Course: ART 217 / EAS 217
Instructor: Andrew M. Watsky
F 2017

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

This course, ART 217: Arts of Japan, is an art history course focusing on Japanese artwork from the pre-historic period through the present day. The course explores artworks of various mediums, including paintings, sculptures, ceramics, calligraphy, and architecture. Organized chronologically, the course focuses on the evolution of Japanese art in the general context of broad cultural themes and historical events in which the artworks were made. Topics range from the ongoing tension in Japanese art between the foreign and the indigenous, the role of ritual, the influence and use of the past, religion and patronage, and the materials and formats of Japanese art. Through the exploration of Japanese art and its evolution, the course seeks to instill in students the ability to analyze a work not just through the lens of an artist, but also through the lens of a historian and sociologist. Arts of Japan will provide students with both general knowledge of Japanese history and detailed knowledge of prominent Japanese artworks, as well as strengthen their observation, analytical, and inference skills.

Learning From Classroom Instruction

Professor Watsky is very organized, and provides students with a detailed calendar and outline of the semester in the syllabus during the first lecture. There are small assigned readings that are expected to be completed before every lecture – the readings are listed in the syllabus and posted on Blackboard. Doing the readings and taking notes on them will provide you with good background information on relevant historical events, as well as introduce you to the artwork analyzed in lecture. GO TO LECTURE – although the powerpoint slides are posted on Blackboard, they merely contain images of artwork. For analysis of the artworks (which exams focus on), you must attend lecture and take detailed notes of the points being made. The lecture style is half lecturing and half class participation: the professor asks many stimulating questions and calls upon students to give their input and observations of the artworks before giving his own analysis. Attendance and participation is also considered during grading, if that’s more incentive to go to lecture. Precept attendance is also mandatory – the artworks discussed in precept are usually different from those covered in lecture, but are also fair game for the exams. Precepts provide a great opportunity to ask clarifying questions and test out different analytical and inference skills. Precepts are also very fun, as most precepts consist of looking at and handling ancient artwork in person – much more exciting than just seeing an image on the projection screen. Make sure to participate often, not just for your grade, but also to receive feedback on your observations so that you can better your analytical skills for your papers and exams. Professor Watsky is great at creating a comfortable sharing environment, and tries his best to understand the students’ viewpoints – I have never seen him reject a student’s observation or tell someone their analysis is wrong.

Learning For and From Assignments

There are two papers and two major assessments in this class, which make up the majority of the course grade: the papers make up 30%, the midterm exam 20%, and the final exam 30%. There are no problem sets or pop quizzes for this course: all graded written work and assessments are announced ahead of time. While the exams follow the Registrar’s schedule and thus exact dates are not specified during the beginning of the semester, the deadlines for the two papers are stated on the syllabus handed out in the first lecture – be sure to note these down in a planner or calendar ASAP! The first paper is usually due in October, so be aware of the deadlines and plan accordingly.   As previously stated, the syllabus is your best friend for planning: each lecture’s theme and related assigned reading are stated chronologically on it. Although there are no pop quizzes to make sure you’ve done the readings, their contents are fair game for exams, and will not be gone over extensively in lecture and precepts. It is highly recommended that you complete the readings before lecture – the texts provide good background knowledge and introduction to the artworks that the lectures will cover. Assigned readings include both primary and secondary sources, and all mandatory readings are posted as electronic files on Blackboard. Optional readings are also listed on the syllabus; however, the texts are not posted online (they are on course reserves in Marquand Library and available for purchase at Labyrinth). While the optional readings provide great supplementary information, in-depth reading of the assigned texts and good note-taking of lectures and precepts will be adequate for thorough preparation for the exams. It is highly recommended that you follow the reading schedule responsibly – while readings are usually around 20-30 pages long, there is an assigned reading per lecture, and can add up if you fall behind.   The reading material, along with the lectures, are arranged in chronological order; readings supplement lecture content, and a great studying tip is to take notes on the reading before lecture, and after lecture, review the lecture notes you’ve taken and incorporate them into the reading notes. For the exams, the professor will make clear what units and artworks he will test you on – an effective method of studying is creating a study guide containing a picture of the artwork, its name, creator, date, and bullet points of analysis. Then, group the artworks into categories of common themes, and practice comparing and contrasting pairs of artworks that seem related, whether it be stylistic evolution or similar influential historical events. Exams consist of 1 essay and 2-3 slide-comparisons. The essay question is given ahead of time, and asks you to answer a thematic question using comparison of two artworks of your choice that have been discussed in class. The slide-comparisons consist of identifying the artworks on the powerpoint slides shown during the exam and writing an essay that addresses the issues raised in the query accompanying each pair of slides (each query is specific to its corresponding slide of artworks). Paying attention in lecture and taking (and studying) detailed notes will make you very prepared for the exams.   For the two papers, Professor Watsky gives very detailed instructions of his expectations. Both papers require studying a specific artwork of his choice on display in the Princeton art museum, making sketches of said artwork, and writing an essay analyzing the components of the artwork, such as its composition, medium, and stylistic elements. The artwork chosen will usually be similar to the artworks being discussed in class at the time, so the analytical tools needed for writing a good paper will have already been taught to you in lectures and precept. Make sure to set aside a significant amount of time during the museum’s hours of operations to stand in the museum and thoroughly study and sketch the artwork – making multiple trips can also help stimulate new ideas and analysis. Secondary research is not required, but if ideas and insights are borrowed from outside sources, be sure to cite them. The analysis done for these papers will be helpful for practicing for exam essays.

External Resources

Professor Watsky offers consistent weekly office hours, as well as meetings by appointment. He is easily accessible by email, and responds in a prompt manner. Professor Watsky makes it clear that he is open to and greatly looks forward to meeting with students, regardless of the topic of discussion (although discussions about course content and paper ideas take priority). He also offers to read over and discuss outlines for papers (but not drafts), and provides great constructive feedback. In regards to studying lecture content, the professor also provides a list of suggested readings for each lecture, and the books can be found on Course Reserve in Marquand Library. While these readings are not mandatory, they are great for clarifying historical events’ influence on the artwork discussed in lecture, as well as provide more examples of analysis. For written work, it is also recommended to utilize the Writing Center’s resources.

What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection

Although this course satisfies the Literature and the Arts (LA) distribution requirement, please keep in mind that it cannot be graded as Pass/D/Fail. Thus, it is important to keep track of the written workload throughout the semester, and be sure to beginning reviewing the material at a substantial time in advance of exams. Furthermore, the two papers will require a long visit or multiple visits to the art museum for thorough studying of the subject matter, so be sure to leave time in your schedule to accommodate the museum’s operating hours. Otherwise, it is a great humanities course to take, especially for those with STEM heavy course loads. Professor Watsky is extremely kind and caring, and is always more than happy to discuss the class material, ideas for papers, or almost any topic in general. His grading is fair, his expectations are made clear in his rubrics, and he devotes himself to giving thorough comments to encourage improvement. If effort is devoted to keeping up with the course material and starting assignments at a decent time, it is not hard to excel in this course. This course goes beyond memorizing historical facts about Japan and its artwork: students should expect to strengthen their writing skills as well as their analytical skills through this course. The course encourages multi-level analysis and the perception of art as a multi-dimensional work; it will also teach you how to draw upon knowledge across multiple fields to examine a work, a skill that will prove useful in future analytical papers or independent work. For me, this course completely broke down my preconceived idea that art history is all about rote memorization, and the analytical skills I have acquired from the course have served me well in my STEM written work as well. For those considering a concentration in Art and Archaeology, this course can be used to satisfy either track (History of Art track or Practice of Art track).
The Arts of Japan

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