Art and Empathy

TDM 182A
David Michalek
2018 Fall
Thursdays, 9:00am-11:45am
Location: Farkas Hall 303
Class Capacity: 15 Consent Required: Instructor
The English word “empathy” came into being only about a century ago as a translation of the German aesthetic criterion Einfühlung – to “feel into” a work of art or nature. Originally adapted for use in psychology to describe the projection of imagined feelings onto the world, empathy has since evolved to suggest, among other things, a contagion of feeling or the intellectual apprehension of another person’s condition or state of mind. For some, it is our empathetic capacities that make us human and upon which our social and interpersonal lives depend. For others, empathy can be a blinding emotion that precludes and muddies more rational moral thinking. The debate about what empathy means and why it matters continues.

This course will trace empathy’s genealogy through aesthetic theory, philosophy, psychology, performance theory, and spirituality while primarily considering the potential and the limitations, the opportunities and the risks inherent in the art+empathy relationship. The course will, furthermore, feature and examine works of art that are about empathy, against empathy, as well as works celebrated for their ability to help us imaginatively apprehend and engage The Other’s condition or state of mind. Special emphasis will be applied to the live arts of Theater and Dance and the media arts of Photography and Film.  Each student will be challenged to create a work of art (in any medium) with the consideration of the role that empathy might play in it (essay writing included).