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Representations of American Culture, 1760-1960: Art and Literature
2004 Volume III

Introduction

These units show how to combine the study of art and literature in the classroom. The course descriptions are geared to the elementary, middle-school, or high-school levels, but all feature an attention to visual art as a key facet of students' education. All feature too a belief that close analysis -- learning to look attentively at one thing, be it a painting or a short story or a poem -- is vital.

In what follows, readers will encounter not only a variety of American artists, writers, and events, but also a number of helpful suggestions about how to look closely at individual works of visual and literary art. In a culture in which images move past us at a dizzying rate, in which the instant access to overwhelming amounts of information has never been greater, these course descriptions offer an antidote of sorts: the chance for students (and teachers) to stop and look at individual works of art and literature, even at specific details in these works. There is a trust implicit in this purpose. The seminar proceeded with this idea in mind: that with the right methods, the right patience and praise, the ability to discern something closely and imaginatively can be a source of pleasure and pride to students of all abilities. Consequently none of the units here is a broad survey touching on dozens of things and none of them closely. Only two of the units touch on Thoreau's Walden, but the spirit of that book suffuses much of what you will find here: the virtues of singular and prolonged acts of attention, of speaking and writing about that attention; and the discovered sense of self that might arise from that attention.

Alexander Nemerov

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