Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Modernisms: Art in the Early Twentieth Century
Academic Year
Semester 1
Other Staff

Course Delivery



Due to Covid-19 students should refer to the module Blackboard pages for assessment details

Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Online Slide Test  (30 minutes)  15%
Semester Assessment Essay Plan  (approx. 1,500 words)  15%
Semester Assessment Essay  (2,000 words)  70%
Supplementary Assessment Online Slide Test  (30 minutes)  15%
Supplementary Assessment Essay Plan  (approx. 1,500 words)  15%
Supplementary Assessment Essay  (2,000 words)  70%

Learning Outcomes

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

1. Identify and classify works of modern art.

2. Explain the broad trends constitutive of modernity and modernism between 1900-1937.

3. Interpret and compare works of modern art based on knowledge of the appropriate historical contexts.

4. Locate and critically evaluate primary and secondary sources.

5. Construct and justify a written argument about works of modern art using the appropriate scholarly apparatus.​

Brief description

‘A generation that had gone to school on horse-drawn streetcars now stood under the open sky in a landscape where nothing remained unchanged but the clouds and, beneath those clouds, in a force field of destructive torrents and explosions, the tiny, fragile human body’. Writing in 1936, Walter Benjamin thusly evokes an experience of twentieth-century modernity as one of bewildering, violent, and comprehensive change. The modern individual stands mute and vulnerable amidst the chaos of mechanized war, industrialised capitalism, economic depression, authoritarian political oppression, urbanism, consumerism, and mass media.
These explosions and torrents shattered and swept away centuries of tradition, in art, as elsewhere: the modern artist faced the unnerving, invigorating opportunity to remake art in the image of the modern, and the modern in the image of their art. This module investigates the rich polyphony of artistic responses to the challenge of being modern.
Following a loose chronology, we examine key ‘-isms’ in the history of modern art (including Expressionism, Futurism, Cubism, Surrealism, Constructivism, Muralism) and broad, connecting themes (the modern city, art and politics, mass production, avant-gardes, abstraction and representation). While roving between Vienna and Zurich, Weimar and Moscow, Mexico City and New York, Paris and Stuttgart, London and Bucharest, you’ll encounter a wide range of artistic media: from painting and sculpture, to photography and photomontage, architecture and design, found objects, and murals.


1. Introduction: Modernisms and Modernities
a. Seminar: The Experience of Modernity
2. Primitivism & Expressionism
3. Cubism
a. Seminar: The Pasted Paper Revolution
4. Futurism
a. Seminar: Avant-Gardes
5. Inventing Abstraction
6. Dada & Surrealism
7. Constructivism
a. Seminar: Marx and Modernity
8. Assessment Preparation Week
9. Modern Forms: Design, Sculpture, and Architecture
10. The New Photography
11. Modern America
a. Seminar: Reassessing the Nature of Abstract Art

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number n/a
Communication Articulating ideas orally in seminar discussions and textually through essay.
Improving own Learning and Performance Independent study through seminar assignment research and preparation; written and oral feedback on seminar contributions, essay plan, and essay.
Information Technology Conducting research through library catalogues, online scholarly databases and museum websites; engaging with digital platforms like Blackboard, Turnitin, Panopto.
Personal Development and Career planning Emphasis on professional presentation of research and essay plan using MLA style documentation.
Problem solving Construct and justify a written argument about works of modern art using the appropriate scholarly apparatus.​
Research skills In seminar preparation, conducting research for essay, compiling essay plan.
Subject Specific Skills Ability to visually analyze works of art, set them in their historical context, draw explanatory connections between artistic approaches, critically engage with primary and secondary sources, compose and justify arguments about art history.
Team work n/a


This module is at CQFW Level 5