AHV2002 - Debates and Contestations in Art History

2018/9 Module description

StaffProfessor David Jones - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level5
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module description

This module focuses on a topic in the history of art and visual culture where scholars attempting to provide an account of it have differed over their approaches. It picks up on some of the themes that have been covered in the Year One module, Introduction to the History of Art and Introducing Visual Culture, 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 visual culture with 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 significance 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 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)

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 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 and visual culture 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 articulate a well-informed and independent position. You will develop an in-depth understanding of the art in question and will the extent to which the meaning and identity of works of art and visual culture 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 critical 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, organisation, and expression of ideas under pressure of time

Syllabus plan

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 photographic theories and histories, an indicative syllabus plan might be as follows:

  • Week 1: Introduction: Photography and its Origins
  • Week 2-4: Humanism, War, Photojournalism and Art
  • Week 5-7: Postmodernism, Documentation and Photographic Histories
  • Week 8-10: From Documentary to Forensic Photography
  • Week 11: Conclusions

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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Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Available as distance learning?


Origin date

Oct 2011

Last revision date


Key words search

Visual Culture; Media; Art History

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