University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown
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FA 0031 Modern Art (Spring 2012)

FA 0031 Introduction to Modern Art

University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

248 Biddle Hall

T-TH 11:00 a.m.-12:20 p.m.

Spring 2012


Dr. Valerie Grash, Associate Professor of Fine Arts

Office: 230B Biddle Hall

Phone: 269-7164                 



Office Hours: Tuesdays & Thursdays, 12:30.-2:00 p.m.; and by appointment.



In this course we will examine a variety of modern art movements, roughly grouped chronologically, focusing on specific masterworks as examples that best illustrate the intent and reception of modern art. The complex relationship between various nineteenth and twentieth century art movements and the societal conditions that affected the creation and meaning of this art will also be examined through readings, classroom discussion and visual/contextual analysis.

At the conclusion of this course, you should:

1.    Possess a strong understanding of the most significant modern artists and art movements.

2.    Recognize and comprehend the content and style of masterworks of modern art

3.    Have detailed knowledge of a specific movement, artist, and work, acquired through research.

4.    Be able to articulate with authority and confidence theoretical and contextual issues regarding art.


Required Textbook: 
  • H.H. Arnason and Elizabeth C. Mansfield, History of Modern Art, Sixth Edition (Prentice Hall, 2009) ISBN-13: 978-0136062066
  • Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word (Picador, 2008) ISBN-13: 978-0312427580

Course Web Site:

Additional textual and visual materials for this course (including monuments and terms covered in lecture); additional required readings; your grades; and pertinent announcements concerning class meetings and examinations are found at:

Notice Regarding Course Changes:

I reserve the right to modify the timing, order and content of the course schedule. It is your responsibility to attend class and be aware of any changes. Check the course website regarding any class cancellations should they become necessary due to adverse weather conditions or other situations.

Cell Phones:

Be certain your cell phone is turned OFF, as it is both annoying and disruptive to the entire class when it rings. Anyone sending or receiving text messages will be asked to leave-this course deserves your full attention. If you can't do that, drop the class immediately.


Course Policies

Please carefully read the following-they are policies that I steadfastly maintain in this course.

Faculty Statement:

My role is to facilitate learning through lecture and clarification of specific points through questioning and discussion, whether in the classroom, during office hours or via electronic correspondence. It is your responsibility to attend class, take accurate notes and approach me with any questions and issues for clarification in a timely manner.


While there is no attendance policy for this course, be forewarned that most of what you will be tested on is discussed thoroughly in class. Even with the textbook, nothing replaces viewing the images projected on screen. Therefore, regular attendance is necessary to succeed in this course. In addition, as classroom discussion is expected, poor attendance will adversely affect you if it comes down to a borderline decision on your final grade.

Notes and Note Taking:

Under no circumstances do I provide notes for missed classes. It is your responsibility, if you miss a class, to acquire the lecture notes from a classmate. Class assignments and announcements are also available on the course website. You may tape-record lectures as long as you do not disturb others in the class.

Makeup Exams:

I give make-up exams only in cases with legitimate, documented reasons (death in the family, personal hospitalization, required fieldtrips, etc.). In such cases, inform me in advance and provide written confirmation of your absence. Do not assume every absence is excused or warrants special consideration. The alternative make-up exam (all essay questions) must be taken within one week of the scheduled test; only one makeup exam per student will be permitted. No one can make-up the final exam, which must be taken at the scheduled time.

Late Assignments:

No extensions are granted for class assignments. Due dates are clearly noted on the syllabus at the beginning of the semester. You should start each assignment in a timely manner and even complete assignments early. Illness or any other excuse has no bearing on the fact that your work was not turned in on time. Any assignment not turned in by the due date will not be graded, thus earning 0 points for the work. No exceptions are permitted so do not ask!

Academic Integrity Policy:

Please read carefully the Academic Integrity Guidelines in your student handbook. They will be followed to the letter in this course. There is ZERO tolerance for cheating or plagiarism. Any time that you use another person's words or thoughts as your own without giving them proper credit is plagiarism, including copying and pasting from the Internet. Any instance of cheating or plagiarism will result in an automatic "F" (0 points) for that assignment, and steps will be taken, according to the Academic Integrity Guidelines, to receive an "F" for the course and for action leading to expulsion from the university. I will not permit re-writing any suspected plagiarized assignment.


If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and the Office of Disability Services (ODS), G04 Student Union Building, (814) 269-7062 as early as possible in the term.  ODS will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course.


 Course Requirements

Overall, you can earn 500 points during the semester. On this scale:

500-490 (A+)                          489-465 (A)                             464-450 (A-)

449-440 (B+)                          439-415 (B)                             414-400 (B-)

399-390 (C+)                          389-365 (C)                             364-350 (C-)

349-300 (D)                            299 and below (F)

Your grade will be determined in the following manner:

Examinations (450 points total):

There will be three exams (February 7, March 20, and April 26) during the semester, each worth 150 points. The format will comprise of multiple choice and essay questions drawn from class notes, readings, and student presentations. The final will NOT be comprehensive.

Student-Led Discussion/Participation (50 points total):

Indispensable to the learning process is discussion and the free exchange of ideas-thus, you are expected to regularly contribute to classroom dialogue. In addition to reading Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word and being prepared to discuss the issues raised in that book when assigned, every student will research a specific work of art during the course of the semester, and lead a class discussion about it.

How this works: in consultation with the instructor, each student will select a specific artist to research, exploring the unique characteristics of their technique and subject matter (particularly as how it relates to their biography), as well as the artistic influences upon them, and the contextual meaning behind their work. For the class, you will be asked to investigate in-depth one specific work of art created by your artist, focusing on the issues and questions it raises relative to the greater art movement with which it is associated.

These presentations should be treated much like content-driven lectures, on par with the professor's in terms of detail and original thought-and students will be tested upon them as such. Be prepared to field any questions or comments your fellow students or the professor may have.

Your grade (determined solely by the professor) will be based upon the substance of your presentation, and how well you articulate to your classmates the information they need to know.

Course Outline

January 05              Course Introduction

January 10              Defining Modern Art and Its Origins: Neoclassicism

January 12              The Sublime and Beautiful: Human Depravity and the Power of Nature in Romanticism

January 17              Shock of the New: Realism and Photography

January 19              Technical and Thematic Concerns of Impressionism

January 24              Post-Impressionism: Georges Seurat and Paul Cézanne

January 26              Primitivism of Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh

January 31              Triumph of Imagination: Symbolism

February 02             Other Fin de Siècle Art Movements and Artists

February 07             Exam I

February 09             Experiments in Color and Form: Fauvism

February 14             German Expressionism

February 16             Cubism, de Stijl and Geometric Abstraction

February 21             Italian Futurism: Dynamism as Expression of Modernity

February 23             Fantasy and the Metaphysical

February 28             Dada: The Irrational

March 01                 Surrealism and the Dream State

March 06                 No Class-Spring Recess

March 08                 No Class-Spring Recess

March 13                 Mexican Muralists and Social Realism

March 15                 American Regionalism

March 20                 Exam II

March 22                 Precursors to and the Advent of Abstract Expressionism

March 27                 The Origins of Pop Art

March 29                 American Pop Art

April 03                   1960s' Abstraction

April 05                   Happenings, Environments and Conceptual Art

April 10                   Performance Art: Pushing the Boundaries

April 12                   1970's Land Art and the Changing Ideas of Environmentalism

April 17                   African-American and Feminist Art: Identity Politics

April 19                   Contemporary Issues

Final Exam: Thursday, April 26, 3:00-5:00 p.m.


Last Reviewed: August 21, 2007