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PWR 1KSC: Health, Well-Being and the Arts

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Catalog Number: PWR 1KSC

Instructor: Kim Savelson

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


What is health?  And what is "well-being?"  Are these medical questions? Or cultural, legal, political, ethical, spiritual questions? What do health & well-being have to do with the arts?  While we cannot universally define “health,” humans still have a complex problem on our hands and the problem is pervasive: health and well-being are scientific, ethical, cultural, political, social, geographical, economic & legal matters. And they are matters addressed by—and intertwined with—the arts (visual, performing and literary arts) in a variety of ways.  In kicking off their "Arts and Health Initiative" The World Health Organization (WHO) recently noted that art "has long played an integral part in how we teach, learn, communicate and heal."

In this course, we will engage with dynamic “health” questions in all their complexity, and seek to understand the matters that are under debate, and the ways these discussions emerge in the arts. We will sustain a global frame, exploring health matters in many contexts, as we read academic and popular writing and analyze a variety of media. As researchers, you will pay special attention to how the arts address, discuss and represent the “issues” that interest you, whether your subject matter is individuals, communities, humans/other species, planetary health, oceans/rivers/trees/plants, insects, spiritual health, mental/psychic health, physiological health or ideas about “wellbeing.” Public health advocates, educators, social theorists, medical researchers, ethicists and health equity activists are hard at work, trying to keep up with mounting problems in the domain of health. Artists—of all kinds—are part of the conversation, in a range of ways.

Beginning with the premise that “health” needs to be rhetorically defined and studied in context—health is not a universal concept, and it means different things to different people—we will enter the conversation, as students, critics, scholars and creatives. You will choose a subject matter to research that is about some aspect of wellbeing (or lack of it) and spend the quarter researching and writing about how artistic expression/the “arts” (in any domain) is part of the discourse around this “issue.”

Examples of Research Topics

You will write on a research topic that is compelling to you that relates to the course theme. You might be interested in how health concepts or medical issues are filtered through and represented by artistic texts. Perhaps you will explore the anti-capitalist politics of rest, and how the recent art exhibit "Black Power Naps" centers rest as crucial to healing work; or perhaps you'll analyze Vaccine Art that has been funded by the CDC; you might explore how artists are breaking the taboos around depicting birth, or look closely at the “Bioethics Global Art” project of bridging art and bioethics—or maybe you'll research the collaboration between art history and genetics, or turn your attention to the medicalization of love and how art depicts love sickness. You will look for texts from the literary, visual and/or performing arts that speak about the issues you are interested in. The ways that a work of art—or several—advances or turns or subverts the conversation is what you will investigate. Whether it's something to do with health of the planet, death/birth, disease, racialized/gendered constructions of the body, animal wellbeing, food systems, or a topic in medical anthropology, in all of these cases, you will anchor your inquiry in a work/s of art that speaks to, or takes up, the questions you are interested in. In this course we will cast a wide net so that you will be able to create a dynamic, important research project in an area of your choosing.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) In this essay you’ll examine and evaluate the rhetorical appeal of a chosen text to its audience.

Texts in Conversation Essay

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) In the TiC you will explore the important conversation surrounding your emergent research question. You will construct an annotated bibliography, and write an essay that discusses the sources’ arguments, puts the texts into dialogue with one another, and describes how these materials help you move closer to developing your research question.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) You will write on a research topic that is compelling to you that relates to the course theme.