Abstract Art - HA559

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2018-19 2019-20
Canterbury Autumn
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6 30 (15)
(version 2)
View Timetable
6 30 (15)
(version 2)
View Timetable
6 30 (15) DR MB Newall







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 Russian art, and the establishment of Constructivism as a central force in artistic practice in 20th century art. The spiritual, philosophical and social ideas (and ideals) of key artists (such as Malevich, Tatlin, Kandinsky, Mondrian and Klee) 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 Rothko, Pollock and Stella; discussion of Nicholson, Moore, and de Staël, among others, enables us to think about the response of the British and European artworld to the challenges and opportunities of abstraction and construction. 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’.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

Contact hours will include a two-hour lecture and a two-hour seminar session each week. The remaining hours will be dedicated to private study, and the development of subject-specific and key skills through carrying out the learning tasks.

Method of assessment

100% Coursework:
Short essay 1500 words (30%)
Long essay 3000 words (50%)
Study journal (10%)
Seminar presentation (10%)

Preliminary reading

Fer, Briony. On Abstract Art. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997. (for more critically advanced students)
Harrison, Charles, and Paul Wood (eds.). Art in Theory 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003
Moszynska, Anna. Abstract Art. London: Thames and Hudson (World of Art series), 1990.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

Learning outcomes

As a consequence of completing this module, students will have:

1. Acquired an understanding of the principal figures, histories and debates relating to Abstraction and Constructivism;
2. Gained a knowledge of methodological approaches to the interpretation of non-figurative and non-representational art;
3. Developed an appropriate vocabulary for describing and addressing abstract works; and,
4. Achieved an understanding of the philosophical, cultural and theoretical presuppositions and implications of the major approaches to abstraction and construction employed by artists, critics, theorists and (other) audiences.

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