american art

from the colonial period to world war two

syllabus

course description and goals


(4 credits, no prerequisites) This course explores the major works, artists, and issues of American art from the Colonial period through the 1930s. By the end of the course you should:

     1.     Have a thorough understanding of around 80 paradigm works of American art, such as Copley’s Paul Revere, Cole’s Course of Empire, Bingham’s County Election, Sargent’s Madame X, Whistler’s Symphony in White, Riis’s How the Other Half Lives, Sullivan’s Wainwright Building, O’Keeffe’s Calla Lily, Dove’s Foghorns, Lawrence’s Migration of the Negro, Lange’s Migrant Mother, Benton’s Social History of Missouri, and Wood’s American Gothic.

     2.     On the basis of these and other works we study, know the characteristics of some of the major styles and genres of art produced during the period, including Colonial portraiture, the Hudson River School, Genre painting, Folk Art, social-documentary photography, frame construction and the skyscraper, the Ashcan School, Modernism, Social Realism, and Regionalism.

     3.     Understand and be able to articulate the close relationship between art and its historical context:  for example between Colonial portraiture and Calvinist moral and economic values; between American land policy and representations of Native Americans; between genre painting and American electoral practices; between the Ashcan School and industrial capitalism, and so on.

     4.     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.

     5.     Have the basic tools of visual literacy, including an ability to analyze, using appropriate vocabulary, how works of art communicate or express their meanings through the artist’s careful choices of subject-matter and form.

The text for this class is Wayne Craven's American Art:  History and Culture, available at the campus bookstore or probably cheaper at your online retailer of choice.  Used copies are fine.  Supplementary required readings of primary and scholarly secondary sources will also be available as PDFs on the course webpages.  The syllabus, course polices, assignments, and complete study-guides for the exams are available on this website -- follow the links above.


exam 1 30%; exam 2 20%; 2 in-class presentations 5% each; attendance and participation 5%

museum paper 1 10%; museum paper 2 15%; final take-home essay 10%