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PWR 1SC: Radical Acts of Art in Public: Rhetoric and Artivism

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Catalog Number: PWR 1SC

Instructor: Selby Schwartz

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


At a time when our streets and screens are filled with urgent calls to envision a more just future, we look to artists to help us imagine the world in radically different ways. In this class, we’ll explore the work of contemporary artist-activists—or ‘artivists’—who are creatively addressing our most pressing questions. What does solidarity look like? How do we collectively create justice for all? How does public art challenge us to reconsider public spaces, ‘the public good,’ and who ‘the public’ might be? To delve into these questions, we’ll explore both concrete objects—like photo-portraits, zines, and monuments—and more ephemeral ones, like feminist hip-hop crews and street art.

In this moment of global reckoning with anti-Black racism, we will look primarily to artivists of color to help guide our conversations. But we won’t simply discuss public art; we will actively participate in the collaborative process of creative change. Partnering with Prison Renaissance, we’ll be in dialogue with artists, writers, and activists who are incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison. Students will have the opportunity to engage deeply with these artists’ visions, to go behind the scenes of making a zine across prison walls, and to share their own ideas and questions. By exploring together what public art can do, we’ll create projects that give back to our communities, teaching what we have learned.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words, 5-6pages) Working with any artwork from our Class Gallery, you integrate vivid description with a larger question that this piece raises for you, linking those elements through analysis and reflection.

Texts in Conversation Project

(1800-2400 words, 6-8pages) This project emphasizes the open, explorative process of inquiry into a central question that you find intriguing and a ‘case study’ (concrete example) in public art that embodies this question. You might delve into conversations around racial justice and monuments, eco-art, the ethics of collaborative projects, or artivism on Instagram. Once you have gathered a range of sources around your central question, you curate a conversation: framing your sources, posing your questions, and mapping out your next steps for research and thinking.

Research-Based Argument Essay

(3600-4500 words, 12-15pages) Building on the TiC, you join the conversation by synthesizing your research and developing your own project. In crafting your own response to your central question, you choose whose voices to center and why, how to account for the complexity of your project, and how to engage your readers. Maybe you want to investigate the future of TikTok activism, or a new way of seeing graffiti. This RBA takes ‘argument’ to mean not something that you ‘win,’ but rather something that you give back to your audience from what you have learned, considered, and worked through.