AHV2002 - Debates and Contestations in Art History

2016/7 Module description

Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level5
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module description

This module is designed as a course of study which focuses on a topic in the history of art where scholars have differed over the approach to be adopted in providing a satisfactory account of it. As such, it picks up on some of the themes that have been covered in the Year One module, Introduction to the History of Art, when the major approaches typical of the discipline were examined, and takes one case study as a means of engaging with different methodologies and the consequential production of different histories. 

Module aims

This module will introduce you to significant works of art and their attendant scholarly literature. It makes a feature of the fact that different approaches to the same objects can  prompt different readings of where their signifcance lies.These differing interpretations may be  introduced by way of a) a longitudinal account, comparing approaches to a topic within a relatively long time-frame (for example, evaluations of the early Renaissance (c. 1300-1450) from the sixteenth to the twentieth century;  or Victorian art and design, its denigration and recuperation); b) by looking at interventions that have polarised opinion in contemporary scholarship (for example, visual vs. symbolic emphases in the interpretation of Dutch seventeenth-century art; formalist vs. contextual readings of American modernism [the example given below]); or c) by examining the impact of one or more new frameworks for scholarship (for example, gender studies/Queer theory;  post-colonial theory). The topic to which differing approaches have been applied may be thematic (e.g. representations of the body; or art and popular culture); period-based (e.g. French painting c. 1870-1900 or the American Modernism  example given below); or specific (e.g. Cubist collage; or the Pazzi Chapel). The selection of the topic under review will be at the discretion of the module convener.

You will be encouraged to engage closely with the works of art under review and the scholarship on them. It is expected that this scholarship will be subjected to deep analysis, assessing its strengths and weaknesses, and that accounts provided of the topic in assessed outcomes will articluate a well-informed and independent position. You will acquire by this means a proficient in-depth understanding of the art in question and will comprehend the extent to which the meaning and identity of works of art is open to revision.


ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Describe and analyse selected works of art in detail
  • 2. Situate works of art in appropriate historical and/or crtical contexts
  • 3. Work with a variety of methodologies and theoretical approaches for the interpretation of works of art
  • 4. Critically discriminate between different art historical approaches in terms of their explanatory power

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. Research, present and evaluate relevant historical and critical material with increased independence?
  • 6. Interrogate and evaluate works of art and their attendant literature and relate them to the wider context of cultural and intellectual history.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Through writing and project assessments, demonstrate good research and bibliographic skills, an informed capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose.
  • 8. Through research for projects and essays, demonstrate good proficiency in information retrieval and analysis.
  • 9. Through project work, demonstrate the ability to work collaboratively orally and/or in written form, and in teams towards the development, research, organization, and expression of ideas under pressure of time.

Syllabus plan

NB As the precise topic is at the discretion of the convener it is not possible to give a generic indicative syllabus plan. As an example, if the selected topic was American modernism, an indicative syllabus plan might be as follows:

WEEK 1: The American century?

WEEK 2: Defining the modern

WEEK 3: Communities and commitment between the wars

WEEK 4: Overtaking Paris

WEEK 5: The politics of contemporary art

WEEK 6: Marketing the modern

WEEK 7: ‘Presentness is grace’

WEEK 8: Embracing/subverting consumer culture

WEEK 9: Engaged art in war-time

WEEK 10: Commodification and its discontents

WEEK 11: Assessed project presentations

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching11Weekly lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching5Seminars - these will be led by the tutor. You will need to prepare for each seminar and to present on a given topic on at least one occasion
Guided independent study 134Independent study including reading, research, preparation for seminars and assessments.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Mini-Essay750 words1-8Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Oral presentation5-10 minutes1-9Peer-assessment recorded on feedback sheet with tutorial follow-up

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1002500 words1-8Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-8Refer/Defer period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Anfam, D. Abstract Expressionism, 1990

Ashton, D. American Art since 1945, 1982

Baigell, M. Artist and Identity in Twentieth-Century America, 2001

Colpitt, F. Minimal Art: The Critical Perspective, 1994

Corn, W. The Great American Thing – Modern Art and National Identity 1915-1935, , 1999

Cox, A. Art-as-Politics: the Abstract Expressionist Avant-Garde and Society, 1982

Crow, T. The Rise of the Sixties: American and European Art in the Era of Dissent, 1996

Doss, E. Benton, Pollock and the Politics of Modernism: from Regionalism to Abstract Expressionism, 1991

Frascina, F. Art, Politics and Dissent: Aspects of the Art Left in Sixties America, 1999

Frascina, F. (ed.) Pollock and After: The Critical Debate, 1985

Frascina, F. and Harris, J. (eds) Art in Modern Culture: An Anthology of Critical Texts, 1992

Fried, M. Art and Objecthood, 1998

Guilbaut, S. How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom, and the Cold War, 1983

Haskell, B. The American Century: Art and Culture 1900-1950, 1999

Hemingway, A. Artists on the Left – American Artists and the Communist Movement, 1926-56, 2002

Krauss, R. The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, 1985

Leja, M. Reframing Abstract Expressionism: Subjectivity and Painting in the 1940s, 1993

O’Brian, J. (ed.) Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, 1988

 Phillips, L. The American Century: Art and Culture 1950-2000, 1999

Seitz, W. Abstract Expressionist Painting, 1983

Wood, P., Frascina, F., Harris, J. & Harrison, C. Modernism in Dispute: Art since the Forties, 1993

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Available as distance learning?


Origin date

Oct 2011

Last revision date


Key words search

Visual Culture; Media; Art History

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