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ART H 209 B: Themes And Topics In Art History

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Art Now

Meeting Time: 
MTW 12:30pm - 1:20pm
FSH 102
Adair Rounthwaite
Adair Rounthwaite

Syllabus Description:

Art History 209 B: Art Now (W course)

Professor Adair Rounthwaite,, office hours Monday and Tuesday 2:30-3:30pm, Art Building 367

TA Krista Schoening,, office hours Monday 9-10am, Thursday 2:30-3:30pm, Art Building 341

Lecture M/T/W 12:30-1:20, 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 readings

You must complete readings before Thursday discussion section each week. The quizzes will test you on the content of these readings. The course textbook is Terry Smith's Contemporary Art: World Currents (London: Pearson, 2012). You are welcome to buy a hard copy of the book, but it is much cheaper to purchase an online subscription for the ebook for the duration of the course, which costs $19.99. Purchase your subscription here: Link

You are also required to purchase Gilda Williams' book How to Write About Contemporary Art (London: Thames and Hudson, 2014), which is available at the bookstore.

In addition, you must buy a subscription to Pearson's Learning Catalytics, which you will use to participate in the lecture and quiz section. During class, you can access Learning Catalytics through any device, including a computer, tablet, or phone. A subscription costs $12 for six months. Note that we are using Learning Catalytics as a "stand alone" software, and not in combination with any of the Pearson labs. Set up your account here: Link


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 = 15% 

Final quiz = 15%

Lecture and section participation via Pearson Learning Catalytics = 10% 


Full syllabus:

Rounthwaite 209 spring 2017.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: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:21pm