Internet Explorer 6 is no longer supported. Please use a newer browser.

Internet Explorer 7 is no longer supported. Please use a newer browser.

Concourse works best with JavaScript enabled.

356697: Art as Investigation WRITING-X 461.8E

  • Fall 2017
  • Section 1
  • 3 Credits
  • 10/04/2017 to 12/06/2017
  • Modified 07/17/2017

Meeting Times



  • Wednsesday, October 4 - Wednesday December 6, 2017
  • UCLA, Haines Hall Rm. 110


In this cross-genre creative writing course, we explore how poetry and fiction investigate the questions of experience and intelligence captured in a variety of different forms, including Renaissance painting, the Dutch still life, abstract expressionism, and 20th century photography and collage. The challenge of art is the challenge of intimacy, what Mark Doty has called “the dark space within an embrace.” The significant closeness, in other words, of a painting, or a sculpture, or a photograph that represents a version of our lives without language. We will read poetry, short fiction, and some essays as models of investigating specific works of art, and then write our own. Class time will be spent in discussion of assigned readings, specific works of art, and a workshop of both poems and short fiction.


  • Students will read and critique works of ekrphasis, discussing the merits of published poetry, short fiction, and essay. 
  • Students will investigate different genres of art and reflect on both the creative process of the artist as well as the writer who addresses them.
  • Students will write drafts of poetry, short fiction, and essay, and collaborate with one other in a workshop setting to improve these drafts.
  • Students will cultivate a working appreciation for the relationship between art and literature.


  • By the end of this course, students will be able to critically assess works of poetry, short fiction, and essay both in class discussion, group setting, and in their own writing.
  • Students will assess both composition and interpretation of specific works of art both in class discussion and written assignments.
  • Students will identify different elements of ekphrasis and apply these elements to their own original work, developing a unique writing voice.
  • Students will write and submit original works of ekrphrasis as poetry, short fiction, and essay.
  • Students will participate in workshop critiques and collaborate with peers to assess their writing and identify differences in their approaches to each assignment.
  • For credit, students will design and submit a final portfolio of revised works.


I have recommended a book for each week of class, but in the interest of saving money I will be providing selections of texts or links to pdf versions online in each unit module, as well as a series of optional readings to supplement each unit. My goal is to provide you with a wide variety of readings as possible models for each assignment. Though I always recommend students read full collections to appreciate an author's approach, I understand that this isn't always feasible. Finding one or two selections from the module is enough to inspire and guide your own work. Sometimes students will print selections from the module and include them in their own three-ring binder.

There are three small books I ask that you buy for the quarter. Feel free to bring library copies, or to buy used copies online.  The books are listed in the order that we will be reading them, just be sure to get your copy in time to fulfill the reading as listed on the syllabus.

War of the Foxes

  • Author: Richard Siken
  • Publisher: Copper Canyon
  • ISBN: 978-1-55659-477-9
  • Optional

Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell

  • Author: Charles Simic
  • Publisher: NYRB
  • ISBN: 978-1-59017-486-9


An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter

  • Author: César Aira
  • Publisher: New Directions
  • ISBN: 978-0-8112-1630-2



  • Author: Quan Barry
  • Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press
  • ISBN: 978-0-8229-6329-5
  • Optional

Imaginary Vessels

  • Author: Paisley Rekdal
  • Publisher: Copper Canyon
  • ISBN: 978-1-55659-497-7
  • Optional

Still Life with Oysters and Lemon

  • Author: Mark Doty
  • Publisher: Beacon Press
  • ISBN: 0-8070-6609-5


The Picture of Dorian Gray

  • Author: Oscar Wilde
  • Publisher: Barnes & Nobles Classics
  • ISBN: 978-1-59308-025-9
  • Optional

This is the longest text we will be reading, and though I will post pdf versions of the entire work in the module, I highly recommend you get a copy of the Barnes & Noble edition. At a whopping $4.95 for a new copy, it is also the least expensive of the recommended texts for the quarter, and includes an introductory essay to the canonical novel. 

The Tulip-Flame

  • Author: Chloe Honum
  • Publisher: Cleveland State University Press
  • ISBN: 978-0-9860257-5-4
  • Optional



Types of evaluations and related weights
Type Weight Topic Notes
Poem #1 10% Ekphrasis
Poem #2 10% The Scene of a Crime
Flash Fiction #3 10% Still Life of a Dream
Fiction #4 10% On the Hunt
Poem #5 10% Meditation Line Shuffle
Poem #6 10% Thief, Spy, Paparazzo
Flash Fiction #7 10% The Distorted Artifact
Fiction #8 10% The Secret Life
Poem #9 10% Self-Portrait as Elegy
Flash-Fiction #10 10% An Incomplete Desire


In this course attendance and participation in weekly discussion/workshop is as important as the written assignments. As long as you do some reading every week, complete written work, and participate in our class discussions, you're sure to do well:

  • Participation: 100 pts
  • Writing Assignments (10pts each): 100 pts
Resulting grade and related performance levels
Grade Range Notes
Pass 130-200
A 180 to 200
B 160-179
C 130-159
Fail 0-129

Course Policies


Expect your assignments to be graded according to the requirements of each assignment prompt, which you will be able to access the week before the due date. These marks will be available to you on the CANVAS gradebook throughout the semester. You can expect your work graded and returned to you the week after it is submitted.

