Module Information

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

Course Delivery



Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment .5 Hours   Slide Test  15%
Semester Assessment Essay Plan  1000 Words  15%
Semester Assessment Essay  2500 Words  70%
Supplementary Assessment Essay  2500 Words  70%
Supplementary Assessment Essay Plan  1000 Words  15%
Supplementary Exam .5 Hours   Take Home Examination  15%

Learning Outcomes

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

Identify and classify works of modern art.

Explain the broad trends constitutive of modernity and modernism in the early twentieth century.

Interpret and compare works of modern art based on knowledge of the appropriate historical, historiographical, and critical contexts.

Locate and critically evaluate primary and secondary sources.

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.


Week-by-week we will examine the key artists, movements, and contexts for understanding art in the early twentieth century. The topics covered will address the various ways in which artists responded to the challenge of being modern. These topics will evolve over time in response to the coordinator's research and the latest developments in the field. As an indication, we will examine '-isms' including Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, and Constructivism; broader artistic developments such as abstraction, avant-gardism, and self-criticism; and the historical forces that made the modern world (such as urban alienation, mass production and standardisation, the birth of mass media, ideas of progress and utopia, mechanised production and war, the spread of rational calculation, and technological change).

Taking a 'flipped learning' approach, students will read essential texts and watch pre-recorded lectures (1 hour per week, inclusive of activities) as guided independent study. Classroom time (1 hour per week) will be divided between student-led Q&A and discussion about the lectures and in-depth seminar-style discussion of important texts. Each student will also have a 1:1 tutorial for tailored feedback and guidance for their essay.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Communication Articulating ideas orally by participating in classroom discussions; communicating in writing in assessments; discussing essay in tutorial.
Critical and analytical thinking Practice critical reading of primary & secondary sources; analysing works of art; and constructing and justifying an essay argument.
Improving own Learning and Performance Formative feedback in classroom discussion week-by-week and summative feedback to assessments, written and oral (in tutorial), will offer guidance for improving own learning and performance
Information Technology Engaging with flipped content (Panopto, Blackboard, Aspire); conducting research through library catalogues, online scholarly databases, and museum websites; organizing research materials and notes; engaging with digital platforms like Panopto, Blackboard, and Turnitin.
Personal Development and Career planning Practicing key disciplinary skills with direct relevance to future study and work: identifying and classifying artworks, interpreting artworks based on historical, historiographical, and critical knowledge, explaining art historical change, locating and evaluating written sources, and constructing, justifying, and communicating interpretations and arguments about art and its contexts.
Problem solving Applying knowledge and skills to interpret unfamiliar artworks and responding to art historical problems.
Research skills Engaging with the reading list and locating sources for class preparation and assessments (essay plan and essay).
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 Collaborative discussion of lectures and required reading in seminars.


This module is at CQFW Level 5