a history of western art

from the renaissance to the present

course description and goals

(4 credits, no prereqisites)  This course covers the history of Western art (art of Europe and the United States) between around 1400 and the late-twentieth century.  A one-semester course on such a broad time period cannot pretend to be comprehensive, of course.  Our approach will therefore be based on a limited number of works that can act as ‘paradigms’ for some of the major styles and broad themes of Western art history.  By the end of the semester, you should:

•  Have a thorough understanding of around 80 paradigm works of the Western tradition, such as Michelangelo’s David, Bernini’s Ecstasy of St Teresa, Kauffmann’s Cornelia and her Children, Daumier’s Rue Transnonain, Monet’s Rouen Cathedral, Frankenthaler’s Mountains and Sea, Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych, and Chicago’s Dinner Party.

•  On the basis of these works, know the characteristics of some of the major periods and movements of the Western tradition, including the Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Classicism, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Cubism, Expressionism, De Stijl, Suprematism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Feminism.

•  Understand and be able to articulate the close relationship between art and its historical context:  for example, between Renaissance naturalism and the rise of science; Dutch Baroque still-lives and the Protestant Reformation; Classicism and the democratic revolutions of the late-eighteenth century; and Pop art and late-twentieth century consumerism.

•  Understand and be able to articulate the diverse roles that art has played in society, from state propaganda to social protest; objective documentation to subjective expression; spiritual transcendence to sensual indulgence, and so forth.

•  Have the basic tools of visual literacy, including an ability to understand and articulate not only what images communicate, but also how they communicate their meanings.

text and resources

The text for this class is Marilyn Stokstad's Art History Portable, fourth edition, Books 4 (14th-17th centuries) and 6 (18th-21st centuries), plus the course study-guides (see links above).  Here is my recommended study regimen for the class:

     •  Over the weekend:  do the assigned readings in Stokstad for the upcoming week.

     •     The day before class:  review the internet study-guide for the next day’s topic.  Look up key works & terms in the text.

     •     The day of class:  take extensive notes.  The best way to stay focused is to give yourself the task of taking good notes.  By hand:  remember that electronic devices are not allowed in class, and studies show that we remember material better when we take notes by hand rather than typing them out -- probably because the need to be more selective means that we process more 'deeply' because we have to identify the most important concepts and re-state them in our own words.

     •     The day after class:  review your notes in relation to the internet study-guide.  Do your notes cover all the key points and works?  Can you answer the study questions?  If not, come to the next class with questions:  we will do a brief review of the previous day’s material at the beginning of every class.

     •     The week before the exam:  For a couple of hours per day over several days and in different places, practice answering the study-guide questions without referring to your notes and make flashcards to quiz yourself on the identifications.


Your grade will be computed using an additive point system in which there are 1000 possible points (no extra credit):  

3 exams 250 pts. each; 2 museum papers 100 pts. each; attendance 50 pts.  

At the end of the semester I add up the points you have earned and enter a letter grade based on this table:

                     930+ points = A               900-929 points = A-

870-899 points = B+          830-869 points = B          800-829 points = B-

770-799 points = C+          730-769 points = C          700-729 points = C-

670-699 points = D+          630-669 points = D          600-629 points = D-

less than 600 points = F