modern & contemporary art

ARTH 216: Modern & Contemporary Art. Department of Art + Art History, Albion College.

I designed this course for second- or third-year undergraduate students at Albion College. The course provided a survey of twentieth century European and American painting, sculpture, photography, and film/video. It also discussed the impact of modern and contemporary critical theory on the evolution of the twentieth century art.

As assistant professor, I was responsible for providing all lectures and facilitating class discussions. I also organized in-class activities, developed and graded exams and writing assignments, and provided individual guidance to students by email or appointment.

A full course overview and syllabus can be found below.

ARTH 216: Modern & Contemporary Art

Instructor: Dr. Meghan Gilbride                                                                                         

Email: mgilbride@albion.edu   

Office Hours: By appointment

This course meets Tuesday and Thursday from 10:30 am to 12:20 pm. This course satisfies the gender category requirement.

Course Description

Discussed within the historical framework of modernist, postmodernist, and 21st-century art, the issues addressed in this course will chart a global art history in relation to technological innovation, political upheaval, globalization, and the digital revolution. We will begin with an examination of modernism --  discussing the period’s social significance and the art movements that comprise it – and conclude with a consideration of the present cultural moment and the emergent artistic trends that are helping to shape it. Along the way, we will also work to understand key concepts of art history and build formal analysis skills that will help us evaluate a range of media, including painting, illustration, sculpture, architecture, photography, film, and digital art.

Learning Objectives 

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

·       Identify a group of significant modern and contemporary artists and their work

·       Distinguish between the major artistic styles and movements of the late 19th through the early 21st centuries

·       Recognize how an art object’s significance is shaped by its relevant historical and cultural contexts

·       Distinguish between a broad range of art movements and styles

·       Independently conduct formal and historical analyses using appropriate vocabulary

·       Understand key theoretical/critical approaches to interpreting works of art (i.e. Formalism, Poststructuralism, Feminism, and Postcolonialism)

·       Think critically about the art and media you encounter in your daily life and consider today’s visual culture from the perspective of history

Required Texts

Cynthia Freeland, But is it art?  London: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Arnason, H.H. and Elizabeth C. Mansfield, History of Modern Art, Seventh edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2010.

Course Assessment

Each of the following is expected of the students in this class: attendance, participation, on-time completion of reading and writing assignments, and the completion of all quizzes and examinations.

If you do not complete all required exams and the final paper you will receive a 0 for this course.

I. Attendance

Attendance is mandatory. Two or more unexcused absences will result in your final grade lowered by 3 points on a 100-point scale (100 to 97 to 94 to 91 to 89 etc.).

The Albion College statement on attendance:

Regular attendance in all classes is expected. Every absence from class is inevitably a loss—usually one that can never be made up. A student has the responsibility to inform her or his faculty member, whenever possible in advance, of an absence due to serious or prolonged illness, and verification of absences due to emergency reasons, may be obtained from the Office of Residential Life.

Excused absences include illness, emergencies, and College-sanctioned events (i.e. College-sponsored athletics, field trips, conference attendance, etc. Such absences must be accompanied by notification from the appropriate faculty member or other College official).

Punctuality is also expected. At the beginning of each class, you will be asked to sign an attendance sheet. Being late risks being counted absent.

The use of electronic devices of any sort, including laptops, is not permitted in the classroom, unless special arrangements have been made with me. Students who violate this policy or otherwise disrupt the class will be counted absent.

II. Participation (10%)

Class participation includes completing the assigned readings by their due dates, contributing to group discussions and activities, and welcoming other points of view. Throughout the course, you will also be participating in two group presentations. More details to follow.

III. Writing assignments (10%)

You will be asked to complete a small writing assignment each week. Some may be submitted via the course’s Moodle page while others might be conducted and handed in during class. Assignment topics will vary, and I will provide you with the relevant details each week.

IV. Quizzes (10%)

Short pop quizzes may occur at any time. These may cover images, maps, or vocabulary from that week’s assigned readings.

V. Final Paper (30%)

A final paper will be due on Friday, April 20th. Topics will be assigned later in the term.

VI. Exams (40%)

You will complete a midterm exam and a final exam.

The grade distribution is as follows:











56 and below earns no credit

Statement on Academic Integrity: As an academic community, Albion College is firmly committed to honor and integrity in the pursuit of knowledge. Therefore, as a member of this academic community, each student acknowledges responsibility for her or his actions and commits to the highest standards of integrity. In doing so, each student makes a covenant with the College not to engage in any form of academic dishonesty, fraud, cheating, or theft.

Civility Statement: To foster an environment of tolerance and civility in this classroom and across the College, you are asked to be courteous and respectful of others, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, religion, age, and ability.

