Class educates students on life of Ziggy Stardust


File photo dated March 20, 1987 of David Bowie, who has died following an 18-month battle with cancer. (PA Wire/Zuma Press/TNS)

Morgan Smith

On Jan. 10, 2016, the world said goodbye to the famed artist David Bowie. However, Dr. Anna Brzyski and Dr. Kevin Holm-Hudson are rediscovering the life, work and influence of Bowie this spring in their interdisciplinary seminar, “David Bowie: Music, Text, Image, and Politics.” 

Brzyski and Holm-Hudson have spent the last year developing a class that will examine the impact of Bowie’s career and ideas on the artistic world, as well as society in general. 

“We had discussed doing a collaborative course together about a year and a half ago, and then when Bowie passed away there was this flood of archival material that no one knew about that all of a sudden started appearing on YouTube and all over the Internet, including outtakes from recording sessions and scraps of movie ideas that Bowie started and never finished,” Holm-Hudson said. “All this material made me realize what an incredibly rich figure Bowie was, so I contacted Dr. Brzyski and said ‘I think I’ve got our idea.” 

This is the first occurrence in the College of Fine Arts of a class taught by two professors from two different units of the college. Brzyski is a professor of Art History and Visual Studies in the department of art while Holm-Hudson is an associate professor of Music Theory in the department of music. 

The class introduces students to Bowie’s importance in his generation, and the lasting influence of his work that continues to affect pop culture today. 

“We are essentially discovering the complexity of this artist,” Brzyski said. “This is somebody who was not afraid to take chances. Somebody who was not just interested in music, but also literature, theatre, fashion, occult, philosophy, Buddhism. He was someone who collaborated with people in very interesting ways. He’s really not very easily pigeonholed.”

Bowie’s own love of collaboration and diversity of interests has been a pillar in cultivating the spirit of the class. Brzyski and Holm-Hudson hope that through studying Bowie their students will be inspired to become multimodal thinkers, and encouraged to collaborate with artists in other fields and styles than their own. 

The class itself even facilitates interdisciplinary work. Roughly half the class is comprised of students studying within the department of music, while the other half is made up of visual arts students. This diverse assortment exposes students to new perspectives and allows for a wider pool of knowledge that benefits the entire class. 

“By collaborating with people in other fields and seeing as a model this figure who was comfortable working in all these different disciplines, I would like them to come away from this class inspired to do more of their own original work with others in other disciplines,” Holm-Hudson said.

The recency of Bowie’s passing also allows for an interesting dynamic between teacher and student. An abundance of new information about Bowie was released onto the Internet after his death and there continues to be new knowledge about him discovered every day. “New things are appearing literally daily. Our students are pointing things out to us that we haven’t read. I’m finding things that weren’t there last week. What’s awesome for us is we are also students, which doesn’t happen that often,” said Brzyski.