AHV2002 - Debates and Contestations in Art History

2023/4 Module description

StaffDr Fiona Allen - 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 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)
  • 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)
  • 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:

  • Introduction: Origins
  • Humanism and Beyond Postmodernism Contemporary Debates
  • 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 teaching1111 x 1 hour lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching105 x 2 hour seminars - 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
Scheduled learning and teaching1Tutorial guidance for reading, research and essay preparation
Guided independent study128Independent 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
Essay902500 words1-8Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Participation & engagement 10Five short reflective pieces 1-8Oral

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-8Referral/deferral period
Participation Mitigation/repeat study 1-8Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading: 

  • Adams, L.S., The Methodologies of Art: An Introduction, 2010 

  • Baxandall, M., Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures, 1985 

  • Davis, W., “Vision has an Art History,” in A General Theory of Visual Culture, 2011, 3-10 

  • During, S. Cultural Studies: A Critical Introduction, 2005. 

  • Fernie, E. Art History and its methods, 1995 

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

  • Fried, M. Art and Objecthood, 1998 

  • Grau. O. ed. Imagery in the 21st Century, 2011 

  • Hooper-Greenhill, E., Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture, 2000 

  • Iversen, M. and Melville, S., “What’s the Matter with Methodology?” in Writing Art History: Disciplinary Departures, 2010, 1-14 

  • Krauss, R., The Optical Unconscious, 1993 

  • Manghani, S. "Understanding Images," in Image Studies: Theory and Practice2012, 25-49. 

  • Mitchell, W. J. T., "What Do Pictures Want?in What Do Pictures Want: The Lives and Loves of Images2005, 28-56. 

  • Nelson, R. and Schiff, R., eds, Critical Terms for Art History, 2003 

  • Nelson, R., ed. Visuality Before and Beyond the Renaissance; Seeing as Others Saw, 2000 

  • Pinder, K.N. ed., Race-ing Art History: Critical Readings in Race and Art History, 2002 

  • Preziosi, D., ed. The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology, 2009 

  • Rampley, M., "Visual Culture and the Meanings of Culture," in Exploring Visual Culture: Definitions, Concepts, Contexts, 2005, 5-17. 

  • Rasheed, A., S. Cubitt, and Z. Sardar, eds. The Third Text Reader on Art, culture and Theory, 2007 

  • Smith, P. and C. Wilde. A Companion to Art Theory, 2016 

  • Steinberg, L., “The Philosophical Brothel,” October 44 (Spring 1988), 7-74 

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Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

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Key words search

visual culture, media, art history

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