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COURSE NAME: "Foundations in Modern and Contemporary Art"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

INSTRUCTOR: Sarah Linford
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 10:00 AM 11:15 AM

The course addresses the skills, methods and issues essential to building the future Art Historian’s tool kit. To this end, it develops simultaneously on three levels: immersing students in progressively complex assignments and exams; getting students to practice art history as an issue-based analysis of objects; providing students with the historical and methodological frameworks specific to the field. The course lays the foundation for looking at, understanding and working in the visual arts. The material corpus that the course draws on is primarily Europe and North America from the late 18th century to the present day.

The course is structured with a fundamentally chronological approach. This provides a framing ‘scaffold’ to facilitate careful engagement with the increasingly complex issues that modern and contemporary art poses, and the abundance of theoretical approaches and critical debates that are essential to understanding artistic practices of the modern and contemporary eras. 


This course draws primarily on Western European and North American practices from the late-18th century to the mid-20th-century, then examines global trends from the 1960s to the present day.


Foundations in Modern and Contemporary Art is divided into four overarching issues, each of which enacts a different way to approach the visual arts: Art in context; Artist as critic; Art as device; Hybridizing practices. As well as providing avenues of in-depth analysis pertinent to the works examined, these four issues engage with the increasingly theoretical approaches that characterize the making and analysis of works from these periods.


Coursework assignments assist in the analysis and research on works. However, their primary objective is the development of skills essential for working with visual material through lenses such as objects, space, viewership, participation, criticism and reception, and across a variety of media and display conditions. The requirements of formal analysis, of contextual and issue-based analysis, of research, and the relationship between these are addressed in assignments that progressively increase in complexity and train students in the attainment and effective application of art-historical techniques and tools.

  • Recognize key works and issues in modern and contemporary art
  • Develop an understanding of the chronology and development of art since the late 18th-century and to the present day
  • Exercise critical thinking while looking, reading, writing and speaking about modern and contemporary art
  • Identify, analyze and interpret significant aspects and themes in the histories of modern and contemporary art within different social, historical and critical contexts
  • Evaluate the ways that art as is shaped by dynamic social and cultural interactions
  • Recognize and reason about the contributions of influential artists and art historians 
  • Formulate an analytical argument and draw out observations on the cultural outlook, norms and histories that influenced the production, creation and reception of the works under discussion.


  • Develop technical vocabulary appropriate to the fields of art history, communication, studio art and, more generally, to our image-based culture.
  • Develop an aptitude at visual analysis and the contextualization of works in different critical frameworks
  • Learn to visually analyze works in relation to other genres and other bodies of knowledge — scientific, political, economic, intellectual
  • Formulate and develop critical and rigorous arguments, especially through assignments; find and evaluate pertinent, high-quality sources and information
  • Structure and effectively communicate ideas and information orally and in writing; understand how ideas and information may be conveyed visually
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Nineteenth-Century Art. A Critical History.Eisenman, S.Thames and Hudson9780500294895, 0500294895TXT N6450 .E39 2020 
Art Since 1900 : Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism. Hal Foster(Author)Rosalind E Krauss(Author)Yve-Alain Bois(Author)B H D Buchloh(Author)David Joselit(Author)Thames and Hudson0500238189, 9780500238189TXT N6490 .A7186 2004 

Visual analysis1. image and full caption (list of essential data to identify the work) 2. visual analysis, maximum 500 words 5
Contextual analysis and significance1. image and full caption 2. visual analysis, maximum 500 words 3. context and significance, maximum 500 words10
Compare and contrast1. images and full captions for the two works 2. bullet points of main issues in maximum 250 words15
Midterm exam Three compare and contrast essays. No guiding question is provided20
Research paperApproximately 1500 words. Students are free to choose the work they want from the list provided; all works are on display at the GNAM. The choice of work and research question must be submitted for Professor approval 25
Final examination1. One compare and contrast essay. No guiding question is provided 2. Two essays. 25

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


Attendance is mandatory. Absences and late arrival will be noted and will affect the final grade. Three late arrivals count as an absence; three absences will result in the drop of a letter grade.

As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.







1. Course introduction: scope, issues, requirements.


2. Modern and contemporary art: basic tools.

No required reading.





3. Revolution in Art, Industry and Society

Required reading: - Eisenman

Optional reading: - Boime 1991


4. Neoclassicism as Power

Required reading: - Eisenman

Optional reading: - Ingres 1820-48; Irwin 1997


5. Romanticism and the Nation

Required reading: - Eisenman

Optional reading: - Delacroix 1822-1824; Friedrich c. 1830


6. Orientalism, colonialism and the nineteenth-century "Other": Rethinking contexts of art.

No required reading.





