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College Preparation Program: IN FOCUS Seminar

Explorations in Art and Culture

Even for those who appreciate art, its creation, its entry into the market and the determination of its value can seem mysterious, subjective and arbitrary. Yet understanding the production and circulation of art through culture is essential for anyone who wants to look at art more thoughtfully and/or for those who wish to explore such careers as artists, curators, educators, journalists, gallerists or other art-business positions. This course will address questions such as:  How do art works enter galleries and museums? What and who influences the art market? What are other ways to talk about the value of art besides exchange value? How do artists become international celebrities? How does art serve as cultural capital, i.e. as a marker of wealth and social prestige or even as a substitute for religion in a secular world? How can art reinforce or, alternatively, disrupt the social status quo? In this highly interactive course, set in the real art world of Chicago and its international extensions, students will gain access to the art professionals that shape culture and have the opportunity to creatively and critically contribute to the art dialogues that impact society as a whole.

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  • Dates: July 3 - 14, 2017
  • Instructor: Cynthia Noble, Engagement Manger, Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University and Principal, Cynthia Noble Private Art Tours and Events
  • Enrollment Capacity: 15


Through readings, image-based discussions, reflective assignments, guest speakers and field trips that could include art schools, artists’ studios, galleries, museums, auction houses, private collections, international art expositions, media and charitable organizations, students will trace the life cycles of works of art. Students will reflect upon art’s institutional framework to discover how to move beyond individual consumption toward imagination and knowledge production.


  • Provide a foundation for understanding the culture industry more broadly while revealing an insider’s view of the art world in Chicago as a basis for further individual exploration
  • Empower students to participate as agents of change in the arts and culture
  • Offer an overview of opportunities in the art world so that students may be precise and discerning in their academic and career pursuits


This seminar is appropriate for high school students considering undergraduate majors or later professions in the arts and humanities, or those pursuing other disciplines who nevertheless imagine the rich interdisciplinary connections that can be created through serious inquiry into art and its institutions. No special expertise is required.

A Typical Classroom Session

This seminar will be a combination of half days and full days, with many days including at least one field trip and/or a guest speaker. Classroom time will be used to hear speakers, discuss readings, view art images and videos that elucidate the topics being explored, reflect on the field trip experiences, and receive guidance on a culminating project.

Resources and Materials

The seminar will have a reading list that provides a diverse theoretical and contextual background on the role of art in society, the relationship between art and economics, and an exploration of individual artists and other art professionals who have taken critical stances on art as a commodity and the infrastructure that surrounds works of art.