Course Highlight: FRS 183 "A Portrait of the Artist As..."

April 28, 2023

Professor Doherty’s FRS183 “Portrait of the Artist As...” first-year undergraduate seminar explores works of literary fiction that depart from the model of the Bildungsroman — and specifically the “artist’s novel” as developed in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister (1795) and epitomized by Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)—by featuring a protagonist who is not young man, even sometimes not a human being. The class contends with texts that challenge our assumptions about individuality, creativity, and humanity at large and explores the impact of art on our lives. “I love the books we have read in this class,” said student Nadine Allache. “They are all stories I wouldn’t normally expect to enjoy, but after discussing them, I usually end up recommending them to all of my friends (some favorites: Just Kids by Patti Smith, Sula by Toni Morrison, Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy).”

Professor Doherty and students examining artwork.

Seeing artworks in person was an important part of the course. During the semester, Princeton University Art Museum Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Mitra M. Abbaspour led the class through the exhibition she curated at Art@Bainbridge, Cycle of Creativity: Alison Saar and the Toni Morrison Papers, on view through July 9th. At the Museum’s offsite classroom, the class examined photography from the collection, including works by Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. “My favorite part of this course was visiting the Art Museum,” said Micah Petit-Bois, who plans to study computer science, “because I’m not sure I would have had a chance otherwise.”

“Spending Monday afternoons this semester with this extraordinary group of first-year students has been inspiring,” said Doherty. “I’ve been struck especially by the enthusiasm and care they bring to their studies, and by their open-mindedness in reading difficult and sometimes disturbing works of modern and contemporary literature, and in looking closely at works of contemporary art by Glenn Ligon, Patti Smith, and Robert Mapplethorpe. The students’ papers and oral presentations have shown them thinking in original ways about how works of art and literature confront ethical and moral questions and about how those confrontations relate to the works’ specific formal concerns.”

Two students gaze at painting of woman in a red dress.

Both Allache and Petit-Bois found the course greatly benefitted their writing skills. “Having had a rough experience with a writing seminar in the fall, I had terrible imposter syndrome and was nervous about taking another writing-based class,” said Allache. “Professor Doherty has been amazing in helping me overcome my fears through creating a friendly and open-dialogue classroom atmosphere. I do see improvement in my writing and the way in which I close-read literature.” Petit-Bois agreed “I was surprised by how much I’ve come to enjoy analytical writing in a college course. Students who are geared towards engineering will be surprised by how enjoyable this course can be and that there can be high levels in complexity in what might be considered ‘simple’ writing.”

“Overall, I think this is an amazing class to help first-year students acclimate to Princeton’s fast-paced and rigorous academic environment,” Allache concluded. “It is a low-risk environment where I feel like I can test out different things to see if they work out with my learning style (ie: going to office hours, communicating sickness, etc.) and, because it is so small, I have gotten really close with my peers in the classroom. 10/10 I recommend!”

Students and instructors surround and examine a small bronze sculpture.