Abstract Art - HART5590

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2023 to 2024.


The development of Abstract Art is one of the distinctive features of the 20th Century. This module examines the roots of the aspiration to allow 'the object to evaporate like smoke' in European and American. The spiritual and philosophical and social ideas of key artists (such as Georgiana Houghton, Hilma af Klimt, Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian are considered in relation to their artistic practice; the work and ideas of American abstractionists are addressed through an examination of legendary figures such as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler and Agnes Martin. Finally, we will explore how contemporary artists make use of this ‘radical tradition’. Throughout the module we will raise the question of how to make, think about and respond to an ‘art without objects’.


Contact hours

Contact hours: 40
Private study hours: 260
Total study hours: 300

Method of assessment

Short Essay (1500 words) (30%)
Long Essay (3000 words) (50%)
Seminar Presentation (10%)
Seminar Preparation(10%)

Indicative reading

Fer, Briony. On Abstract Art. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997.
Harrison, Charles, and Paul Wood (eds.). Art in Theory 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003.
Hoptman, Laura. The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2014.
Moszynska, Anna. Abstract Art. London: Thames and Hudson (World of Art series), 1990.
Newall, Michael. What is a Picture? Depiction Realism and Abstraction, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
For both HA663 and 559 (level 5 and 6):
- Demonstrate an understanding of the principal figures, histories and debates relating to abstraction;
- Exercise knowledge of methodological approaches to the interpretation of non-figurative and non-representational art;
- Use an appropriate vocabulary for describing and addressing abstract works.

For HA559 (level 6) only:
- Understand the philosophical, cultural and theoretical presuppositions and implications of the major approaches to abstraction employed by artists, critics, theorists and (other) audiences.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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