcards, Word document, etc.) is up to the needs and learning modes of individual students. The contents and organization of your glossary should assist you in preparing for quizzes and developing coursework.


Assignments - 40%

Over the course of the semester, students will submit three writing assignments as a means of becoming more familiar with the formal and conceptual language of images.


Additionally, each student will be asked to give an in-class presentation related to the major study units of this course. Students may choose to collaborate on the presentation in small groups, with each member of the group pledging to offer equitable time and effort to the presentation. Topics and presentation dates will be arranged during the first weeks of class.


Final Project - 10%

The final project will be related to or derived from the semester’s theme of words and images. Students working in small groups will compose a graphic novel offering a semiotic analysis of an object, a work of art, a designed object, or a “semiotic concept” relating to our coursework. A short analysis of this graphic novel will also be required.


Exams - 20%

Students will respond to two exams this semester, each worth 50 points. Exams will be taken outside of class on the course Blackboard page at


Make-up exams cannot be accommodated, except under extenuating circumstances!


Extra Credit

Students are limited to earning a maximum of six percent in extra credit points during the semester. Any points earned above this cap will NOT be applied to the final grade.




Points will be earned on writing assignments through committed consideration of the material, demonstration of learned concepts and language, and evidence of critical thinking. In addition to the individual requirements, each writing assignment will earn points based on rigorous analysis through the skilled application of the art historical methodologies, as well as pointed and thoughtful responses to the questions proposed.

(100 to 90%)
Writing demonstrates excellence in both articulation and critical thinking. Art historical methodologies are used thoughtfuly and with exceptional skill. All questions are answered thoroughly, and disussion points carry beyond basic responses with sophistication. Credible academic sources were employed to support the author's positions, and Chicago Manual of Style citation rules were carefully followed. The written assignment leaves little to no room for improvement, and demonstrates committed interest in the discipline.
(89 to 80%)
Writing demonstrates clear focus and an above average consideration of the subject matter. While all questions have been answered, there is room for improvement in carrying the analysis and discussion beyond a basic response. The work exhibits potential for excellence however, a clearer application and understanding of the art historical methodologies is needed. Author has met the requirements for research and citations, but the stated positions could be significantly served by additional research.
(79 to 70%)
Most of the material is understood, but the focus is not entirely clear, and analysis is cursory. Question responses could be more fully realized, and the material, more thoroughly examined. Citation issues are present, little research was executed in support of the author's positions, and/or sources are not credible or academic. There are issues with language that make the writing somewhat difficult to understand.
(69 to 60%)
Lowest possible grade for a complete assignment submitted on time. Writing demonstrates little understanding or connection with the material and is flawed in content and form. Question responses do not provide evidence of critical thinking. Citation issues are present, no research was executed in support of the author's positions, and/or sources are not credible or academic. There are issues with language that make the writing very difficult to understand.
< 59%
Work fails to meet any requirements satisfactorily.



Writing is incomplete but shows potential. Student is offered one additional class day to revise, add to, and re-submit the assignment.



  100 - 90% 500 - 448 points
  500 - 473
  472 - 448
Very Good
  89 - 80% 447 - 398
  447 - 433
  432 - 413
  412 - 398
  79 - 70% 397 - 348
  397 - 373
  372 - 363
C -
  362 - 348
  69 - 60% 347 - 298
  347 - 333
Minimum Passing
  332 - 313
  312 - 298
  59% - or less 297 - 0 points
Failure to Withdraw
No Pass



Important Dates
Late Registration
The last day to add courses is Friday, February 12.
Drop Deadline
Students wishing to drop the course without record must do so by Friday, February 12. The last day to withdraw from a course, or change grading option to P/NP is Friday, April 15.
Final Exam
The in-class final exam for this course is mandatory, and will not be offered at an alternative date, except under extenuating circumstances. The instructor understands that the end of the academic year and travel come with much urgency and pressure. Nonetheless, the hours set aside for the final exam are a part of your earned credit and as such, are an important component of your grade.
Grades will be available no later than Sunday, May 29.



Class Schedule and Required Reading
This is a tentative schedule that may change according to the needs of the class during the semester. Lectures & assignments will be posted on The Slide Projector and Blackboard. Updates will be announced in class, and modified on The Slide Projector, and on Blackboard.
Discussion Topic
Assignment & Reading Due
February 1
February 3

Saussure & the Sign

Hall, Introduction
February 8

Signs and Signing

Hall, Chapter 1

February 10

Icon, Index & Symbol

Barnet, pgs. 1 - 21 & Chapter 2

February 15

Rhetoric of the Image

Barthes, “Rhetoric of the Image”

February 17

Metaphors We Live By

Hall, Chapter 2
Lakoff & Johnson, “Metaphors Live By”

February 22

Connotative & Denotative Meaning

Williamson, Summary of “Decoding Advertisements"

