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Information and Syllabus

Empathy Through Arts and Media - Spring '24

Course: Empathy Through Arts and Media
Location: Northlight Studio (Comm 1251)
Time: F 01:00pm-3:30pm

Course Syllabus Location: http://www.robertspahr.com/eam/
Course Information:
Empathy Through Arts and Media - 25305 - UHON 351F - 003
Empathy Through Arts and Media - 22661 - UHON 351M - 001
Empathy Through Arts and Media - 22112 - UHON 351U - 005

Professor: Robert Spahr, MFA
Contact: rspahr@siu.edu
Office: Comm 1056B
Office Hours:
W  01:00pm-04:00pm
R  01:00pm-04:00pm
& by appointment

Professor: Walter Metz, PhD
Contact: wmetz@siu.edu
Office: Comm 1050i
Office Hours:
M 12:00pm-03:00pm
W R 01:00pm-04:00pm
& by appointment


Empathy Through Arts and Media
Make America Care Again: Re-evaluating, Revisiting, Remixing Interdisciplinary Media Arts Practices
This course studies how philosophers and artists from Ancient Greek culture can help us rescue our 21st century contemporary media arts culture, poisoned by a selfishness and cruelties.


  • This course will fuse the study of the science of art with its history and practice.
  • This course will encourage students to make art that matters to them, and attempts to make the world a better housing for empathetic behavior.
  • This course poses the question of “Why is empathy particularly important now?” Why are our current politics and media environment not based in empathy? Why is art a solution to this impasse?
  • This course demonstrates that art brings us together via human interconnection. Students are also encouraged to engage with theories of learning that demonstrate that art brings us together via human interconnectivity. Students develop art activities that can bring us together, and identify current art practices that rip us apart.


# Syllabus is subject to change with notice. #
Note: Readings are due on the dates listed below.

Section I: Historical and Theoretical Orientation

Fri Jan 19

Introduction to the Course
Walter: The Return of Emotions Theory – The Case of Film Studies
Studio: Drawing, Elements of Art, & Principles of Organization


Fri Jan 26

Topic: What is empathy?
Reading: Vincenzo Auriemma. "Empathy: A Theoretical Starting Point"
Studio: Drawing &: Collage

Fri Feb 02

Topic: The Contemporary Importance of Theorizing Empathy
Reading: Rust and Huang, The Feeling Economy: How A.I. is Creating the Era of Empathy
Studio: Drawing & Collage View:
Rothko Chapel : Art Assignment, 1:25-2:04
ANISH KAPOOR 'Descension' solo show, 11:11

Fri Feb 09

Topic: What Preceded Empathy? Catharsis and Classical Theater
Reading: Aristotle, The Poetics
Studio: Drawing & Collage

Fri Feb 16

Topic: Storytelling and Empathy
Reading: Stephen Davies, "Responding Emotionally to Fictions"
Studio: Drawing & Collage

Fri Feb 23

Topic: Psychology and Empathy
Reading: Ferguson and Wimmer, "A Psychological Exploration of Empathy"
Studio: Final Critique of Drawings and Collage

Fri Mar 01

Topic: The Politics of Empathy
Reading: Gary Olson, Empathy Imperiled: Capitalism, Culture, and the Brain
Studio: Photography

Fri Mar 08 {Walter out of town}

Exam #1

Week of Fri Mar 15

Fri Mar 22

Memorialization, History and Memory Criticism, Museum Studies, and Holocaust Studies
Reading: Esra Ozyurek, "Holocaust Education for the Middle East/Muslim Minority in Germany"
Studio: Photography

Section II: Empathy and the Media Arts

Fri Mar 29

Topic: Photography
Reading: Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others
Studio: Photography

Fri Apr 05

Topic: Empathy and Film Theory
Reading: John Rhym, "Film Theory, Neuroscience, and the Philosophy of Mind"
Studio: Final Critique of Photography

Fri Apr 12

Topic: Empathy Goes to the Movies
Reading: Zachary Sheldon, "The Gollum Problem: Empathy and Digital Characters in Cinema"
Studio: Video

