Art 151:
Western Art, Renaissance to Modern

Professor Michelli E-mail
Ext 3098
Flaten Auditorium
Fall, 1999
Tuesday, Thursday
8.00-9.25 a.m.
Office Hours by appointment
Required Set Book:
Art Across Time, Vol II, Fourteenth Century to Present, Laurie Schneider Adams, McGraw-Hill College, 1999

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This course covers a fascinating period in which we can trace two major changes of direction. The first half of the course shows Christian themes rising to a triumphant climax in the Baroque period, which petered out as the new skeptical science usurped the Church's hold on universal truth. Ironically, the new art forms which replaced overt Christianity were revivals of older Classical themes which could be seen as Christian parallels: landscape as a meditation on the human condition, still life as a comedy of manners and memento mori, portraiture, genre, history. But as the new science raised more and more questions about life, the universe and everything, the certainties of Classicism were no longer appropriate, and society turned to the mysterious inner self. This produced Romanticism, where taste replaced knowledge of beauty, and where goodness was evaluated by emotion, and the dark side was explored. Significantly also, art was turned against its original socially and politically elite patrons when it began to be used for political criticism. For those who still attributed the old spiritual functions to art, taste and connoisseurship became paramount, and failing those, a reliable canon of great art. For the rest, there was increasing introspection and experimentation as the accepted categories and functions of art collapsed ever faster. The effort to find the kernel of validity in art ultimately produced pure abstraction - a phenomenon as rarefied and ephemeral as the High Renaissance.

The newest directions have hardly been around long enough for us to assess which will have the most significant impact, but it is notable that we are seeing a lot of consciousness-raising art. This art draws attention to populations at issue with society at large: gays, women, non-Caucasians, and alternative spiritual seekers - all of whom are struggling to take an equitable or leading place in society.

Throughout all this, people's fascination with perception and illusion flourished like a shameful secret. Optical illusions, animation, virtual reality, can be documented throughout our period, and we will finish the course by examining some of these. It is rare for any of them to be used for serious purposes, and most of what we have is entertainment, novelties and toys. Why, do you suppose, when art has through the ages been associated with the magic of spirituality and the mysteries of possibility, have serious artists and their patrons tended to shy away from visual magic?


There will be six quizzes during the semester. These will consist of ten short-answer questions on the material to-date (terms and definitions, visual analysis, interpretations) and will be peer-graded immediately afterwards in class, then passed to me for checking. The four best grades will be worth 10% each towards your course grade and two will be discarded.

There will be two assignments. The first will be a 500-1000 word short-notes paper with annotated bibliography, which must be submitted on 14th October (i.e. the class before Fall Break). You must ask for this topic on 30th September. This assignment is worth 25% of the course grade.

The second will be a 500-word paper which you must post on your own web page by 23rd November (i.e. before you leave for Thanksgiving). During the week after Thanksgiving you will visit the pages of the two class members whose names come before and after your own in the class list. Send those people an e-mail review of their project in 500 words or less, and keep a copy of your e-mails for yourself (you will need them for your final exam). You must ask for this topic on 9th November. It is worth 20% of your course grade.

The Final will be a take-home assignment, which you must ask for on 7th December. This is worth 15% of your course grade.

Participation is required. I will call on you directly, using the name tags in the attendance pot, and you may volunteer (polite) comments and questions yourself.

Attendance is required. It is not graded, but if you miss more than three classes FOR ANY REASON, you will be docked 1% of your course grade for each missed class.

NOTE: All the assignments are very short, but you are expected to take them seriously. It is not easy to get a lot of information and comment into very few words. It takes time and concentration and you must work at it. Presentation is expected to be high. The quizzes are so short that each answer has a big impact on your grade: one wrong question counts for 10% of each quiz! Two wrong drops you to a B, three to a C, four ... Do not confuse shortness with easiness, and remember that I am looking for diamonds in small packages!

To help you: I have placed some automatic multiple-choice self-tests on the web page, and will add more during the semester. It is entirely up to you whether you do them or not. They are anonymous and I have no way of knowing how many times you did them or what grades you achieved. But, when I started this towards the end of last semester, those students who used them saw their grades rise by an average 20% on the next test! They do make a difference.

Courses Home Syllabus Terms and Concepts Paper Grading Policy