ARTH408: Contemporary Art

Course Syllabus for "ARTH408: Contemporary Art"

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In common conversation, we often use the phrase “contemporary art” to refer to current artistic production—the art being produced today.  However, in the art history field, the phrase denotes a specific period of art and artistic practice starting in the 1960s and continuing today.  It is characterized by a break from the modernist artistic canon and a desire to move away from the dominant Western cultural model, looking for inspiration in everyday and popular culture.  More specifically, many contemporary artworks reject traditional modernistic artistic media (such as painting or sculpture) in favor of a more collaborative, ephemeral, and multimedia approach that further blurs the boundaries between high and mass culture.  In its subject matter, this art also tends to reflect a shift away from purely aesthetic issues to more socially oriented concerns.  Finally, it is important to note that contemporary art should not be seen as a progression of different artistic styles but as series of different cultural, social, and political inquiries that occupied contemporary art practice over the course of the past 50 years or so.  We will examine these important aesthetic and cultural changes within their historical and social context as we progress through this course. This course will survey contemporary art, starting with the 1960s and concluding in 2010.  While the focus is on Western art and culture, we will also explore a selection of contemporary art and artistic practices around the globe, which have become increasingly influential in the definition of contemporary art today.  Each of the units will examine a set of specific aesthetic and social issues and look at the different strategies contemporary artists proposed and used in their work.  By the end of this course, you should be able to recognize and interpret most important aspects of contemporary art and contemporary visual culture while better understanding some of the cultural and social aspects of our daily life in today’s global world.

Learning Outcomes

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

  • Identify significant works of contemporary art and visual culture.
  • Describe the difference between modernist and contemporary works of art.
  • Explain the geographical shift of artistic centers from Europe (Paris) to the United States (New York), and then in the 21st century to a global spreading (Asia and Africa).
  • Define and discuss the development of contemporary art as a series of different cultural, social, and political inquiries over the past 50 years.
  • Identify and discuss multiple and vital relationships between contemporary art and such broader social and cultural issues as ideology, gender, race, or ethnicity.
  • Describe and explain a relationship between different contemporary art strategies, such as performance or installation, and their immediate social and cultural context.
  • Discuss how important contemporary artworks relate to their social and historical contexts.
  • Define contemporary art as a continuing, international artistic project.
  • Identify and define the importance of contemporary art and contemporary visual culture in today’s increasingly globalized world.

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 and save files and documents to a computer.

√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.).

√    Have competency in the English language.

√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

√    Have completed all courses listed in the Core Program of the art history discipline (ARTH101 through ARTH301).

Course Information

Welcome to ARTH408.  Below, please find some general information on this course and its requirements.

Primary Resources: Tate Gallery: papers, glossary, and video recordings of interviews with artists; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA): lectures and interactive exhibits; Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) New York: exhibits and collections; UbuWeb: texts, biographies, and films; Smithsonian Institution: Archives of American Art.

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all its assigned materials.  Pay special attention to Units 1 and 2, which lay the groundwork for understanding the more advanced, exploratory material presented in the latter units.  You will also need to complete:

• Unit 1: Two writing activities

• Unit 2: Writing activity and museum visit

• Unit 3: Writing activity and museum visit

• Unit 4: Writing activity and museum visit

• Unit 5: Writing activity and museum visit

• Unit 6: Writing activity and museum visit

• Unit 7: Writing activity and museum visit

• The final exam

Note that you will only receive an official grade on your final exam.  However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through the assignments.  In order to pass this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the final exam.  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.

Time Commitment: This course should take you approximately 138 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 approximately 14 hours.  Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunit 1.1 (4 hours) on Monday night; subunit 1.2 (5 hours) on Tuesday night; etc.

Tips/Suggestions: As noted in the “Course Requirements,” all courses listed in the Core Program of the art history discipline are prerequisites for this course.  In particular, you should be familiar with ARTH301 (especially Units 2, 5, 6, and 8).  In addition,  please revisit ARTH209 (especially Unit 7).

As you read, take careful notes on a separate sheet of paper.  Mark down any important features, dates, and/or elements that stand out to you.  It will be useful to use this cheat sheet as a review prior to completing the final exam.

After you complete this course, you might find these resources helpful as complementary material to the materials you read in this course:

Thomas Crow.  The Rise of the Sixties: American and European Art in the Era of Dissent.  New York: Yale University Press (2005).  Note: This is a very good and succinct introduction to art and society in the 1960s.

Brandon Taylor.  Contemporary Art: Art Since 1970.  London: Prentice Hall (2004).  Note: This is a review of the development of contemporary art from 1970 through 2000 within its social context.

Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, and Benjamin H. D. Buchloh. Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism.  New York: Thames & Hudson (2004).  Note: This is a very detailed analysis of art since 1945, with reproductions, a chronology, a glossary, and a round table discussion on contemporary art.

Cristin Stilles and Peter Selz (editors).  Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings.  Berkeley: University of California Press (1996).  Note: This is a compilation of artists’ writings—divided chronologically and thematically.  Each section is prefaced with a detailed and relevant introduction.

Table of Contents: You can find the course's units at the links below.