Cultural Contexts in Arts and Design
Art and Design share far more than many people think. Discover some of the fascinating connections between the different disciplines over the centuries.
At a glance
- Live online course
- 2 hours a week
- Tuesdays 18:00 - 20:00
- 20 weeks: October to March
- Tutor: Gus Subero
- Fees from £230 to £420
- Imperial College attendance certificate (T&Cs apply)
On this course we are going to explore the different social, cultural and political dynamics at stake within the arts and design. The course starts from the premise that our world demands an urgent and rigorous reassessment of the radically different visual paradigms that govern our perception and assimilation of visual experience. We are surrounded by images everywhere, and the way we understand these images is shaped and influenced by our social and cultural backgrounds. However, as we become an increasingly borderless world, especially through global social media, we can see the boundaries between different types of visual and cultural experience are becoming blurred or less clearly defined. This leads to instances of ‘symbolic renamings’ and on this course we will attempt to recognise where this has happened and identify the histories behind them.
By exploring and delving into the cultural and social contexts of visual representation, we will gain a better understanding of the pictorial, iconic and symbolic meanings that make up the dynamic nature of visual representation, and better understand the role our cultural imagination has in influencing creative experience and practise, argumentation, discovery and curiosity within visual experience.
Online Access to Course
This is a taught live online course which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time on a specific day of the week. To take part in the course you will need a suitably equipped and internet-enabled device. Please find full details and instructions below under 'Course Delivery'.
Those who attend at least 80% of the course sessions will receive an attendance certificate from Imperial College London upon completion of the course.
Provisional Course Programme (subject to modification)
Session 1: Dynamics of Iconography I: Structuralism and Post-structuralism
In this session we look at the different ways in which we can read objects and visual texts. We start an introduction into visual analysis by examining the key thinkers who shaped structuralist and post-structuralist thinking: Barthes’ Mythologies, Saussure’s Semiotics and Derrida’s Difference. Finally, we look at the way in which language (symbolic and visual) create culture (ideologies) at the expense of minority and oppressed groups (those who are excluded from “writing” culture). Finally, we will look at how to read visual imageries within cultural, historical and social contexts: reading images in the past versus reading them the present i.e. the ambivalences and tensions that may emerge from such readings.
Session 2: Dynamics of Iconography II: Modernism and Post-modernism
In this session we will look at modernism and postmodernism and their influence and legacy in arts and design. We will analyse the work of the pioneers of postmodernist theory such as Leotard and Jameson and how they have influenced contemporary ways of understanding visual cultures. The aim of this session is to understand that the postmodern moment involves an intentional (re)appropriation of images, cultures and realities. Finally, we will see how postmodernism is influenced by the legacy of (post)structuralism through the creation of contemporary mythologies. In other words, how (post)structuralism may influence ways of reading postmodern iconography and the mythologies that are, then, constructed within popular culture.
Session 3: Film Language and discourse
This session will offer an introduction to cinematic language and ways of reading cinema. We will look at the three cores areas of film analysis: form and structure, film language, and meaning. The aim of this session is to become familiar with film grammar, that is the precise terminology used in cinematic analysis from the objects and people we see in the screen to the sounds and feelings we don’t get from the visual image.
Session 4: Film Theory and Criticism
The session (delivered through flip-learning) will also look at the most mainstream film genres and the elements that make each a genre of its own. It will also offer an opportunity to discover the ways in which directors may conflate or challenge such genres by overlapping or intertwining elements to create more hybrid cinematic experiences. Finally, this session will link to previous session by looking at how (post)structuralism and (post)modernism have influenced the way in which films are read by difference audiences according to their social, political and cinematographic schema. Students (in small groups) will be asked to present one of the titles below and show quick filmic examples that support their reading of such filmic texts.
Session 5: Dynamics of fiction and metafiction
In this session we will look at the ways in which the postmodern has given way to a moment of self-reflexivity that it’s best manifested through metafiction i.e. a fiction within a fiction. Through an analysis of visual tests (photography, media and film mainly) and some key artists and media creators, we will draw attention to metafiction’s status as an artefact that is posing questions about the relationship between fiction and reality, usually using irony and self-reflection. This session will allow us to link all the different cultural movements and cultural theories studied in the previous sessions into a coherent structure that shows the way that arts and media become circular in their rhetorical narratives and we have come to a point where originality is almost lost and, instead, we look at the past in order to create new fictions that are rooted in past narratives and visual dialectics. Finally, we will explore social media use as a way to create personal metafictions and metanarratives of the self, whereby our social media persona(s) are a series of fictions rather than a representation of a real self.
