Problems in Modern Art: Realism, Naturalism and Abstraction
This course explores the complex interrelationship between abstracting and realist tendencies in modern painting. From the moment in the mid-nineteenth century when realism became a central issue for artists and critics, this interrelationship took on an increasingly charged and contested character, both politically and aesthetically. Two moments when such tensions proved particularly productive are explored in depth. Firstly, there is the situation in the later nineteenth century when naturalism began to complicate understandings of realism, and when new, increasingly systematic abstracting imperatives reshaped attitudes to and conceptions of naturalistic representation. Secondly, there is the period extending from the 1920s to the early nineteen sixties when a highly charged, politicised dialectic between the imperatives of figurative realism and those of radical abstraction were played out. The course ends with the emergence of new realist, pop, and literalist tendencies that reconfigured earlier debates about realism, abstraction and visual representation. The course questions the duality between realism or naturalism and abstraction that structures understandings of modern art, showing how modern conceptions of art as engaging with material reality involved an interplay between the two. It examines the constantly shifting meanings of and values attached to realism and abstraction in the work of key artists such as Courbet, Rivera and Dubuffet and in the writing of cultural theorists such as Lukacs and Adorno, placing particular emphasis on figures who saw the material realities of art as inextricably bound up with a larger politics of materialism.
Estimated cost of materials: less than $50.