Module Information

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

Course Delivery



Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Essay  (3000 words)  60%
Semester Assessment Written Exhibition Report  (1000 words)  40%
Supplementary Assessment Essay  (3000 words, Students must take elements of assessments equivalent to those that lead to failure of the module)  60%
Supplementary Assessment Written Exhibition Report  (1000 words)  40%

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

This module examines the growth of abstraction in Europe and Russia since 1913 within the framework of Modernism, and its transplantation in America after the Armory Show. It addresses abstraction to other forms of cultural expression, and to the philosophical and political climate of the period. In particular, the lectures 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 will 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.


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

1 Lecture: The Delimitation of Subject: Austerity and Simplicity in the Calvinist Netherlands

2 Lecture: Towards Contentless Form: From Whistler and Late Monet to Cezanne

3 Lecture: Sight and Vision: Cubism and Orphism

4 Lecture: Communism and Transcendentalism: the Russian Avant-garde and Malevich

5 Lecture: New Religion; New Form: Theosophy, Kandinsky, and Mondrian

B. The Rise of American Modernism

6 Lecture: Modernism, Abstraction, and Theory: Preliminary Considerations

7 Lecture: Modernism and History: Political Interpretations of Abstraction
During the Cold War Years

8 Workshop: Writing the Module Essay and Exhibition Report

9 Lecture: Modernism and Tradition: Form as Content

10 Lecture: Modernism in America: the Roots of Abstraction from the Armory Show to the Late 1930s

11 Lecture: Action as Content: Jackson Pollock and Abstract Expressionism

12 Lecture: The Existential Sublime: Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman

13 Lecture: Bridging the Divide: Pop Art v Abstraction

14 Lecture: The Seduction of Reduction: From Post-Painterly Abstraction to Minimalism

15 Lecture: Abstraction to Idea: Conceptualism and the Dematerialisation of Form

16 Seminar: Section B – Consolidation & Essay Preparation

C. Abstraction and Landscape: USA and UK Perspectives

17 Lecture: Landscape and Abstraction: Richard Diebenkorn's 'Ocean Park' Series

D. Postmodernism and Recent Abstraction

18 Lecture: Beyond the Crisis in Late Modernism: Abstraction v Figuration

19 Lecture: 'Off the Wall': Neo-Minimalist and New-Conceptualist Sculptural Abstractions

20 Lecture: The New-Modernism: Abstract Painting Since 1970s

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number n/a
Communication In the context of group workshops.
Improving own Learning and Performance Through response to one-to-one guidance on essay development.
Information Technology Through word-processing and the configuration of illustrations therein.
Personal Development and Career planning n/a
Problem solving n/a
Research skills Through investigation in gallery context and in library access in preparation for the essay.
Subject Specific Skills Notational and observational skill development in gallery context.
Team work In the context of group workshops.


This module is at CQFW Level 5