Early Twentieth-Century Art Spring 2019
(Early Twentieth-Century Art Spring 2019)

This course will focus on the art of the early 20th century when abstraction emerged as the dynamic element in the visual arts. We will begin by looking at late 19th century artists — Cezanne, Seurat, Van Gogh and Gauguin — to explore the ways in which these artists broke with longstanding traditions and conventions in European painting. We will then turn to the art of the early 20th century: Expressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, Dada, Surrealism. In reading artists’ letters and statements in conjunction with looking at their works, and in reading critics’ reactions to this new art, we will dig more deeply into the “whys.” Why is it that representational art lost its hold on many of the most innovative artists in the early twentieth – century? What kinds of possibilities did abstract art seem to offer instead? And more elusive, but always tantalizing: How do specifics of place and historical context shape the making of art? At the end of the semester, we’ll explore public murals in Philadelphia and consider the ways in which the representational, the abstract, and the surreal play out in selected contemporary artists’ work