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PWR 2JP: The Rhetoric of Art and Commerce

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Catalog Number: PWR 2JP

Instructor: John Peterson

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

Prerequisite: PWR 1, ESF, ITALIC 95W, or equivalent


Course Feature: WR-2 requirement

While Billie Eilish has a worthy reputation as an independent and rebellious artist, she also has commercial contracts with several global corporations, not to mention her own product line. Does her work in non-artistic areas violate an unspoken rule about the separation of art and commerce? Or consider non-lucrative commerce that encourages investment in new ideas. What if art works with organizations to “sell” a new attitude toward marginalized people or convey a political message of hope?  

This course invites you to research and present for a live audience your ideas on how art is sometimes in tension with the logic of commerce and how artists often push the boundaries of what commerce means. We dive into complex societal, economic, and political questions that explore how art and a market economy overlap. The emotional power of art can be investigated through diverse lenses, including psychology, sociology, and history. Economists can look at what drives the demand for creative products while engineers can analyze art production systems, including the power of computational assistance and the game-changing contributions of AI. 

Examples of Research Topics

You are encouraged to explore interdisciplinary ways to learn about issues you care about. For example, you might research how educators use arts projects to “sell” creative thinking and imaginative problem solving to students. You might look at influencers who produce TikTok videos that appear awkward and homemade while delivering sophisticated marketing ploys. Or you could investigate how communities invest in public art, such as murals, to draw customers to retail areas. This class is designed to help you use research so you can be hands-on in fields where you want to make a difference.

Research Proposal

(5-minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words; reflective memo of 250 words: You write a plan for your research project, working from a central research question. Present research you have already done and plans for further research, including ways to use your research in preparation to do interviews, send out surveys, or do field trips to look at art.

Written Research-Based Argument

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages; reflective memo of 250 words): You get to research print and multi-media to develop arguments based on primary and secondary research. We will be sharing research-in-progress in class, developing write-ups of different perspectives, and discovering ways to change the research question and narrow the central argument.

Research Presentation

(10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support; reflective memo of 250 words): Here you present your research to a group interested learning from your findings. You will select material from your research-based argument to present trends and claims central to your findings. You will learn to select and build engaging images to show the patterns evident in your research. We will learn how organization, rehearsal, and relaxation help live delivery.

Genre/Modes assignment

(3-minute talk with class; written text of 400-500 words): This midterm assignment gives you a chance to tell the story of your research so far. You can sit in front of the class and narrate how you chose you research questions and how your main research sources are helping you answer those questions—and pose new ones.