Session 6: WRITING WORKSHOP - Critical Film Review
In this session we will workshop some principles and methods for writing a critical film review. Please Bring to class notes on a film that you consider relevant and poignant in terms of brining to the forefront issues that may have been discussed in class (it could also bring issues that may be addressed later during the course). Please do not feel you need to use high-brow cinema, popular cinema can be a great too to dissect social, political, cultural, gender and many other issues. Make notes on the themes you think are primordial to the film, the production values of the film (cinematography, soundtrack, special effects, etc.), the performances by actors (good or bad), the quality of the dialogue and the quality of the film overall.
Session 7: Visual Narratives of Globalisation
The visual world is full of powerful cultural artefacts that can produce and create complex accounts of the world we inhabit and, since such visual texts are not produced in isolation, they unavoidably bring with them embedded systems of values and ideologies. This is achieved by approaching the global imaginary as deeply embedded with material practices. Following from Murray Edelman’s (1985) notion of a ‘condensation symbol’ we will explore how certain visual texts have become imbued with different layers of meaning that encompass the local, national, and the global in one single visual text. We will look at visual narratives in media, film and the arts that depict globalisation (whether imagined or real global communities and interconnections).
Session 8: Visual Dynamics in Advertising Culture I: Advertising, Capitalism and Culture
In this first session we will look at the role that advertising has had in contemporary culture and how advertising is one of the best tools to create and foster a sense of global identity. Advertising can be, thus, defined as the glue that holds cultures together. It permits people to create “artificially crafted” common experiences through a landscape populated by brands, images, logos, slogans and jingles. We define ourselves more by what we buy or wear than or political or religious beliefs and we use such cultural cues to judge others. We will explore the visual devices most commonly used in advertising: exaggeration, innuendo and humour and how they create tropes that cross borders and become universal (global) in a world where advertising becomes a collection of stories that companies tell consumers about their products.
Session 9: Visual Dynamics in Advertising Culture II: Advertising and Social Ideologies
This session will focus on advertising as a form of address for social causes and how advertising companies use, misuse and exploit social causes as a new way to sell their products. By recognising that we live in a culture in which all social relations and values operate as social currencies, we will seek to understand and critique the relations of productions that operate in advertising as a symbolic exchange. We will look at sadvertising (advertising that has at its core the deliberate intention to make consumers sad in an attempt to raise awareness about social issues) and other socially committed forms of advertisements that may operate as commodity fetishism. In other words, we will look at the effectiveness of social advertising in promoting and raising awareness for global or national social issues.
*** Christmas break ***
Session 10: Gender Dynamics in Arts and Design
Gender, when seen away from biological essentialism, operates as a cultural and social classification that separates individuals into masculine and feminine entities. However, gender in art goes beyond the simple reproduction of men or women as art objects or artistic subjects and becomes the result of the cultural processes of defining sexuality and sexual identity as a cultural and social identity. While the term gender is often used, in cultural studies, to reflect around depictions of female subjectivity, this session aims to posit both male and female subjects under and cultural lens and understand them beyond binaries of power and weakness, superiority and inferiority, and benevolence and malevolence. Instead, we will look at the intimate, social and political interactions between men and women in arts and design.
Session 11: Sexual Dynamics in Arts and Design
Historically, women and other sexually marginalised groups have been ignored, taken for granted or completely eroded from the art and design canons. This session will look at how perceptions of sexuality and sexual orientation affect us and how they influence the images of art and design we are confronted with on a daily basis. The session will focus on image interpretation to identify inequalities in the representation of the male and female images, as well as representations of heterosexuality and homosexuality as part of a heteronormative social order. This will allow us to explore how gender and sexual stereotypes have emerged and are reinforced or disavowed by artists and designers. We will look at gender and sexuality as social constructions and how gender and sexuality influence the art and design process, as well as the (un)equal conditions for participation in art and design according to one’s sexuality, gender or perception of such identities.
