ARTH304: African Art

Course Syllabus for "ARTH304: African Art"

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This course will introduce you to the art and architecture of the African continent from the prehistoric to the present. The objects, images, and sites featured in this course represent a small cross-section of the diverse ethnic and artistic heritage in Africa. This course emphasizes the role of art as manifested in the lifestyles, spiritualities, and philosophies of particular African societies, while also breaching aesthetic principles and the study and display of African art. Many works produced in Africa are used for spiritual purposes that include ritual and performance. The study of masks and ceremonies will enable you to become more familiar with the significant role art plays in the everyday lives of the citizens of African nations. For example, most traditional African art was not meant to be displayed, but rather viewed in use and in motion, especially in mixed-media masquerades. Body adornment and textiles have long been important forms of visual communication and expression in Africa, whereas painting is not a historically prevalent practice in many African regions. This course will try to recognize and consider the complex nature of African art in all its manifestations in examining and appreciating specific objects. Viewing original works in person is important for any study of art. Public museums throughout the West display examples of historical African art, secured mainly during the time spanning the height of the European slave trade through the end of the colonial era and well into the 20th century. Additionally, contemporary African art has been widely collected and exhibited throughout the world in recent decades. If at all possible, you should do the self-evaluative assignment at the end of Unit 4, in which you will be asked to write about at least one work, and preferably several, of African art that you have viewed in a museum or gallery. While viewing these works in a museum or gallery you should note that the masks were meant to be viewed in movement rather than as a form of display. You will also encounter a number of other "homework" assignments, which should serve as learning tools, helping you absorb the material and get an idea of what specialty studies of African art history entails. Lastly, note that as with most translated material, you will find slight variations in English transcriptions of African names across resources. Click on all images encountered in the websites below, as doing so will usually enlarge the image and reveal more detail in the artwork. Finally, be sure to take note of the data provided with the artwork reproductions, such as the size, medium (material), and place of origin.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • demonstrate an understanding of transitions in the national geography of the African continent from the 17th century to the present;
  • demonstrate an understanding of the ethnic diversity and distinct cultural traditions among the peoples of Africa;
  • identify and discuss materials and techniques employed in the creation of a range of African artistic and architectural works;
  • discuss the functions and meanings of a range of African art forms; and
  • identify traditional styles and forms strongly associated with particular cultural groups.

Course Requirements

In order to take this course, you must:

√    have access to a computer;

√    have continuous broadband Internet access;

√    have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g., Adobe Reader or Flash);

√    have the ability to download documents to a computer;

√    have the ability to open and save Microsoft word documents (e.g., .doc, .ppt, .xls);

√    be competent in the English language;

√    have read the Saylor Student Handbook and

√    have completed ARTH110: Introduction to Western Art History: Pre-historic to High Gothic. It is strongly recommended that you also complete ARTH111: Introduction to Western Art History: Proto-Renaissance to Contemporary Art prior to taking this course.

Course Information

Welcome to ARTH304: African Art. General information about this course and its requirements can be found below.
Course Designer: Jody Cutler
Primary Resources: This course uses materials from a wide range of sources, including the following: 

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course successfully you must take the final exam and earn a grade of 70% or higher. Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again. You must also successfully complete the following assignments:

  • Unit 1 Reflection Essay
  • Unit 1 Quiz
  • Unit 4 Quiz
  • Unit 5 Quiz
  • Unit 8 Essay

Time Commitment: This course will take a total of 120 hours to complete. Each unit includes a time advisory that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit. These should help you plan your time accordingly. It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit and then set goals for yourself. For example, Unit 1 should take you 10 hours. Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete Subunit 1.1, approximately five hours, on Monday night and Subunit 1.2, approximately five hours, on Tuesday night, etc.
Table of Contents: You can find the course's units at the links below.