modernism in 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 very diverse movements that upended the 400+ year tradition of naturalistic art that was ushered in by the Renaissance. 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; Constructivism and the Communist Revolution; 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 on.

          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 consists of online articles and videos primarily on the website, 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, tablets, and any audio or video recording devices must be turned off and put away during both lectures and exams. Exceptions will only be made in cases of need documented by the Office of Student Affairs or the Learning Center -- talk to me in advance.

           Your grade will be based on the following factors (no extra credit):

2 exams  350 pts each; museum paper 1 100 pts; museum paper 2  150 pts;

attendance & participation 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