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Art Theory: Modernism, Avant-Garde, Contemporary

  • Module code: PH7703
  • Year: 2018/9
  • Level: 7
  • Credits: 30
  • Pre-requisites: None
  • Co-requisites: None

Summary

Based on a study of artists' texts, art criticism, art history and philosophical writings on art, this module comprises a critical examination of the legacy and possibilities of modernist and avant-garde criticism in contemporary art theory. As well as introducing students to some of the major texts and ideas in these traditions of art theory and art criticism, the modules aims to enable students to reflect critically on works of contemporary art in the light of their study.

Aims

  • To introduce students to the origins and implications of the modernist and avant-garde conceptions of art.
  • To enable students to interpret competing conceptions of modernism in twentieth-century art criticism, in the light of current debates in the field.
  • To enable students to undertake the work of close textual analysis of demanding critical and philosophical texts.
  • To enable students to reflect critically on works of contemporary art in relation to these traditions of art criticism.

Learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of this module, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate advanced knowledge of the distinctive features, issues and problems of the tradition of modernist criticism.
  • Assess the legacy of modernist criticism in contemporary art theory, informed by critical awareness of current debates in the field.  
  • Undertake the work of close textual analysis of demanding theoretical texts.
  • To reflect critically on works of contemporary art in relation to these traditions of art criticism.

Curriculum content

Topics discussed include the origins of modernist criticism in Baudelaire's concept of modernity, and its reception and extension by Walter Benjamin; competing conceptions of modernism in the writings of Clement Greenberg and Theodor W. Adorno; the legacy of modernist historical criticism in the work of the October theorists Rosalind Krauss and Benjamin H. Buchloh; the temporality of the modern and its relations to commodification; the contrast between 'medium-specific' and 'generic' modernisms; theorizations and periodisations of the avant-garde; institutional critique; current debates about the nominalism of contemporary art and the 'post-medium' condition;  ‘modern', ‘avant-garde' and ‘contemporary' as forms of historical time; autonomy and heteronomy; crisis, dissonance and the new; ‘art' and ‘the arts'; neo-avant-garde, functionalism and institutional critique; the displacement of ‘the modern' by the notion of ‘the contemporary'; conceptual and postconceptual art; the globalization of the concept of contemporary art after 1989.

Teaching and learning strategy

This module will be taught by means of a mix of lectures and seminars, supplemented by individual tutorials and private study. Emphasis is placed on seminar-based discussion. Students may be asked to prepare short seminar presentations.

Breakdown of Teaching and Learning Hours

Definitive UNISTATS Category Indicative Description Hours
Scheduled learning and teaching Seminars/lectures, 10 x 2.5 25
Scheduled learning and teaching Group and individual tutorials (one scheduled hour plus office hours) 1
Guided independent study Directed and Independent Learning 274
Total (number of credits x 10) 300

Assessment strategy

The assessment strategy is designed to test a student's ability to meet the module's learning outcomes. Summative assessment involves two pieces of written work:

  • A 1,500-word exercise, requiring written answers to (usually 3) questions set by the tutor. The exercise is normally submitted at or before the mid-way point of the module and is worth 20% of the final module grade. This exercise also functions formatively in relation to the second, longer piece of assessed work:
  • A 3,500 to 4, 000 word essay, worth 80% of the final mark. The topic for the essay may be drawn from a list suggested by the tutor, or students may propose their  own topic (to be agreed with the module tutor)

The skills required to prepare these assessed elements will be developed in a variety of formative activities throughout the module, notably through class discussion, feedback on in-class presentations, and individual tutorials. Preparation of the final essay normally includes a scheduled tutorial with the module tutor.

The assessment strategy is designed to test a student's ability to meet the module's learning outcomes. Summative assessment involves two pieces of written work:

  • A 1,500-word exercise, normally submitted at or before the mid-way point of the module, worth 20% of the final mark.
  • A 3,000-word essay, worth 80% of the final mark. The topic for the essay may be drawn from a list suggested by the tutor, or students may propose their own topic (to be agreed with the module tutor)

The skills required to prepare these assessed elements will be developed in a variety of formative activities throughout the module, notably through class discussion, feedback on in-class presentations, and individual tutorials. Preparation of the final essay normally includes a scheduled tutorial with the module tutor.

Mapping of Learning Outcomes to Assessment Strategy (Indicative)

Learning Outcome Assessment Strategy
1) Demonstrate advanced knowledge of the distinctive features, issues and problems of the tradition of modernist criticism. Assessed formatively through class discussion, presentations and tutorials, and summatively through the two pieces of individual written work.
2) Assess the legacy of modernist criticism in contemporary art theory, informed by critical awareness of current debates in the field. Assessed formatively through class discussion, presentations and tutorials, and summatively through the two pieces of individual written work.
3) Undertake the work of close textual analysis of demanding theoretical texts. Assessed formatively through class discussion, presentations and tutorials, and summatively through the two pieces of individual written work.
4) To reflect critically on works of contemporary art in relation to these traditions of art criticism. Assessed formatively through class discussion, presentations and tutorials, and summatively through the two pieces of individual written work.

Elements of Assessment

Description of Assessment Definitive UNISTATS Categories Percentage
Coursework Exercises 1500 words 20
Coursework Essay 3500 to 4000 words 80
Total (to equal 100%) 100%

Achieving a pass

It IS NOT a requirement that any major assessment category is passed separately in order to achieve an overall pass for the module.

Bibliography core texts

T. W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1997).

Charles Baudelaire, 'The Painter of Modern Life' in The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays (London: Phaidon, 1995), pp. 1-41.

Benjamin Buchloh, Neo-Avant Garde and Culture Industry (Cambridge MA and London: MIT  Press, 2001).

Peter Burger, Theory of the Avant-Garde (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1984).

Clement Greenberg, Collected Writings: Volumes 1 and 4 (Chicago: Chicago University  Press 1986, 1993). 

Rosalind Krauss, 'A Voyage on the North Sea': Art in the Age of The Post-Medium  Condition (London: Thames and Hudson, 2002).

Peter Osborne, Anywhere or Not At All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art, Verso, 2013.

-----------------, Conceptual Art, Phaidon, 2002

Bibliography recommended reading

Alexander Alberro & Blake Stimson (eds) ‘Institutional Critique: An Anthology of Artists' Writings, MIT, 2009.

Walter Benjamin, The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire (Cambridge MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2006).

Thierry de Duve, Kant After Duchamp (Cambridge MA and London: MIT Press, 1996).

Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, "Percept, Affect and Concept", in What is Philosophy?, Colombia University Press, 1994

John Dewey, Art as Experience (1934), Perigee Books, 1980

Hal Foster et al, Art Since 1900: Modernism, Anti-modernism, Postmodernism (London: Thames and Hudson, 2004).

Clement Greenberg, ‘Avant-Garde and Kitsch' (1939), ‘Towards a Newer Laocoon' (1940), and ‘Modernist Painting' (1961), in Collected Writings, Chicago UP,1988ff, Vols 1 & 4.

Félix Guattari, Chaosmosis, Indiana University Press, 1995.

Charles Harrison & Paul Wood (eds), Art in Theory, 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Blackwell, 1992.

Caroline A Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg's Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2005).

Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (1964), Routledge, 2002.

Jacques Rancière, 'Painting in the Text', in The Future of the Image, Verso, 2007.

Harold Rosenberg, The De-definition of Art, University of Chicago Press, 1972.

John C. Welchman (ed),  Institutional Critique and After, JRP/Ringier, 2006.

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