Interdisciplinary Honors Seminars

The Creative Spark: The Making of Masterpieces in Music and Art

Course # 01:090:292:H3
Index# 06033
T 2:00PM-5:00PM
SC 106 CAC
George Stauffer & Stephen Westfall

The act of artistic creation is one of the profound mysteries of human existence. While thousands of artists and composers have endeavored over the centuries to make works of lasting value, only a select few have had the “creative spark”—the flash of brilliance that resulted in a masterpiece that transcended its time and place. Precisely how these artists and composers have attained this goal is the topic of the proposed Honors Seminar. The course will also look at how the term “masterpiece” has come under scrutiny by historians and critics.

The seminar will explore the creative process in art and music by looking at the work and working methods of a select number of extraordinary artists and composers. In some cases, these figures labored alone, in isolation, relying solely on their own intuition and experiences. In other cases, they worked with a collaborator whose talents complemented their own and served as a creative catalyst. In still other cases, they worked as a productive team to assemble a large composite work. We will also look at how the cultural contexts for determining the quality and meaning of these works have shifted, and with this shift, how new content and participants are being admitted into the canon.

Artists selected for detailed study will include Michelangelo, Giotto, Cezanne, Picasso, and Kara Walker. Composers selected for detailed study will include Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Duke Ellington, and Madonna. Other artists and composers, both historical and contemporary, will be drawn into the picture by the students, whose research papers and individual class presentations will focus on additional figures.

About George Stauffer

George B. Stauffer is Distinguished Professor of Music History and a past Dean of the Mason Gross School. He is well known for his writings on the music of the Baroque Era and the life and works of J.S. Bach, in particular. He has published eight books, including J.S. Bach: The Mass in B Minor (Yale University Press, 2003) and The World of Baroque Music (Indiana University Press, 2006). He is currently at work on the volume Why Bach Matters for Yale University Press.

Stauffer has held Guggenheim, Fulbright, ACLS, IREX, and Bogliasco fellowships and has contributed to JAMS, Early Music, Bach-Jahrbuch, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and many other American, European, and Asian publications. He has also written features for The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and The Weekly Standard. He is a former president of the American Bach Society and served for six years as General Editor of its publications.

As a speaker, Stauffer has lectured at Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, University of Leipzig, National Sun Yat-sen University, and many other colleges and universities in the United States and abroad. He has also presented pre-concert talks at Carnegie Hall, David Geffen Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Merkin Hall, and many other performance venues.

As a teacher, he likes to cover a wide range of music, from Lady Gaga's Bad Romance to Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610.

About Stephen Westfall

Stephen Westfall has exhibited his paintings to considerable acclaim in the United States and abroad for more than a decade. He has had shows at Lennon Weinberg Gallery, Galerie Zürcher, and at Galerie Paal; his work can be found in several public collections, including the Albertina Museum, Vienna, Austria, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Munson Proctor-Williams Institute, Utica, NY, and the Kemper Museum, Kansas City. He is a contributing editor to Art in America, and his writing has also appeared in Bomb Magazine and The Brooklyn Rail. He has received awards and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and from the New York State Council on the Arts, and is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Nancy Graves Foundation Fellowship. He holds an MFA from the University of California Santa Barbara. He has held teaching positions at Bard College and at the School of Visual Arts, New York City. He served as the Jules Guerin/John Armstrong Chaloner Rome Prize Fellow in Visual Arts at the American Academy. His frieze of laminated glass panels at the 30th Ave. Station in Queens has received state and national awards in 2019 for public art.