Remember, the purpose of this class is to help us recognize the characteristics of ekphrasis in the larger tradition of literature, as well as to help us begin to look and think critically about specific works of art and in turn use our observations in our own writing.

To that end, consider this course largely generative in purpose: that is, we will focus on writing new material each week and workshopping specific elements in each assignment so that by the end of the course you have a number of new drafts with feedback.

We will not be focused on the revision process per se. Your work, moreover, will be graded not on the merits of your talent, but whether you fulfill the requirements of each rubric.


Attendance is an important part of this class, since our classroom discussions and workshop of student work will take place each week. Your attendance is part of the participation grade this quarter, equivalent to 10pts each week toward your final grade: 5pts for being in class and 5pts for participating in classroom discussion/workshop.

You should come prepared and have at least one thing to say about the reading assignment and one comment to make about your peers' writing during workshop.


The classroom is a safe space where we consider diverse and sometimes opposing viewpoints of literature and life experience. It isn't my job to police students, and the only rule I have is that we can be respectful of one another's beliefs and ideas, as different from our own as they might be. 


If you are not taking this course for credit, you have the option to complete a limited number of written assignments--only those you feel interested in working through in a workshop setting. A passing mark for any student asks that you earn a minimum of 140/200 points this quarter. Each unit is worth 20% (or 20 pts.) of the final mark.

Institutional Policies

Student Conduct

Students are subject to disciplinary action for several types of misconduct or attempted misconduct, including but not limited to dishonesty, such as cheating, multiple submission, plagiarism, or knowingly furnishing false information to the University; or theft or misuse of the intellectual property of others or violation of others' copyrights. Students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with policy provisions which proscribe these and other forms of misconduct at:

Services for Students with Disabilities

In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, UCLA Extension provides appropriate accommodations and support services to qualified applicants and students with disabilities. These include, but are not limited to, auxiliary aids/services such as sign language interpreters, assistive listening devices for hearing-impaired individuals, extended time for and proctoring of exams, and registration assistance. Accommodations and types of support services vary and are specifically designed to meet the disability-related needs of each student based on current, verifiable medical documentation. Arrangements for auxiliary aids/services are available only through UCLA Extension’s Office for Students with Disabilities at (310) 825-0183 or by email at [email protected]. For complete information see:


Your instructor may post the interim grade Incomplete/I if at the end of the class your overall work is of passing quality but a portion could not be submitted for understandable reasons (e.g. illness). It is your responsibility to petition your instructor for permission to submit work late and to provide an explanation, and it is his or her sole decision whether to accept the explanation. If permitted, the Incomplete/I grade will be posted and a time frame defined for you to submit the missing work, ranging from one to twelve weeks. Incomplete/I grades that remain unchanged after twelve weeks will lapse to F, NP or U. Receiving an I grade entitles you to submit only the missing work your instructor has agreed to accept late, and does not allow other work to be retaken or oblige UCLA Extension to provide continuing access to course materials via Canvas. The Incomplete/I grade is not an option for courses that do not bear credit, such as 700, 800, or 900-level courses. For complete information, see:

All Grades are Final

No change of grade may be made by anyone other than the instructor, and then, only to correct clerical errors. No term grade except Incomplete may be revised by re-examination. The correction of a clerical error may be authorized only by the instructor of record communicating directly with personnel of Student and Alumni Services.

Sexual Harassment

The University of California is committed to creating and maintaining a community where all individuals who participate in University programs and activities can work and learn together in an atmosphere free of harassment, exploitation, or intimidation. Every member of the community should be aware that the University prohibits sexual harassment and sexual violence, and that such behavior violates both law and University policy. The University will respond promptly and effectively to reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and will take appropriate action to prevent, to correct, and when necessary, to discipline behavior that violates our policy.

All Extension students and instructors who believe they have been sexually harassed are encouraged to contact the Department of Student and Alumni Services for complaint resolution: UCLA Extension, Suite 113, 10995 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Voice/TTY: (310) 825-7031. View the University’s full Policy on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence at

Additional Items

About Your Online Course Materials

Please note the following about online course components at UCLA Extension:

  • Students must have basic computer skills, including the use of word processing software, email, and the ability to use internet browsers, such as Safari, Firefox, or Chrome.
  • Students are responsible for meeting the technical requirements of Canvas and familiarizing themselves with the Canvas Learning Management System.
  • Students are responsible for keeping a copy of all assignments and work submitted, and to be aware of all assignments, due dates, and course guidelines.
  • Students are encouraged to keep and/or download a local copy of their assignment files, as access to the online environment of a specific course is limited to 30 days after the final course date, as listed in the course catalog.

