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ARTH 57 B — How to Look at Art and Why

Quarter: Winter
Day(s): Thursdays
Course Format: Live Online (About Formats)
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Jan 18—Mar 21
Time: 5:30—7:20 pm (PT)
Refund Deadline: Jan 20
Units: 2
Grade Restriction: No letter grade
Tuition: $550
Instructor(s): Alexander Nemerov
Class Recording Available: Yes
Status: Open
ACCESS THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Live Online(About Formats)
5:30—7:20 pm (PT)
Jan 18—Mar 21
10 weeks
Refund Date
Jan 20
2 Units
Grade Restriction
No letter grade
Alexander Nemerov
ACCESS THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
The old paintings in museums can seem far away from us—the stuff of polite interest, perhaps real curiosity, but nothing more. How can we encounter this art in a more meaningful way? How can we open ourselves up to being transformed when we look at art? Focusing on prominent paintings of the Renaissance, Baroque, and Romantic periods, this course places an emphasis on the great human themes—love, joy, sadness—waiting to be released in the art. That release, we will learn, requires as much from us as from the art itself. Learning how to look at art, we will more fundamentally consider why we do so. Then and only then will great paintings by artists such as Masaccio, Titian, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Poussin, La Tour, and Vermeer open themselves to us.

“How to Look at Art and Why” is a version of the popular lecture course Alexander Nemerov has taught to undergraduates at Yale and Stanford since 2007. Told in 10 lectures or “chapters,” the course will unfold like a book, focusing on such themes as being called by art, being transformed by what we see, and creating a mental chapel of the works that move us. Such study entails a vulnerability, an openness, not least from the professor himself, about what works of art may offer us. The course holds that paintings are less occasions for expertise than occasions for us to pause, to attend, both to them and to ourselves. Different from self-help, the course will delve deeply into the supposedly irrelevant past to affirm ourselves in a drastic emptying of ego. Art history is the course’s path but not its goal. The goal is to live a life closer to moments of emotional truth.

Students can choose to attend this course on campus or online. Sign up for Section A if you think you might attend class on the Stanford campus at least once. There is no commitment—you can still choose to attend via Zoom for any session. Sign up for Section B if you know you will exclusively attend via Zoom.

Carl and Marilynn Thoma Provostial Professor in the Arts and Humanities, Stanford

Alexander Nemerov is an art historian and a distinguished scholar of American culture. He explores our connection to the past and the power of the humanities to shape our lives. Through his research and close readings of history, philosophy, and poetry, Nemerov reveals art as a source of emotional truth and considers its ethical demands upon us in our moment. He has been named one of Stanford’s top 10 professors by The Stanford Daily. He is the author of many books on art and cultural history. His most recent book is The Forest: A Fable of America in the 1830s.

Textbooks for this course:

There are no required textbooks; however, some fee-based online readings may be assigned.