Gwybodaeth Modiwlau

Module Identifier
Module Title
Abstraction: Practice, Theory and History, 1913 to the Present
Academic Year
Semester 1

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture 22 x 1 Hour Lectures


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Essay submission  3,500 word essay  60%
Semester Assessment Exhibition report  2,500 word exhibition report  40%
Supplementary Assessment resit assessment  The submission of a new essay based upon a different question and/or revised report 

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1. understand the historical development of abstraction from 17th century to the present day, including specific case studies and examples;

2. understand a broad range of interrelationships between various abstract practices, methodologies, and ideologies, and of some of the fundamental theoretical and historical apparatus required to comprehend them;

3. comprehend and articulate the issues and practicalities related to textual critiques of, and manifestos on, abstraction;

4. comprehend the emergence and pursuit of abstraction within the contrary environments of religion and materialism.

5. articulate visual responses to abstract art in a concise, reasoned, and informed manner.

6. articulate an understanding of the rationale or thesis governing the curation of an exhibition or display context of abstract art.

Brief description

The module argues for the development of abstraction out of a figurative tradition under the impetus of two fundamentally opposing worldviews: religion and materialism. The theme provides the conceptual spine to a chronological discussion of the main tributaries of abstract art (their divergence, confluence, and parallel operation). The module also deals with abstraction as a technical, a stylistic, and an imaginative process, a repository of value-systems or ideology, and as the subject of issue and debate. The focus of the historical inquiry is the period from 1913 to the present. In particular, it examines the growth abstraction in Europe and Russia within the framework of Modernism, and its transplantation in America after the Armoury Show.

The module also seeks to address abstraction to other forms of cultural expression, and to the philosophical and political climate of the period. In particular, the lectures and seminars will discuss the bifurcation of art culture around the 1950s, consequent to the development of Pop Art on the one hand and various modes of subjectivist and empirical forms of abstraction on the other, and the abstraction of abstraction itself to the condition of art-as-idea in the late 1970s. Finally, the module endeavours to map and explain the re-emergence of abstraction (as a practice and historical/theoretical concern) at the close of the Postmodern period -- in which figurative and neo-conceptual art had been predominant -- and to question whether abstraction is a spent force or able to chart new territories for its operations.


The module will:
a) discuss, describe, exemplify abstract art within the frameworks of religious and materialistic thought, social and broader cultural contexts, and in conflict with figurative modes of representation;
b) examine the commonalities, distinctives, and relationship of various forms of abstraction in terms of their of their essence, methodologies, theories, aesthetics, historical trajectories, and modes of discourse;
c) study the technical and stylistic practices related to the making, presentation, and installation of abstract art;
d) debate the continued relevance or otherwise and future of abstract practices


A. The Roots of Abstraction: 17th to Early 20th Century Perspectives

  • Lecture: The Delimitation of Subject: Austerity and Simplicity in the Calvinist Netherlands
  • Lecture: Towards Contentless Form: From Whistler and Late Monet to Cezanne
  • Lecture: Communism and Transcendentalism: the Russian Avant-garde and Malevich
  • Lecture: New Religion; New Form: Theosophy, Kandinsky, and Mondrian
  • Lecture: Sight and Vision: Cubism and Orphism
  • Seminar: Section A Consolidation

B. The Rise of American Modernism

  • Lecture: Modernism, Abstraction, and Theory: Preliminary Considerations
  • Lecture: Modernism and History: Political Interpretations of Abstraction During the Cold War Years
  • Lecture: Modernism and Tradition: Form as Content
  • Lecture: Modernism in America: the Roots of Abstraction, from the Armoury Show to the Late 1930s.
  • Lecture: Action as Content: Jackson Pollock and Abstract Expressionism
  • Lecture: The Existential Sublime: Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman
  • Lecture: Bridging the Divide: Pop Art v Abstraction
  • Lecture: The Seduction of Reduction: From Post-Painterly Abstraction to Minimalism
  • Lecture: Abstraction to Idea: Conceptualism and the Dematerialisation of Form
  • Seminar: Section B Consolidation & Essay Preparation

C. Abstraction and Landscape: USA and UK Perspectives

  • Lecture: St Ives, Landscape and Abstraction: Nicholson and Lanyon
  • Lecture: Landscape and Abstraction: Richard Diebenkorn's 'Ocean Park' Series
D. Postmodernism and Recent Abstraction

  • Lecture: Beyond the Crisis in Late Modernism: Abstraction v Figuration
  • Lecture: 'Off the Wall': Neo-Minimalist and New-Conceptualist Sculptural Abstractions
  • Lecture: The New-Modernism: Abstract Painting Since 1970s
  • Seminar: Sections C & D Consolidation

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number
Communication Through essay writing.
Improving own Learning and Performance Through essay group preparation sessions and an individual post-submission feedback tutorial
Information Technology Word processing and internet inquiry in preparation for the essay
Personal Development and Career planning
Problem solving
Research skills Essay preparation, library catalogue searches, and internet video scoping.
Subject Specific Skills
Team work Through seminar interaction.


This module is at CQFW Level 6