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ENGLISH 2P03 Modernity,Postmdrn&Visuality

Academic Year: Winter 2018

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. James King

Email: jking@mcmaster.ca

Office: Chester New Hall 316

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 24493

Office Hours: Tuesdays 1:30 pm

Course Objectives:

The course is not historical in orientation. Rather, it attempts to examine what we really see in works or art rather than what we think we see. The emphasis is on contemporary art with particular reference to Abstract Expressionism, neo-Dadaism, Pop Art, Minimalist Art, and Lettered Art; there will be a strong accent on conceptual art in painting, sculpture and photography. An important aspect of this course is to examine how one puts into words what one gazes at.

In addition, this course will attempt to define modernity and postmodernity in various kinds of contemporary art.

Theories about contemporary art will be examined (i.e., Berger, Fried, Benjamin).

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:


John Berger, Ways of Seeing.

David Hopkins, After Modern Art 1945-2000. Oxford University Press.


Method of Assessment:

Standing in this course will be determined as follows:

ESSAY 1 (1000 words) to be submitted in class on February 5                                     20%

ESSAY 2 (2000 words) to be submitted in class on March 12                                       25%

Tutorial attendance                                                                                                        10%

Tutorial work (assignments to be determined by tutorial assistant)                               25%

Exam                                                                                                                              20%

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

LATE POLICY: Late work will not be accepted.

Tutorial times vary: check your schedule for the date and time for your selected tutorial. Tutorials meet weekly and are a required element of this course. ATTENDANCE AT TUTORIALS IS COMPULSORY

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:


WEEK ONE (January 8): INTRODUCTION: The complexities in works that seem straightforward: photographs by Thomas Struth, Jeff Wall, Joseph Hartman.

WEEK TWO (January 15): THEORIES OF LOOKING: The varying theoretical perspectives of Berger, Benjamin, Rosenberg, Fried.

WEEK THREE: DADA AND NEO-DADA (January 22): Marcel Duchamp’s rejection of traditional retinal art and its wide-ranging implications.

WEEK FOUR: ABSTRACTION (January 29): How does an abstract work of art exist? How can it be interpreted? :Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg, de Kooning, Rothko.

WEEK FIVE: POP ART and MINIMALISM (February 5): Are pop art and minimalist works post-modern? Roy Lichtenstein and Donald Judd; Greg Curnoe

WEEK SIX: LETTERED WORK (February 12): How can a work of art consisting solely of text be a visual work of art? On Kawara, John Baldessari and Greg Curnoe

WEEK SEVEN: JOSEPH HARTMAN (February 26): Discussion with JH.

WEEK EIGHT: MICHAEL SNOW (March 5) From representational to abstract to a return to the representational: the early abstracts and the emergence of the Walking Woman

WEEK NINE: MICHAEL SNOW (March 12): structural film and photography; significant part of this lecture will be devoted to Snow’s film, Wavelength

WEEK TEN (March 19): CINDY SHERMAN and EDWARD BURTYNSKY: Self-portraiture and industrial landscapes

WEEK ELEVEN (March 26): HOW IS ART GENDERED? Specifically, how do women artists and photographers work differently from men.


There will be a Burtynsky exhibition at the AGH this winter and the second assignment will likely be based on that exhibition; as indicated above, I have invited Joseph Hartman to talk about his photography at one of our meetings.

Other Course Information:

OUTCOME: Students taking this course should receive a basic grounding in looking at and evaluating contemporary art. They will be introduced to key concepts with an emphasis on modernism and postmodernism.

Most students taking this course will have achieved some mastery in reading and writing about literary texts in a formalist way. This course will concentrate on acquiring similar formalist skills in looking at art, particularly conceptual art.