modernist art

late impressionism through surrealism


Course description and goals

(4 credits, no prerequisites) This course covers the major artists, movements, concepts, and context of Modernist art in Europe between around 1880 and 1940. This period saw of a very rapid succession of often very short-lived movements, including Post-impressionism, Symbolism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Suprematism, Constructivism, the Bauhaus, Dada, De Stijl, and Surrealism, among others. By the end of the course you should:

     •     Have a thorough understanding of around 80 paradigm works of European Modernism, such as Seurat’s Grande Jatte, Van Gogh’s Night Café, Cézanne’s Mont St Victoire, Kollwitz’s Peasant War, Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, Boccioni’s The City Rises, Tatlin’s Relief, Brandt’s Tea Pot, Mondrian’s Composition, Duchamp’s Large Glass, and Ernst’s Two Children Threatened by a Nightingale.

     •     On the basis of these works, know the characteristics of some of the major movements and genres of art produced during the period, including Neo-Impressionism, Symbolism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Purism, Constructivism, the Bauhaus, De Stijl, Dada, and Surrealism.

     •     Understand and be able to articulate the close relationship between art and its historical context: for example, between Neo-Impressionism and the new scientific understanding of light and vision; Expressionism and the social upheavals of industrial capitalism; Mondrian and Kandinsky and the flowering of occult spiritualism and utopianism; Surrealism and Freudian psychology; and in general between Modernist art and the social, technological, and economic conditions of ‘modernity.’

     •     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 analyze, using appropriate vocabulary, how works of art communicate or express meanings through the artist’s careful choices of subject-matter and form.

Text and resources

The text for this class is George Heard Hamilton's Painting and Sculpture in Europe, 1880-1940, available at the campus bookstore, supplemented by various primary source readings by the major artists and art critics of the period that will be available on the course website (see individual topics under 'study guide' above).  Also available on the course study-guides is a complete set of images to know, a list of terms to know, a summary of the important points for each lecture, and a few guiding questions to help you study.

Course policies

A thorough description of the policies, including attendance, grading, withdrawal, disability accommodation, academic honesty, and physical and emotional health services, is available on the policies link above.  Here are a couple of key bullet points:

     •     Attendance is required, but you get three ‘free’ absences to cover illnesses, family emergencies, missed busses, and so forth.  Save them for when you really need them.

     •     Make-up exams will only be given under extraordinary circumstances and are take-home long essay format.

     •     If I need to contact you, I will use your email address, so be sure to check that account and/or have it forwarded to an account you do check often.

     •     All electronic devices, including laptops, phones, PDAs, MP3 players, and any audio or video recording devices must be turned off and put away during both lectures and exams.

     •     There is no extra credit.  Your grade will be based on the following factors:

exam 1 35%; exam 2 35%; museum paper 1 10%; museum paper 2 15%;

attendance & participation 5%