Art, Fashion, and Gender in the Modern Age

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This course is under review for 2021. Course registration will open to accepted students once courses are confirmed.

Course Description

Clothing choices are often thought of as reflecting the identity of the wearer. While we understand this on an immediate level as we categorize those around us as, for example, hipsters or goths, our society can sometimes be dismissive of fashion as frivolous or unimportant. This course will explore modern fashion alongside modern art, and assign it equivalent artistic and aesthetic importance. We will consider how both art and fashion have contributed to the construction of modern gender identities that still resonate to this day and how clothing production, sales, and advertising have also contributed to these notions. We will look at the origin of certain iconic sartorial trends and think about the ways art and fashion have come together over the last 150 years to create a modern aesthetic. We will think about the ways that clothes have been used to express or subvert gender identities since the nineteenth century and the way echoes of such decisions are still enacted today.

The course will mainly be visually-based, revolving around artworks and fashion trends, rather than specific authors. We will begin by learning about the role that fashion played for the Impressionists in France, and how these male French artists displayed images of women in lavish haute couture dresses while simultaneously displaying paintings of themselves in bohemian peasant clothing (black beret, striped shirt) that we now associate with the image of an artist. The course will then look at emancipatory clothing for women at women's colleges and art schools, and the way that Gibson Girls/New Women created clothing such as bloomers to match their new lifestyles. We will look at post-world war France and the emergence of Dior's 'New Look' and the prominence of Coco Chanel and their legacy. Students will look at the way persistent sexism in the art world led to a feminist revolution in art history and art production in the 1960s and 1970s, and think about the ways fashion developments during this period played a role. Finally, we will analyze the contemporary fashion show and industry, looking at fast fashion, the role of reality television in promoting trends, and the spectacle of the Victoria's Secret fashion show.

Several trips to the RISD Museum will be made throughout the course, in order to see works of art on display and to analyze the ways the museum displays its fashion collections. At least one of these trips will be made during class time, although students will be expected to return to the museum after class in order to work on individual projects. Students will hear from curators at the museum about how and why they put fashion on display and the history of the museum's fashion collection. Students are expected to enthusiastically participate throughout class discussions and give presentations of their own about the material. This course provides students with a critical understanding of fashion and its role in society today and acts as an introduction to the critical, cross-disciplinary analysis that will be required of them in a college setting. The instructor has worked in several museums (including the RISD Museum) and is an art historian specializing in twentieth-century design. It is hoped that the course will appeal to those interested in working in museums or becoming designers or artists themselves.

-Students will become familiar with the ways in which fashion and art have intersected with each other and with gender issues from the late nineteenth century to the present.
-Students will be able to read and analyze fashion garments and artworks as objects that signify social messages.
-Students will become comfortable using garments and artworks as evidence in their arguments.
-Students will be able to speak analytically about fashion.
-Students will gain an understanding of the decisions that are behind a museum's display of its collection and be able to approach new museum displays with a critical eye.

Prerequisites: No prior knowledge or academic background is required, though a familiarity or opinions about art or fashion are highly encouraged!

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEHA0923
  • Length: 1 week

Program Information

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Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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