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ART H 209 A: Themes And Topics In Art History

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Art Now

Meeting Time: 
TTh 12:30pm - 1:50pm
SIG 134
Adair Rounthwaite
Adair Rounthwaite

Syllabus Description:

Art Now

T/TH 12:30-1:50pm, SIG 134

Professor Adair Rounthwaite, vadair@uw.edu, office Art Building 367, office hours T/TH 10:30-11:30am or by appointment

TA Genevieve Hulley, ghulley@uw.edu, office hours T 2-4pm in Art Building 008

Marta Minujin, Parthenon of Books at Documenta 14, 2017

Marta Minujín, Parthenon of Books at Documenta 14, 2017


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. We focus on the levels of description, contextualization, and analysis as key steppingstones in writing about art. 


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.
  • Learn to describe artworks in detail, both orally and in writing. 
  • Learn how to write in a way that uses historical, social, and political context for to help the reader understand contemporary art.
  • Craft their own written analyses of contemporary artworks that draw on description and context to make convincing arguments about what the work achieves and the kinds of experience it creates for viewers. 


The course evaluation consists of quizzes, writing assignments including a graded revision, and participation. You must complete all assignments in order to pass the course. 


There are five Canvas quizzes throughout the quarter, which are designed to build the skills in description, contextualization, and analysis you will use in your writing. The first quiz is designed to help you practice the format and is graded based on completion for 1% of the total course grade. Among the remaining four quizzes, you will drop the lowest grade, and your three strongest will be averaged for 14% of your total course grade. For each quiz, you will do a reading in advance, and be expected to answer questions based on it (the other questions are based on lecture material). Each quiz also requires you to submit a short piece of writing via Canvas, which will be graded on completion for one point and used in exercises in section designed to strengthen your writing.


There are two major 5-page papers, one of which has a compulsory graded rewrite. The papers will draw on class material and on visits to local art galleries and museums. Paper #1 is worth 25%, its rewrite is worth 20%, and paper #2 is worth 30%. 


Participation takes place in class orally and via Poll Everywhere. Answering PE questions in class will make up 10% of your final grade. Oral participation is encouraged but not mandatory. Students with excellent oral participation (i.e. who offer constructive, relevant contributions in class at least once a week) can earn up to a 1% bonus on their final course grade.

There is no final exam during the exam period.

Full syllabus:

Rounthwaite Art Now WI2020 revised.docx

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: 
November 1, 2019 - 4:06pm