February 24

Making Meaning

Barnet, pgs. 22 - 36 & Chapter 4

February 29

Ways of Meaning

Paper #1 Due

March 2

Conceptual Structures

Hall, Chapter 3

March 7

Visual Structures

Hall, Chapter 4

March 9

Formal Analysis

Barnet, Chapters 3 & 5
March 14

In the Name of Picasso

Krauss, “In the Name of Picasso”
March 16

Analysis and Evaluation

Glossary Part I & Exam #1 Due

March 21
Spring Break
March 23
March 28

Textual Structures

Hall, Chapter 5

March 30

Cultural Appropriation

Pritchard, Essence, Identity, Signature and Palmer and Tano, Mokomokai

April 4

Cultural Signifiers

Paper #2 Due

April 6

Matters of Interpretation

Hall, Chapter 6; Barthes: The Death of the Author

April 11

Framing Meaning

Hall, Chapter 7

April 13

Guest Speaker

Barnet, Chapters 12 & 14

April 18

Ways of Seeing

Berger, Ways of Seeing #4

April 20

Language & Myth

Barthes, Myth Today

April 25

Stories and Storytelling

Hall, Chapter 8

April 27


Stuart Hall, Coding and Decoding

May 2


Paper #3 Due

May 4

Presentations: Grace Jones, Melissa Gutierrez, Briana Leonard

Barnet, Chapters 7 & 9

May 9

Presentations: Caroline Caglione, Julianna Nagle, Amber Wolff

May 11

Presentations: Keely Markey, Evan Walker

Glossary Part II & Exam #2 Due

May 18
Final Project Presentations 4:15 to 6:45 pm



Instructor Policies
Commitment to the Conversation

Conversation and debate will be central to the learning experience this semester. Art historians do not work in secluded spaces that are entirely disconnected from the world around them. Given the importance of engagement, students will be expected to fully commit to in-class dialogues and will agree to take a break from texting, emailing, and fulfilling requirements for courses other than our own, while in class.

Laptop use will not be permitted in this class. Apart from the obvious potential for distraction, taking notes on a laptop puts you in "transcription" mode: when we attempt to write word-for-word or verbatim what we hear we are no longer processing intellectually in a discerning way. By contrast, taking notes by hand encourages you to listen, think critically, ask questions and prioritize the information in a way that makes sense. It also provides space for sketching works of art and images as they’re discussed, and for doodling when your mind wanders.

Regular attendance is mandatory. Up to two class absences will be tolerated, however the instructor reserves the right to deduct 5% of total available class points (25 points) for each absence beyond the second. Please also be punctual! Students arriving 15 or more minutes after class begins should expect to be marked absent for the entire class session.
Respect is Key
We will often consider provocative, challenging, even vulgar subject matter in this class and must therefore agree to respect each other’s views and identities. Our diverse backgrounds and opinions are assets and no student shall be made to feel inferior or uncomfortable because of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or physical/ intellectual abilities.
Paper Please

Please submit coursework that is due at the beginning of class.

As a courtesy, the instructor will accept emailed assignments as receipt of having turned in an assignment on time, as long as the assignment has been emailed to the instructor as a pdf BEFORE the start of the class session that the assignment is due. The instructor will expect a paper copy of the emailed assignment to be submitted by the next class session for grading. Assignments submitted in this fashion may require additional time for grading. If you know you will be absent, please make arrangements with a fellow student to submit coursework on the day it is due.

Late Assignments
You may submit one assignment, one class day late. The late assignment will not be marked down, however any assignments turned in more than one class late, or in addition to the one accepted assignment, will only receive credit at the digression of the instructor.



Chapman University Policies
Academic Integrity Policy
Chapman University is a community of scholars which emphasizes the mutual responsibility of all members to seek knowledge honestly and in good faith. Students are responsible for doing their own work, and for submitting coursework completed this semester, for this class. Academic dishonesty of any kind will not be tolerated anywhere in the university. Academic dishonesty of any kind will be subject to sanction by the instructor/administrator and referral to the university's Academic Integrity Committee, which may impose additional sanctions up to and including expulsion. Please see the full description of Chapman University's policy on Academic Integrity at
Students with Disabilities
In compliance with ADA guidelines, students who have any condition, either permanent or temporary, that might affect their ability to perform in this class are encouraged to inform the instructor at the beginning of the term. Upon recommendation of the Center for Academic Success, adaptations of teaching methods, class materials, including text and reading materials or testing may be made as needed to provide for equitable participation.
Equity and Diversity Policy

Chapman University is committed to ensuring equality and valuing diversity. Students and professors are reminded to show respect at all times as outlined in Chapman’s Harassment and Discrimination Policy: at Any violations of this policy should be discussed with the professor, the Dean of Students and/or otherwise reported in accordance with this policy.