MUSE E-143 Pain, Suffering, and Empathy in the Art Museum





How might encounters with works of art in the museum be an opportunity to meaningfully engage with difficult issues surrounding pain and suffering? Such encounters are most often deployed within art museums as part of a program to teach or foster empathy, often with medical students or physicians, for example, and studies are currently underway to determine whether or not this is possible (and effective). This course draws on a project underway at the Harvard Art Museum and interrogates what is meant by empathy in the museum context, and how thinking critically about pain and suffering in art can be an integral part of larger discussions of embodiment, personhood, and social justice. Discussions center around selected works of art from the museum's collection. The format involves close looking, sketching, active discussions, critical viewing, and participant presentations. There are pre-course readings, listed on the syllabus, and a final written paper due after the weekend has concluded. Please note that some works examined in the course may be disturbing to some students.