In the years building up to and directly following World War I, artists, philosophers, and politicians called into question art's role, proposing both new relationships to society as well as path-breaking formal vocabularies that approached, and at times crossed, the threshold of abstraction. This deep uncertainty regarding art's relationship to society coincided with an era of unprecedented formal innovation. Artists struggled to define the costs and benefits of abstraction versus figuration, moving abruptly, even violently, between the two idioms. All this makes for fascinating study. The extremism of artistic solutions speaks to a fundamental instability, if not outright crisis. Fueling all the visionary rhetoric and dogmatism was the cold realization that the future of painting as a mainstay of Western civilization was alarmingly uncertain. This course will introduce students to the major avant-garde art movements from the first half of the 20th century as they took root in France, Germany, Italy, Holland, and Russia. Our focus will be on painting, but we will also look at attempts to go beyond painting in an attempt to gain greater immediacy or social relevance for art. Topics that will receive special emphasis include the relationship between abstraction and figuration, the impact of primitivism and contact with non-Western arts, modernism's relationship to mass culture, modernism and classicism, war and revolution, gender and representation, art and dictatorship, and the utopian impulse to have the arts redesign society as a whole.