7. Birth of the avant-garde

Required reading: Eisenman

Optional reading: - Nochlin 1971


8. The Painters of Modern Life

Required reading: -Eisenman 

Optional reading: - Clark 1984


9. The Problem with Post-Impressionism

Required reading: -Eisenman

Optional reading:  - Shiff 1984; Fénéon 1887


10. The Expressive Fallacy

Required reading: - Foster et alii “1906”

Optional reading: - Worringer 1911; Matisse 1908 and 1947; Foster et alii “1910”


11. Cubism and Futurism

Required reading:  - Foster et alii “1911” and “1912”

Optional reading:  - Marinetti 1909



12. Midterm review

Discussion of course material in relation to midterm exam


13. Midterm exam


14. Constructivism and the Bauhaus

Required reading: - Foster et alii “1923”

Optional reading:   - Tatlin 1919; Malevich 1927; Gropius 1923





15. Duchamp’s Ready-mades

Required reading: - Foster at alii “1916a”

Optional reading: - Harrison and Wood 1992


16. Dada; Art between the two World Wars

Required reading: - Foster at alii “1923”

Optional reading: - Krauss


17. Term paper workshop

How to choose a work, define a research question, obtain quality bibliographical sources and start working


18. Surrealisms

Required reading: - Foster et alii “1926”

Optional reading: - Aragon et alii 1925; Foster et alii “1931a”


19. Abstract Expressionism

Required reading: - Foster et alii “1949a”

Optional reading: - Greenberg 1960-61


20. Pop Strategies

Required reading: - Foster et alii “1960c”;

Optional reading: - Warhol 1963


21. Minimalism and Conceptual Art

Required reading: - Foster et alii “1965”

Optional reading: - Fried 1967; Foster et alii “1968b”


22. Arte Povera; Site-Specific and Environmental Art

Required reading:  Foster et alii “1967b”

Optional reading: - Smithson 1968; Lyotard 1982





23. Happenings, Performance and Body art

Required reading: - Foster et alii “1974”

Optional reading: - Haacke 1974; Foster et alii “1977a” 


24. The Return of Painting and Figuration in a Globalized Art-world

Required reading: - Foster et alii “1988”

Optional reading; - ArtForum special issue (Moodle)


25. Contemporary trends 1

Required reading: - Foster et alii “1993c”

Optional reading: - Bourriaud 2002 (note: only pages 11-24)


26. Contemporary trends 2

Required reading: - Foster et alii “1998”

Optional reading: - Foster et alii “2007c”


27. Contemporary trends 3

Required reading: - Foster et alii “2010a”





28. Course Review 

No required reading.


29. Final exam






Barnet, S. A Short Guide to Writing about Art. Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008. 

Nelson, Robert S, and Richard Shiff, eds. Critical Terms for Art History. University of Chicago Press, 2003..

D’Alleva, A. Methods and Theories of Art History.  Laurence King Publishing, 2012. 

Fernie, E. Art History and its Methods. Phaidon Press, 1995. 

Hatt, M. and Klonk, C. Art History: A Critical Introduction to Its Methods. Manchester University Press, 2006. 

Mansfield, E. Art History and Its Institutions: Foundations of a Discipline. Routledge, 2002. 

Preziosi, D. The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2009. 


Further reading:

Frascina, F. and Harris, J. Art in Modern Culture: An Anthology of Critical Texts. Open University, 1992. 

Frascina, F., Harrison, C. and Paul, D.. Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology. Westview Press,1987. 

Harrison, C. Wood, P. and Gaiger, J., eds. Art in Theory 1648-1815. An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Blackwell, 2000. 

Harrison, C. and Wood, P. eds. Art in Theory 1900-1990. An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Blackwell, 2003.

Irwin, D. Neoclassicism. Phaidon, 1997. Frohring NX452.5.N4 I795x 1997.

Jones, A. A Companion to Contemporary Art Since 1945. Oxford University Press, 2006. 

Kernbauer, Eva. Art, History, and Anachronic Interventions Since 1990. Routledge, 2022. 

Kocur, Z. and Leung, S., eds. Theory in Contemporary Art Since 1985. Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. 

Krauss, R. The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths. MIT Press, 1986. 

Landau, E., ed. Reading Abstract Expressionism : Context and Critique. Yale University Press, 2005. 

Leighton, T. Art and the Moving Image: A Critical Reader. Tate, 2008. 

Smith, T. One and Five Ideas: On Conceptual Art and Conceptualism. Duke University Press, 2017. 

Perl, J., ed. Art in America, 1945-1970: Writings from the Age of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Minimalism. Library of America, 2014. 

Winckelmann, J.J. Writings on Art. Ed. David Irwin. Phaidon, 1972.