Session 12: Racial Dynamics in Arts and Design
The white gaze has been a dominant force in art and design for centuries. Black, Asian and other ethnic minorities’ voices have been relegated to the periphery, as most museums and art galleries have predominantly exhibited works by white artists overall. In the 70s and 80s many artists approached race, ethnicity and racial identity as a creative medium. Many BAME contemporary artists and designers have used race as a toll to investigate social values and pathologies. By the same token, there are artists for whom race has been treated as a form of performance; a form of identity that could easily be worn or displayed without a real engagement with the experience and felt reality of such minority groups in the form of a racial appropriation. In this session we will explore contemporary takes on racial identity by artists who seek to destabilise and redirect the racial gaze, especially in the wake of the #blacklivesmatter movement.
Session 13: Dynamics of Radical Politics in Arts and Design
In this session we take an intersectional view on issues relating to sex, gender, post-colonialism, and race, among others, particularly in light of recent inflammatory debates centred on gender politics, religion and immigration. We will also look at the way that artists and designers are becoming more radical not only in terms of the subject matters portrayed in their works (and the messages conveyed) but also in the way they create artistic objects. Thus, we will look at issues of radical sustainability in the design process, as well as radical uses and approaches to art and design. This session will take the form of a series of debates with a set of motions proposed in advance. Do some background research using the reading list as a starting point to make for a well-informed debate.
Session 14: Dynamics of Health and Disability Imagery
This class will look at the disabled human body and how it has been represented in arts and design throughout history. We will explore formations of disability articulated in relation to notions of normality, wellbeing, hybridity, abnormality and anomaly. Our main goal is to study how different artists have used visual cultures or design practices to affirm or subvert the idea of a normative body. Our main goal is to demonstrate the ways in which disability, in ways that chime with our studies on gender, sexuality and race, can be perceived as social constructions. The lesson will, therefore, look at historical representations of disability, studies of power and privilege (Freakshows and other bodily articulations), and the relationship between body, performance and the posthuman (Supercrips and Paralympians).
Session 17: Dynamics of Death Imagery in Arts and Design
Throughout modern history, many societies - especially in the West - have had an uneasy relationship with the idea of death and its social, political and cultural meaning(s). Despite the fact the death is the most inevitable of human experiences, there is a clear desire to distance ourselves from depictions and experiences of death, likely as a result of an insurmountable human fear. In this session we will look at the way death operates not only as s sing itself but as a myth within different cultures and how different artists have dealt with this as a response to a specific cultural moment. We will look at death symbolism and how it operates in different cultures and the overlaps/opposites that may occur when reading such symbols from different perspectives. We will look at images of death used in advertising and death as a commodity. Finally, we will look at death memorials and how death can be immortalised and memorialised for different cultures and for the “consumption” of different audiences.
There is no compulsory reading required for this course, and there is no set course text. Suggested reading materials will be sent to you by the tutor.
About Your Tutor
Gus Subero is an experienced tutor at Imperial College where he teaches a variety of undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Hispanic Studies, Film Studies and the Medical Humanities.
Gus' academic research forcusses mainly on gender and representation in the contemporary media, as well as social policy and cultural representation in modern society. He is currently investigating the ways in which disability and health stigma are represented in the visual cultures of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Course Delivery: Live Online Taught Courses
All our online courses are taught live which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time. To take part in the course you must be able to attend the online session at the time stated for the course description.
All times stated are British Standard Time.
To take part you will need a computer, or laptop, or tablet computer, connected to the Internet. The device you use will also need to have a camera, microphone and speakers. Most devices now have these built in, but if not you might have to buy them from a computer shop and to connect them to your device.
This course will use Zoom as its online delivery method. Zoom is very easy to use and you do not need to set up a Zoom account to use it. Near the date of your first online session you will be sent an email with a web address (or URL) that will allow you to access the course. This is called the Course Link. All you need do is click on the Course Link in the email and you will be asked to enter your name. This is the name that will be seen by your tutor and other students in the class.
Once you have entered your name you might be asked to enter a password to enter the class. The password will be included in the email sent to you. Once you enter the password you will either be taken directly into the class, or asked to wait in a virtual waiting room until the tutor is ready to let you into the class.
