american art

from the colonial period to world war two


Course description and goals

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:

          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.

          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, American genre painting, Folk Art, social-documentary photography, early skyscrapers, the Ashcan School, Modernism, Social Realism, and Regionalism.

          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.

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

          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.

Readings and resources  

The text for this class is Wayne Craven's American Art:  History and Culture, available at the campus bookstore or 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 here on the course webpages (follow the links to the study guides above).  Also available on the course study-guides are a summary of the  major points for each week's lecture, discussion questions for the weekly readings, and a set of key works to know for the exams.


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

2 exams  300 pts each  museum paper 1  100 pts; museum paper 2  150 pts

2 discussion questions  50 pts each  attendance & participation  50 pts