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Beyond the Easel: Modernism and the Avant-Garde in Europe, 1874-1938
ARHA 241
Fall 2011
Section: 01  

In the wake of the nineteenth-century invention of photography, art's traditional functions began to be questioned. If a machine could produce an exact image of an object, then what was the purpose of art, and what was the role of the artist? Between the First Impressionist Show in 1874 and the Nazis' "Degenerate Art" Exhibition of 1938, artists wrestled with these questions through their work: experimenting with new techniques, employing new formal vocabularies, and exploring connections not only between painting and other forms of art-making, but between the very idea of art itself and the social, economic, and political circumstances within which it was made. The modern period--one of unparalleled tumult in recent European history--thus fostered an era of unprecedented innovation in art.
We tend to think of the avant-garde as the most radical spearhead of modern art. But "modernism" and the "avant-garde" may be seen as two distinct concepts during the first half of the twentieth century. Modernism has been interpreted as a campaign to "purify" the practice of art-making in order to determine art's "essence." Modernist art was autonomous--separate from everyday life and hostile towards mass culture. In contrast to modernism's introversion, the avant-garde defined art as activism: direct, affective engagement in social issues and political debates. It reached beyond the easel to employ "impure" media such as photography, collage, advertising, fashion, interior decoration, and product design. Yet modernism and the avant-garde shared a complex relationship, as both were driven by the need to redefine the practice and purpose of art for modernity.
This course surveys collaborations and confrontations between modernism and the avant-garde in France, Germany, Italy, Holland, and Russia from the late nineteenth century to the eve of World War II. It invites students to consider not only what art was during this period, but how and why it mattered. Was art a way of participating in the momentous debates of the modern period, or was it a means of escape? While focusing on changing approaches to painting, we too will move "beyond the easel" to look at architecture, design, photography, and collage, assessing the impact of these "impure" arts, not just on the development of painting, but on the texture of history.

Essential Capabilities: Interpretation, Writing
Lectures, readings and discussion will give students the opportunity to engage closely with different modes of interpretation and to identify the assumptions and interests motivating specific accounts of paintings and artistic practice. Writing: Both papers will be peer reviewed and revised. There will be an emphasis on writing as a process.
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: HA ART
Course Format: Lecture / DiscussionGrading Mode: Graded
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: (ARHA-MN)(ARHA)(ARST)(COL)(FRST-MN)(FRST)(GRST-MN)(GRST)(RMST)
Past Enrollment Probability: Not Available

Last Updated on JUN-25-2024
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