This course explores the influence of historical events and social movements on modern art—and vice versa. Using a combination of texts, visual presentations, guest lecturers, and theory-to-practice workshops, students will analyze the history, philosophy, and theory of art from classical concepts to current global trends. This course combines discussion and debate, critical writing, and studio work and class critiques.

After examining contemporary movements in visual culture, we will work towards developing our own stance towards art and its relevance to our lives today. First off, we will attempt to answer that impossible question: What is art? Why do we make it? Why should we study it? These questions will lead us through the philosophies of the ancient world, the iconography of religions, the emergence of new technologies, mechanized wars, national and personal revolutions, the rise of Modernism, and the shift to postmodernism.

Through it all, we’ll keep our strange new digital world with us. The average American sees 3000 advertisements per day. How does this affect us? Many of us take photographs and share them with the public. Is this art? Has our age of easy self-portraiture and documentation made photographers and artists of us all? In this course we will read and write. We will talk with artists and designers. We will watch and listen, and we will make our own art. Most importantly, we will ask difficult questions that connect us to the visual world as students, creators, and consumers.


  1. Starting Points
    • Marina Abramović
    • Banksy
    • Alexandra Bell
    • Ai Weiwei
    • Kehinde Wiley
    • Andy Warhol
    • John Berger, Ways of Seeing
  2. The Sublime & The Beautiful
    • Antiquity & Classical Origins
    • The Renaissance
    • Edmund Burke, The Sublime and Beautiful
  3. Here Come the Modernists!
    • Constructivism and Futurism
    • Dada and Surrealism
    • Abstract Expressionism
    • Minimalism
    • Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word
  4. Postmodernism & Protest
    • Pop Art
    • The Rhetoric of the Image
    • Performance Art
  5. Beyond the Gallery
    • Punk, Hip Hop, Techno
    • From Graffiti to Street Art
    • The Digital Age
Chalkboard 8
Art Chalkboard

“All these years, along with countless kindred souls, I am certain, I had made my way into the galleries of Upper Madison and Lower Soho and the Art Gildo Midway of Fifty-seventh Street, and into the museums, into the Modern, the Whitney, and the Guggenheim, the Bastard Bauhaus, the New Brutalist, and the Fountainhead Baroque, into the lowliest storefront churches and grandest Robber Baronial temples of Modernism. All these years I, like so many others, had stood in front of a thousand, two thousand, God-knows-how-many thousand Pollocks, de Koonings, Newmans, Nolands, Rothkos, Rauschenbergs, Judds, Johnses, Olitskis, Louises, Stills, Franz Klines, Frankenthalers, Kellys, and Frank Stellas, now squinting, now popping the eye sockets open, now drawing back, now moving closer—waiting, waiting, forever waiting for… it …for it to come into focus, namely, the visual reward (for so much effort) which must be there, which everyone (tout le monde) knew to be there—waiting for something to radiate directly from the paintings on these invariably pure white walls, in this room, in this moment, into my own optic chiasma. All these years, in short, I had assumed that in art, if nowhere else, seeing is believing. Well—how very shortsighted! Now, at last, on April 28, 1974, I could see. I had gotten it backward all along. Not “seeing is believing,” you ninny, but “believing is seeing,” for Modern Art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text.”

—Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word