Faculty of Arts


Understanding Art: Leonardo to Warhol

Please note: this is archived course information from 2020 for ARTHIST 114.


"You look, but you do not see," Sherlock Holmes said to Dr Watson.

This course is about how to look at and really see visual images and objects -- about how to observe, analyse, interpret and understand paintings, monuments and sculptures.

We explore the life and work of the major Renaissance artists such as Leonardo and Michelangelo, followed by the Baroque master of light and dark, Caravaggio, and the artists of the Dutch Golden Age, Rembrandt and Vermeer. In modern society new approaches to art are examined through the work of Monet, Degas, van Gogh, Edvard Munch and Picasso. Salvador Dali and Marcel Duchamp introduce us to the world of dada and the surreal, Mondrian and Kandinsky to abstraction and Warhol to the relationship between artistic expression, celebrity culture and advertising that flourished in post-war American society.

A high level of visual literacy is increasingly necessary today in order to navigate our way through the world of images - at times a flood of images in which it is easy to drown. It is not just that visual images are central to everyday life, it is rather that they are increasingly predominant, even dominating, in social and cultural life and communications. To misunderstand them is to be severely disadvantaged.

In this course students will learn how visual images are constructed, how they generate ideas and emotions, how they "work"’ on their consumers (that is, "us"), as well as how they can be interpreted and understood. To these ends the course involves close and intensive study of specific paintings, photographs and sculpture. As much as possible the images and objects selected for study are compelling and memorable in themselves.

How and why can we learn so much about seeing and understanding images and objects generally from the close study of individual works? In this course images and objects are studied in terms of their structural, formal, thematic and iconographic (meaning-producing) features. They are also placed in the social and cultural contexts in which they were produced and used, in order to more fully understand how the production of meanings is context-specific.

The various ways an image or object can be, or has been, interpreted and understood are studied. This course provides invaluable skills in observing, analysing and interpreting - skills that are fundamental to all disciplines.

Course outcomes

A student who successfully completes this course will have the opportunity to:

  • Acquire knowledge of art historical styles and apply it
  • Understand and carry out visual analysis
  • Acquire skills in report writing, critical thinking, academic literacy and presentation


Coursework + exam

Availability 2020

Semester 2


Lecturer(s) Dr Erin Griffey
Dr Robin Woodward

Recommended Reading

Eisenman, Stephen (ed.). Nineteenth Century Art: A Critical History. 3rd ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 1994.

Frascina, Francis et al. Modernity and Modernism: French Painting in the Nineteenth Century. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.


Coursework + Exam


ARTHIST 114: 15.0 points



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