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Exploring Television as Art and Literature


Is it possible to consider the medium of television as something more than entertainment?  Two University of Utah professors will tackle the challenge with students spring semester through a new, interdisciplinary class.

 In the course “Smart TV: Television as Art and Literature” Professor Lela Graybill and I will combine approaches from our respective disciplines—Art History and English—to teach students to think critically about material that they commonly think of as simply entertainment.

Vincent Pecora, chair of the U’s English department, suggests “it makes prefect sense to aim a course at undergraduate students who are quite used to seeing television only as entertainment,” noting that the line between ‘entertainment’ and ‘art’ is one that literary forms have crossed before, particularly with the novel. 

By applying techniques of both visual and literary analysis, we aim to explore elements such as formal nuance, complex patterning and narrative density that characterize popular shows like the highly-acclaimed drama “The Wire.”  The show—which is focused on the drug scene in Baltimore—is recognized not only for its realistic portrayal of urban life, but also its literary ambitions and uncommonly deep exploration of sociopolitical themes.

Students taking the “Smart TV” course will also learn to approach contemporary social and cultural issues by exploring the complex ways gender, class, race and sexuality are constructed and represented—or not represented—in television productions.

As an added feature, the course will include noted guest speakers from industry with experiences related to the topics students will encounter.

Coming to the U campus during the semester are:

  • Amber Benson, an independent film writer, director and producer as well as the iconic LGBT character Tara on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”;
  • Seth Gilliam, an African-American actor who performs on television (“The Wire”), in films and live theater; and
  • Richard Hatch, an actor, novelist and teacher known for his work in both the original and current the “Battlestar Galactica” television series. 

In addition, we hope expand the reach of the course by planning some community-based events involving the guest lecturers.

The course is made possible in part by a UofU Interdisciplinary Teaching Seed Grant, the aim of which is to foster teaching collaborations between disciplines and develop new courses that merge techniques and thinking and encourage new ways of solving problems.

To register for the course ENGL 3070/ARTH 4500 click here.

  • pornici

    This is quite interesting article, I took advertising class way back, and we also explored television and how it was more of an artform than anything else. Amber Benson is a great writer and it’s going to be awesome to have her come join as a guest visitor!

  • maimonides

    I can’t help but be put off by the fact that the graphic for “SmartTV” is a cigar smoking businessman. Aside from the obvious baggage of presenting the use of a demonstrated carcinogen as “smart” or “sophisticated,” it seems to implicate a whole set of stereotypes which I would expect to be avoided by a course claiming to “think critically about material that they commonly think of as simply entertainment.”

    That said, I am very much in favor of more courses in this vein. I found the Honors course “Media Literacy” to be informative and engaging back when it was offered, and I’m glad to see courses encouraging a more critical look at media reaching a wider audience.

  • Cal Chapman

    I’ve never regarded television as an art medium, but I realize that some of the shows and programs out there could be considered art. I think a course like this is definitely relevant.