Art through Sociology’s Lens
The intersection of Hamilton’s introductory sociology course and the Wellin Museum’s spring exhibition resulted in student-produced visual and audio projects addressing a variety of social issues presented in some decidedly unique ways.
Sociology 101 offers a broad introduction to sociology and addresses a variety of sociological areas of study: inequality, education, family, race, class, gender, religion, sexuality, crime, and political economy. The Wellin Museum’s spring exhibition, SUM Artists Visual Diagrams and Systems-Based Explorations, presented artists who investigate and visualize the intersection of divergent subjects of pressing concern—the arts, culture, history, race, gender, politics, economics, sciences, humanities, and transportation, among others—primarily through the creation of visionary, often fantastical, charts, maps, diagrams, and lists. The exhibition, from its opening and until students left campus, served as inspiration for the students as they created their final course projects.
Assistant Professor of Sociology Jaime Kucinskas said about her assignment, “Students were encouraged to think about how they could present social issues to a public audience – to view problems not just via their own personal problems but society’s issues… I allowed them to pick whatever issue they wanted to pursue via whatever medium they wanted to express it with. That resulted in a real mix of media.” She explained that the Wellin exhibit’s focus on social systems, the representation of social data via art, stimulated her students’ thought processes. Her instructions to the students included this request: “Build upon the museum exhibit and the entire course by creating an original piece of art, which expresses your sociological imagination.”
The resulting range of projects was broad in subject matter and presentation:
- Graham Nielsen created a short video, The Hidden Cost of Your New Wardrobe, built upon an H&M look book in which he focused on the negative effects of “fast fashion,” clothing designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to meet new trends. “My film was inspired by the ‘Gorilla Girls’ piece in the museum. I liked how "in your face" the facts were, and I tried to replicate that with my writing on the different screens throughout my film.”
- Alexa Bosco created Living in the Age of Anxiety by using magazine cutouts in a collage technique to create a “zine” bringing to light “the growing mental health crisis and drastic increase in anxiety throughout many aspects of our lives, largely due to social media.” She said that walking through the Wellin exhibition “jumpstarted a lot of ideas for my project. Before going to the museum, I was unsure of how to bring my ideas about sociology into a work of art, but after I had so much inspiration to get creative… The use of my own writing in sharpie over the images was a technique I noticed in one piece of the exhibit and thought was very powerful.”
Bosco expressed what many students echoed, that “LITS was very helpful.” Kucinskas said that the project would simply not have been possible without the help of LITS research and instructional design team.
- “I was inspired by two works at the Wellin SUM exhibition. The first one displayed the lack of female representation in art museums and the second one displayed the lack of diversity of the guests of late-night talk show hosts. These two allowed me to draw the connection to my project,” said Eli Kanfer about his Diversity in the Academy Awards. He placed the Oscar statue against a white background and filled its interior with the faces of the Academy Award winners for Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director from 2008-2020. The lack of diversity is obvious. Another chart of 2016 Acting and Directing Nominations shows that only a fifth of the nominees are female. Kanfer notes that, “In the history of the Oscars, only one woman has won the award for Best Director.”
- Sophie Argay, who used Wendy Red Star’s work as inspiration for her Bringing Color to Women in Stem, said, “I had never looked at art through the lens of sociology, and I found that once I did, I was able to extract a lot more and really enjoy the exhibit and the artists’ hard work, especially in terms of their sociological imagination. It was really a new and enlightening experience for me to see art in that way.”