Fri Apr 19

Topic: Television
Reading: Margrethe Bruun Vaage, "Should We Be Against Empathy?: Engagement with Antiheroes"
Studio: Video

Fri Apr 26

Topic: Video Games and Virtual Reality
Reading: Bonnie Ruberg, "Deconstructing the Rhetoric of Empathy in Video Games"
Studio: Final Critique of Video

Fri May 03 {Rob is out of town}

Exam #2

May 06-10

Meeting day and time TBA
Critique of student work


Required Texts
All readings are posted to D2L (“My Courses”) as .pdf files.

Grading Policy
This is not an easy class. The readings are heavy and the information we will be presenting and we will be discussing is often theoretical, and thus difficult and challenging. That said, however, we want to re-assure you that we will keep this in mind while determining grades. Do not be afraid if you are confused early on. Use our discussions to work through this new material. That confusion is invigorating and is the fuel that will drive your education. We've attempted to structure the course so that it will be challenging, yet accessible, to students of varying levels and abilities. We will use the + and - system when calculating grades.

Graded Course Activities
10%  Exam #1
20%  Exam #2
15%  Drawing / Collage Projects / Critique
15%  Photography Projects / Critique
15%  Video Projects / Critique
15%  Participation
10%  Writing Journal / Sketchbook

Written Discussion Posting
Every Monday, I will post provocative questions about the course materials to the D2L Discussion Forum. With a due date of the subsequent Sunday evening, students will write in response to these questions, in dialogue with other students’ answers to these questions.

Rubric for Student Writing Journals / Sketchbooks
Demonstrated knowledge of course materials (lectures, readings, and the like)

Demonstrated application of these course materials to media studies and/or production

Synthesis of the course material to create new knowledge in the field of media studies

Evidence of your creative process and idea generation for media arts projects

As you may have heard, my exams are rather challenging. However, I grade on a curve, and most students who study hard throughout the semester will do well once they learn how to study to retain and employ new information. The exams will be closed book/closed notes, to encourage active studying and long-term retention of the course material.

A critique in a studio course is equivalent to an exam in a studies course. Critique is one of the most important methods of assessment used in practice based classes. Students learn the verbal skills to describe and analyze their own work and the work of others.

Academic Dishonesty
I have a zero tolerance policy for any act of academic dishonesty. The exams in this course are very difficult, and they require tremendous study efforts. The first instance of cheating on an exam will result in a grade of F for the course. Plagiarism (the use of another’s ideas or words without quotation and citation), whether intentional or otherwise, is the most serious offense in academia. The first instance of plagiarism on a writing assignment will result in a grade of F for the course. I will pursue these matters according to the procedures outlined in the SIU Student Conduct Code.

Note Taking
To do well, you must take notes in this class, on lectures on discussions, on the readings, and on the audio-visual material we are studying. This is not the sort of class where if you just come and pay attention, you are guaranteed a good grade. There is a great deal of reading material, and in order to learn what is contained therein, you need to take notes on it and study it.

Attendance Policy
You are expected to attend every class meeting, and to participate actively in the course on schedule. Do all of the reading, prepare thoughtful and professional written and/or creative work, and contribute to classroom discussions with direct applications of what we have learned from the lectures and the readings.

Optional Screening Night
Every month or so, we will meet one evening to show films and other artworks to support our study and practice of empathy and the media arts. We will meet in COMM 1116 (Cinema Soundstage). Details and dates/times will be announced in class.

Suggested Supply List
Newsprint drawing pad 18" x 24"
Pad of white drawing paper 18" x 24"
Kneaded eraser
Vine or willow charcoal
Compressed charcoal
Oil pastels (set of at least 8 colors, including white)

If you have questions about any facet of the course, please e-mail either of us immediately: rspahr@siu.edu or wmetz@siu.edu

SIU Syllabus Attachment

SIU Syllabus Attachment - Spring '24 - PDF