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Writing Through Art and Literature

ENGL 165.301

Stefan Sagmeister, the award-winning graphic designer who has collaborated with artists such as Lou Reed and Talking Heads, will be the subject of large exhibition at Penn's Institute of Contemporary Art focusing on the recurrent themes of LANGAUGE and HAPPINESS in his work. Sagmeister has pioneered the concept of graphic design as a way of living a free, happy, and creative life, providing a new take on the 20th century idea of the intersection of Art and Life.

Our writing seminar will explore the graphic design techniques pioneered by Sagmeister -- words inscribed on the body, the use of unorthodox and handwritten fonts, the merging of language, fashion, and graffiti -- and translate them onto the page as explorations into new possibilities for creative writing. We will trace the histories of visual language both on and off the page in various mediums including poetry, graphic design and visual art. In literature, we will investigate the use of visual lanaguage from medieval illuminated manuscripts, to the spatialist works of Stéphane Mallarmé, Zaum, and Futurist visual poetry, mid-century concrete poetry, and contemporary uses in electronic and web-based media; in graphic design, we'll explore the split between clean high modernism and messy expressionistic post-modernism; and in the visual arts, we'll look at the uses of language in conceptual art, body art, as well as in propaganda and political art. And of course, we'll examine the Sagmeister-inspired ways that HAPPINESS and JOY can inspire our own written explorations.

This year-long creative writing class, given as a collaboration of CPCW and the ICA, will use the Sagmeister's works as a basis to inspire a wide variety of written, spoken, and recorded works by participating students. Students will be encouraged to develop correspondent methods of responding to the ICA's exhibitions, specifically in conjunction with an exhibition. The class will involve monthly trips to New York City to attend concerts, museums and lectures. The students will have access to the most cutting-edge artists today via class visits and studio visits. English 165 will culminate in a publication co-sponsored by the ICA and CPCW.

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