Framing the Viewer: 20th Century Art


The rise of modernism saw the development of art which is reflexive, which draws attention to itself and its facture, as well as the illusion of representation, making us "reflect" on what art is and how it affects the viewer. Many different kinds of art utilised strategies to address the viewer and to explore subjective responses involved in viewing. This course is designed to enable students to develop their own reflexivity and critical awareness through a study of the "classic" movements of the Twentieth Century, such as Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop and Conceptual Art and contemporary art.

The course aims to show that an important function of art is to enhance the ability to see the world from a number of different perspectives increasing the breadth and depth of a viewer’s self-awareness. An essential, underlying theme is how the viewer’s vision is addressed and explored in the art of the Twentieth Century, and how the gaze is related to the construction of the viewer’s own identity. Not only do the art works of these different periods challenge the viewer imaginatively to adopt a multiplicity of identities and roles, they also reflect back different conceptual, emotional, psychological, political and social ways of seeing.

Trying to frame or target the viewer’s responses, needs and realities in art has a long history. In this course we will focus on FOUR major approaches:

  • Social and historical context
  • Facture and technique
  • Sensory perception and emotional responses
  • Conceptual and philosophical responses

Learning Outcomes:

At the end of this course students will have acquired the skills to discuss art meaningfully and to personalise encounters with works of art, channelling these experiences into new and creative ways of thinking and exploring vision and the visual world

Students will learn how to structure arguments and compose thoughts in spoken and written form that add strength and clarity to communication and presentation.

Students will gain a deeper understanding of how art is an essential medium for the exploration and expression of diversity: of ideas, lifestyles, attitudes, social and cultural identities and political perspectives.

Students will gain confidence in exercising independent and critical thought and will learn how to acquire the most important "C-skills" valued by employers, academics, designers, artists, psychologists and theorists: communication, creativity, curiosity, collaboration and caring not only about others, but also about the freedom that emerges from questioning dogma, tradition and prejudice.

Availability 2022

Not taught in 2022


Coordinator(s) Dr Gregory Minissale

Recommended Reading

David Hopkins, After Modern Art 1945-2000 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)

Christopher Green, Art in France 1900-1940 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000)

Gregory Minissale, The Psychology of Contemporary Art (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)


Coursework and exam


ARTHIST 331: 15 points


15 points at Stage I in Art History and 15 points from ENGLISH 206, FRENCH 244, HISTORY 241, PHIL 212, or 15 points at Stage II in Art History and 60 points passed