Disability statement: If you require accommodations or modifications in class instruction or course-related activities, please contact the Learning Support Center (LSC) staff who can arrange for reasonable accommodations for students who provide documentation of their disability/condition. If you are presently registered with the LSC and have requested accommodations through the LSC, for this semester, please plan to meet with me as early as possible to discuss the best way to implement these accommodations in this class. The LSC is located in 114 and 112 Ferguson (on the first floor of the administration building in the Career Center Suite) and is open during regular business hours throughout the school year. The LSC Director can be reached at 517-629-0825 and the LSC Coordinator can be reached at 517-629-0411. 

Course Schedule

Below is the course reading list. We may find that there are some areas that we will want to spend more time discussing than others. You are expected to read all of the assigned material even if we are not discussing it extensively in class. Readings not found in your textbook will be uploaded to the course’s Moodle page.

Week One: Introduction

T. Course Overview and Objectives

Th. Introduction to Modern Art (c. 1860s–1960s)

Arnason and Mansfield (hereafter referred to as “AM”), Chapter 1, “The Origins of Modern Art,” 1–13.


Week Two: Realism (c. 1848 – 1900) and Impressionism (c. 1865–1890)

T. Realism

AM, Chapter 2, “The Search for Truth: Early Photography, Realism, and Impressionism,” 14–23.

Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life,” in The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, trans. and ed. Jonathan Mayne (London: Phaidon Press, 1995 [1863], 1–29.

Th. Impressionism

AM, Chapter 2, “The Search for Truth: Early Photography, Realism, and Impressionism,” 24–41.

Week Three: Symbolism (c. 1860–1910), Post-Impressionism  (c. 1885–1910), Arts and Crafts (c. 1887–1920), and Art Nouveau (c. 1890–1910)  

T. Symbolism and Post-Impressionism

AM, Chapter 3, “Post-Impressionism,” 42–69.

Fernand Léger, “The Origins of Painting and Its Representational Value,” in Functions of Painting, The Documents of 20th Century Art, ed. Edward F. Fry (New York: Viking Press, 1973 [1913]), 8–10.

Th. Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, and Early Expressionism

AM, Chapter 4, “Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, and the Beginnings of Expressionism,” 70–89.

Paul Staiti, “Winslow Homer and the Drama of Thermodynamics,” American Art 15, no 1 (2001): 10–33.

PAPER TOPIC DUE on Friday by 5:00 pm


Week Four: Fauvism (c. 1905–1910) and German Expressionism (c. 1905–1925), and Early Abstract Art (c. 1907)

T. Fauvism

AM, Chapter 5, “The New Century: Experiments in Color and Form,” 90–110.

Th. German Expressionism and Early Abstract Art

AM, Chapter 6, “Expressionism in Germany and Austria,” 111–135.

Wassily Kandinsky, Selections from Concerning the Spiritual in Art (Mineola: Dover Publications, 1977 [1911]).

Week Five: Cubism (c. 1905–1915), Futurism (c. 1909–1914), Constructivism (c. 1913 – 1930), Suprematism (c. 1915–1925), and De Stijl (1917–1931)

T. Cubism and Futurism

AM, Chapter 7, “Cubism,” 136–168.

AM, Chapter 9,”European Art after Cubism,” 186–212.

Anna C. Chave, “New Encounters with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon: Gender, Race, and the Origins of Cubism,” in Race-ing Art History: Critical Readings in Race and Art History, ed. Kymberly N. Pinder (New York: Routledge, 2002), 261–287.

Th. Constructivism, Suprematism, and De Stijl

AM, Chapter 11, “Art in France after the World War I,” 242–261.

AM, Chapter 12, “Clarity, Certainty, and Order: De Stijl and the Pursuit of Geometric Abstraction,” 262–274.



Week Six: Dada (c. 1916–1922) and Surrealism (c. 1924–1939)  

T. Dada

AM, Chapter 10, “Picturing the Wasteland: Western Europe during World War I,” 213–241. 

Maud Lavin, "The New Woman in Hannah Hoch's Photomontages: Issues of Androgyny, Bisexuality, and Oscillation," in Reclaiming Female Agency: Feminist Art History After Postmodernism, ed. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005), 324–41.

Tristan Tzara, “The Dada Manifesto,” Paris, 1918.

Th. Surrealism

AM, Chapter 14 “Surrealism,” 297–337.

André Breton, Surrealist Manifesto, Paris: Éditions du Sagittaire, 1924.


Week Seven: Midterm Review and Exam

T. American Art Before WWII and Midterm Review

AM, Chapter 15, “American Art Before World War II,” 338–376. 