    If you need assistance downloading student materials from your course, please contact Canvas Support or the Office of Instructional Enhancement.

UCLA Extension Enhanced Support

Email: [email protected]
Phone: Toll-free at (866) 269-7289 (US only) or (310) 206-4563.
Monday - Friday, 7am to 6pm (Pacific Time).
The UCLA Extension course management team assists both students and instructors with Canvas-related technical support, as well as general administrative questions.

For additional support on using Canvas or addressing a technical issue:
Click on the ''Help'' button on the lower left corner of the screen from within the Canvas system, where you can chat live with a technical support agent or submit a ticket for assistance.

Campus Safety Escorts

For students taking classes held on the UCLA campus and in and around Westwood Village, the UCLA Police Department provides a free walking escort service every day of the year from dusk until 1 a.m. Community Service Officers (CSOs) are available to walk students, faculty, staff members and visitors to and from anywhere on campus, in Westwood Village, and in the village apartments. CSOs are uniformed students who have received special training and are employed by the UCLA Police Department. To obtain an escort, please call (310) 794-9255 and allow 15 to 20 minutes for your escort to arrive. For complete information, see:


Course calendar and related activities
When Topic Notes
Unit 1
Week #1
Art Objects: Poetry and Ekphrasis
  • Syllabus and Introductions
  • Discuss Ekphrasis as Investigation
  • Discuss "Art Objects" by Jeannette Winterson, excerpts from Jorie Graham's Erosion, and poems from the GALLERY, our online module pairing poems with paintings.
  • In-class writing
Unit 2
Week #2
Landscape, Memory, Mythology, Space
  • Workshop Poem #1: Ekphrasis
  • Discuss Roberto Calasso's "on Degas' Midieval War Scene"
  • Discuss excerpts from War of the Foxes by Richard Siken, Warhorses by Yusef Komunyakaa and Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral, as well as excerpts from the GALLERY module.
  • In-class writing
Unit 3
Week #3
Biography of the Senses: Collage and Metaphor
  • Small Group Workshop Poem #2: The Scene of a Crime
  • Discuss Dime-Store Alchemy by Charles Simic, Elizabeth Bishop's "Objects and Apparitions" and the work of Joseph Cornell and Robert Rauschenberg
  • In-class writing
Unit 4
Week #4
Landscape as Plot
  • Small Group Workshop, Flash Fiction #3: Still Life of a Dream
  • Discuss César Aira's An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter
  • In-class writing


Unit 5
Week #5
Meditation on the Line
  • Workshop Fiction #4: On the Hunt
  • Discuss Cixous' "The Executioner's Taking Off"; Anne Carson's "Seated Figure with Red Angle"; Beckian Fritz Goldberg's "Diving Horse Shuffle" and "Nude Shuffle"; Mark Doty's "Notebook/ To Lucien Freud/ On the Veil"; Selections from Quan Barry's Loosestrife; Michael Burkhard's lucky coat anywhere; selections from Lucie-Brock Broido's Stay, Illusion
  • In-class writing


Unit 6
Week #6
Photography as a History of the Interior
  • Workshop, Poem #5: Meditation Line Shuffle
  • Discuss excerpts from Susan Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others and Paisley Rekdal's Imaginary Vessels; Discuss "The Gazer Within" "A Letter" "Two Variations on a Theme by Kobayashi" "The Assimilation of the Gypsies" and "Sensationalism" by Larry Levis and "The Window" by David St. John
  • In-class writing


Unit 7
Week #7
Still Life of a Color
  • Workshop, Poem #6: Thief, Spy, Paparazzo
  • Discuss Mark Doty's Still Life with Oysters and Lemon
  • Discuss Diane Ackerman's "The Painter's Eye"; excerpts from David St. John's Prism and a selection of Maggie Nelson's Bluets
  • In-class writing
Unit 8
Week #8
Characterization: The Art of Keeping a Secret
  • Workshop, Flash Fiction #7: The Distorted Artifact
  • Discuss Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • In-class writing
Unit 9
Week #9
Self-Portrait as Elegy
  • Small group workshop, Fiction #8: The Secret Life
  • Discuss Andrew Graham-Dixon's "Self-Portrait as Bacchus, Boy with a Basket of Fruit"; John Ashbery's "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror"; Frederick Seidel's "Cloclo"; Adam Zagajewski's "Erinna of Telos" "Robespierre before the Mirror" "Vermeer's Little Girl"; Cavafy's "For the Shop" "He Swears" "Orophernis" "Manuel Komninos" "Aimiliano Monai, Alexandrian, A.D. 628-655"; excerpts from Chloe Honum's Tulip-Flame
  • In-Class writing
Unit 10
Week #10
Incomplete Desires
  • Workshop, Poem #9: Self-Portrait as Elegy
  • Discuss Wayne Koestenbaum's "Assignments" and "The Desire to Write"
  • In-class writing, Flash Fiction #10: An Incomplete Desire