Wednesday, November 15, 2006

From Angst to Art: Preliminary Outline

Last night I worked on a preliminary outline for my seminar, "From Angst to Art." My first impulse, of course, was to give students the time and space to create their own work of art drawing from their personal experience with angst. But every college course needs its backbone, its scholarship.

I plan to devote the first 8 weeks to artists and authors whose work was in some way "confessional." The term "confessional" in itself is something we will have to talk about because it has a certain derogatory meaning in academia. Robert Lowell, whose poetry originated the so-called confessional movement, really disliked the term. I don't dislike it because it puts me in the mind of a church confessional, which is a beautiful idea to me. I'm sure the students will have their own ideas.

Part of the goal of this course is to bring the healing aspect of art out of the shadows and give it the respect it deserves. Not only does the concept deserve respect, but I think a course like this could remove constraints students may have placed on themselves regarding their own reasons for making art. Generally, creative writing teachers run from the "art as therapy" idea like the plague because they want to avoid the maudlin-but-it-really-happened syndrome. I'd like to confront the problems inherent in using personal angst as a springboard for art head on, and perhaps offer some insights into how to avoid being self-absorbed. I still need to give more thought to this, especially about the prose I want to bring into the mix, but this is what I have so far:

The class material will be divided into two parts, the mind and the body. Since the students will be sharing their intimate experiences, I plan to also share mine.

I. Depression, Dark Night of the Soul, Mental Illness, Mortality
A. St. John of the Cross

B. Confessional Poets
1. Examples of bad (maudlin) poetry
2. Theodore Roethke/Nijinsky
3. James Wright
4. John Berryman
5. Robert Lowell
6. Adrienne Rich's "Diving into the Wreck"

C. Painters
1. Edvard Munch
2. Van Gogh
3. Philip Guston

D. Stories
1. "Blue Velvis"
2. Secret of Hurricanes
3. John Gardner

E. Non-fiction
1. Rollo May
2. John Gardner
3. Ernest Becker
4. Writing as a Way of Healing, Louise DeSalvo

II. The body: injury, illness, mortality
A. Frida Kahlo
B. Sociologist A.W. Frank, Wounded Storyteller as well as various articles


ggw07 said...

"All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography."
— Federico Fellini
What a brave blueprint! Good luck!

Loren said...

Two of my favorites, Roethke and Rollo May, are on your list, and I’ve been trying to get around to Berryman. Maybe this will provide the motivation I need.

Ambitious, but inspiring selection.

dreaminglily said...

Ugh... Can I come? :oD

Sounds like a lot of fun.


Cynthia said...

You have no idea how badly I wish I could take this course. The maudlin and the cheesy are what I fear the most in my writing. OOH my "word" is vadvehyi! Doesn't that sound like something you would say when toasting with very strong liquor?

Anonymous said...

Do you know about art therapists? I met someone who does this for a living. Not a writer, but an artist with some background in psychology. It might tie into your course to talk about it. Teagrapple

ggw07 said...

“when poetry lays its hand on our shoulder,” she said, “we can be, to almost a physical degree, touched and moved.”
Adrienne Rich, (accepting medal from National Book Foundation for distinguished contribution to American letters,11/15/06)

Gannet Girl said...

John Berryman -- wrote my college honors thesis on his poetry. Seems like another lifetime ago.



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