We have also produced a Handy Guide to Zoom [pdf] which gives you basic information on how to use it.
Course Fees and Rate Categories
|Hours||Weeks||Standard Rate||Internal Rate||Associate Rate|
|40||20|| £420 (Early Bird Rate: £380*)
||£250 (Early Bird Rate: £230*)||£330 (Early Bird Rate: £300*)|
|* The Early Bird rate is available for enrolments made before the end of 30 September for courses starting in October only | All fee rates quoted are for the whole 2-term course.|
Rate Categories and Discounts
- Applicable to all except those who fall under the Internal Rate or Associate Rate category, respectively.
- Current Imperial College students and staff (incl. Imperial NHS Trust, Imperial Innovations, ancillary & service staff employed on long-term contracts at Imperial College by third-party contractors)
- Individuals enrolling under our Friends & Family scheme
- Staff of the English Chamber Orchestra
- Current Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC) staff, current CLCC PhD students, Science Communication (Sci Comm) postgraduate students, and students enrolled on an Imperial College 'Language for Science' degree programme should contact firstname.lastname@example.org before completing the online enrolment form
- Alumni of Imperial College and predecessor colleges and institutes
- Austrian Cultural Forum staff
- City & Guilds College Association members
- Francis Crick Institute staff, researchers and students
- Friends and Patrons of the English Chamber Orchestra
- Harrods staff
- Historic Royal Palaces staff
- Lycee Charles de Gaulle staff
- Members of the Friends of Imperial College
- Members of the Kennel Club
- Members of the London Zoological Society
- Members of the South London Botanical Institute (SLBI)
- Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
- Natural History Museum staff
- National Health Service (NHS) employees
- Residents of postcodes SW3, SW5, SW7, SW10 and W8
- Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council staff
- Royal College of Art and Royal College of Music tutors and other staff
- Royal Geographical Society staff
- Science Museum staff
- Staff of Exhibition Road Cultural Group (Discover South Kensington) organisations
- Students (non-Imperial College)
- Teachers and other staff of UK schools
- Tutors and other staff of institution members of the Association of Colleges
- Tutors and other staff of other universities and higher education institutions
- Victoria and Albert Museum staff
It is possible to enrol on many CLCC Evening Class and Lunchtime Learning programmes after the course has started. For non-language courses this is subject entirely to agreement by the tutor. For language courses it is subject to agreement by the language Coordinator conducting level assessment. If you want to join a course late do bear in mind there might be work you will need to catch up on, particularly in language courses.
Applicable terms & conditions
Please read the Terms and Conditions [pdf] before enrolling on any course.
|Hours||Weeks||Autumn term||Spring term||Summer term||Summer School|
|40||20||18 Oct - 18 Dec 2021 (9 weeks)* PLUS||10 Jan - 26 Mar 2022 (11 weeks)||n/a||n/a|
|* Followed by the Christmas break|
Web enrolment starts 2nd August 2021
Enrolment and payment run through the Imperial College eStore. Please click on the blue booking link on the relevant course page noting below instructions:
- Our rate categories are explained on the course page and your applicable rate category must be selected on the eStore
- First-time eStore users please create an account by entering an email address and password. These credentials should also be used for future bookings. Imperial College users please note the eStore is not a single-signon College system
- The booking process involves entering payment details after your course choice and applicant details are collected via an in-built questionnnaire
- The following email notifications are sent:
|What is sent||When is it sent||What does it contain|
|1. Payment confirmation||Is sent instantaneously following submission of your online application||
|2. Enrolment confirmation||Is sent within 10 working days. Please treat your payment confirmation as confirmation that your applicant details and payment have been received||
|3. Programme information||Is usually sent on Friday late afternoon the week before term starts||
|If you need further help with the above information please ring 020 7594 8756
- Questions regarding the content and teaching of this course should be sent to the tutor, Dr Gus Subero at email@example.com
- Questions about your enrolment and payment should be sent to the Programme Administrator, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have enjoyed this course, why not look at other arts and humanities evening class courses at Imperial College. This includes courses on the history of western art from ancient Greece to the nineteenth century, Understanding Modern and Design, the history of film and cinema and Greek and Roman mythology in art. We also run practical courses in art and photography and creative writing classes, and a growing programme of science based evening classes.