Week Eight: Introduction to Contemporary Art (c. 1950s–present) and Postmodernism (c. 1970s–present)

T. Unit Overview and Objectives

Freeland, Introduction” and Chapter 1, “Blood and Beauty,” 1-29.

Th. Defining Postmodernism

Mary Klages, “Postmodernism,” in Literary Theory: The Complete Guide (London: Bloomsbury, 2017), 153–166.

Valerie Jaudon and Joyce Kozloff, “Art Hysterical Notions of Progress and Culture,” Heresies, no. 4 (1977-78): 38–42.

Week Nine: Abstract Expressionism (c. 1946–1956) and Fluxus (c. 1960–1980)

T. Abstract Expressionism

AM, Chapter 16, “Abstract Expressionism and New American Sculpture,” 377–410.

Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters,” ARTnews (1952): 22–50.  

Th. Fluxus

AM, Chapter 17, “Postwar European Art,” 411–443.

AM, Chapter 18, “Nouveau Réalisme and Fluxus,” 444–455.

James Pritchett, “What Silence Taught John Cage,” in The Anarchy of Silence. John Cage and Experimental Art, ed. Julia Robinson (Barcelona: Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 2009).

Week Ten: Pop Art (c. 1954–1970), Minimalism (c. 1960 – 1975), and Conceptualism (c. 1960–present)

 T. Pop Art

AM, Chapter 19, “Taking Chances with Popular Culture,” 456–489.

Louis Menand, “Top of the Pops.” The New Yorker, January 11, 2010. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/01/11/top-of-the-pops.

Th. Minimalism and Conceptualism

AM, Chapter 20, “Playing by the Rules: 1960s Abstraction,” 490–526.

AM, Chapter 22, “Conceptual and Activist Art,” 558–588. 

PRELIMINARY OUTLINE DUE on Friday by 5:00 pm

Week Eleven: Postminimalism (c. 1970s–present), Eco Art (c. 1970s–present), Poststructuralism (1970s–present), and Deconstructivism (c. 1980s–present)

T. Postminimalism and Eco Art

AM, Chapter 23, “Post-Minimalism, Earth Art and New Imagists,” 587–628.

Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” Artforum 5 (1967): 12–23.

Donald Judd, "Specific Objects," Arts Yearbook 8 (1965): 74-82.

Th. Deconstructivism and Poststructuralism

AM, Chapter 24, “Postmodernism,” 629–665.

Week Twelve: Contemporary Art and Identity (c. 1980s–present)

T. Postcolonialism and Globalization

AM, Chapter 25, “Painting Through History,” 666–698.

Freeland, Chapter 3, “Cultural Crossings,” 60–89.

Th. Feminist Art, Body Art, and Gender Fluidity,

AM, Chapter 27, “Contemporary Art and Globalization,” 729-759.

Freeland, Chapter 5, “Gender, Genius, and Guerrilla Girls,” 122–147. 

Week Thirteen: Contemporary Art and New Technologies (c. 1980s–present)

T. Video and Electronic Art

Jean Baudrillard, Selections from Simulacra and Simulation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994 [1981]).

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt and trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1969 [1935]), 217–251.

Cat Hope and John Ryan, Selections from Digital Arts: An Introduction to New Media (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014).

Th. Digital Art and New Media

Cat Hope and John Ryan, Selections from Digital Arts: An Introduction to New Media (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014).

 Raphael Lozano-Hemmer, “Perverting Technological Correctness,” Leonardo 15, no. 1 (1996): 5–15.

FINAL PAPER DUE on Friday by 5:00pm

Week Fourteen: Contemporary Art as Commodity: Collectivism, Cognitivism, Criticism (1980s–present)

T. The Social Economics of Contemporary Art

Freeland, Chapter 4, “Money, Markets, Museums,” 90–121.

Arthur Lubow, “The Murakami Method.” The New York Times Magazine, April 3, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/03/magazine/the-murakami-method.html.

Don Thompson, Selections from The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010). 

Th. Post-Contemporary: Where do we go from here?

AM, Chapter 26, “New Perspectives on Art and Audience,” 695–728.

David Byrne, “I Don’t Care About Contemporary Art Anymore.” David Byrne, October 7, 2014. http://davidbyrne.com/journal/i-dont-care-about-contemporary-art-anymore.

 Freeland, Chapter 6,“Cognition, Creation, Comprehension” and Conclusion, 148–176 and 206–209.

FINAL EXAM: Time and Place TBA


Image credit: Jan Punzum, Portrait 3, acrylic on cardboard. Saatchi Art Gallery, London.