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ART H 209 A: Themes And Topics In Art History

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Meeting Time: 
MTW 2:30pm - 3:20pm
MGH 389
Adair Rounthwaite
Adair Rounthwaite

Syllabus Description:

Art History 209: Art Now (W course)

Professor Adair Rounthwaite,

Teaching Assistant Anna Wager, 

Lecture M/T/W 2:30-3:20, plus writing section convened on Thursday


Chiharu Shiota, The Key in the Hand, Venice Biennale, 2015


Course description

Contemporary art today confronts viewers with a bewildering array of images, objects, and processes. This can leave viewers thinking: can anything count as “art?” And what’s the point of it all? In this class, we explore how contemporary art connects artists and viewers in forms of creative engagement with pressing social and political issues. We will see how artists use diverse strategies to help us consider who we are, how our world is changing, and how we can best inhabit it together. Across a set of themes that address the state of contemporary global culture, students will discuss how today’s art speaks to both individual and collective life.


The course trains students how to express these ideas in clear, structured pieces of writing. In particular, contemporary art—which places heavy emphasis on the viewer’s subjective experience—provides an ideal case study for considering how to develop a convincing thesis statement based on one’s own experience or opinion, and how to support it using visual evidence.


Learning goals

In this class, students will:

  • Become familiar with a wide range of contemporary art practices of the past twenty years, and with important milestones in the modern art from which they evolved.
  • Build skills in the visual analysis of artworks.
  • Practice writing and revising clear, well-structured texts that express ideas about artworks, supported by visual analysis.
  • Make connections between contemporary artistic production and questions of pressing social and political importance, and explain these connections in writing.


Required textbook

Eleanor Heartney, Art & Today. London: Phaidon, 2008.


Grade breakdown

Short paper #1 (5 pages, double spaced, 12-point Times New Roman font; in response to prompt distributed to class) = 15%

Revision of short paper #1 = 20%

Short paper #2 (5 pages) = 25%

Midterm quiz, May 2  = 15% 

Final quiz, June 7 (exam period) = 15%

Section participation, via contribution to small and large group discussions, bringing the required pieces of writing to section, and actively sharing your work = 10%


Full course syllabus: Art Now spring 2016 v2.pdf

Catalog Description: 
Introduces students to new ideas, developing themes, and current research in art history and visual culture.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
October 5, 2016 - 9:01pm