Mary Stewart Educator: Sample Contemporary Art Foundations Syllabus

Introduction to contemporary theory and practice plus exploration of creative processes in art and design.

Art and design profoundly influence our daily lives. Photography influences our perception of daily events, our physical reality is largely defined by the buildings we enter and the tools we use, the films we see and the exhibitions we attend add emotional and intellectual meaning to our lives.

In this course we will explore ways in which contemporary artists and audiences construct meaning from visual expression and visual experience.

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • Use vocabulary of art and design accurately and confidently;
  • Analyze and criticize the visual construction of historic and contemporary artworks;
  • Discuss the conceptual intentions and audience response to masterworks of contemporary art;
  • Effectively and appropriately use digital technologies in the creation of a PowerPoint that incorporates discussion and expression of the techniques, theories of studio practices and methods. This includes analysis, planning/imagining, implementation, and evaluation.

Required Reading
In the Making, by Linda Weintraub

Assement Criteria

  • Understanding of concepts presented, as demonstrated through papers, tests, and class discussions
  • Capacity to connect art concepts to your personal creativity or research. All students are required to maintain a visual journal throughout the term as a record of research and creative activity.

Attendance is required. It is impossible to fully “make up” a missed demonstration or critique. Arriving late also derails learning. Students that miss more than 8 hours of class for any reason generally earn a C or below. More than two unexcused absences will result in a C or below. More than 3 unexcused absences will result in a D or below.

A grade of Incomplete can only be assigned to a student with an otherwise passing grade who is unable to complete the course due to some serious illness or personal tragedy, such as a death in the immediate family. Incompletes are assigned at the discretion of the faculty.

Lectures Planned
Week 1.A: Modernism: A Visual Revolution
Focus: The Past is Prologue to the Present, The Present is Prologue to the Future

Week 1.B: Postmodernism: Counter-Revolution and Beyond
Focus: Expanding definitions of art & design; new audiences, new technologies, new aesthetics

Week 2.A: Visual Communication
Focus: How do artists and designers communicate ideas and express emotions? How/why is the visual message different than other forms of communication?

Week 2.B: Conception Creation and Critical Thinking
Focus: How do artists and designers get ideas and how do they develop them into effective artworks?

Week 3A and 3B: Materials and Meanings
Focus: What materials do artists and designers use, and how does material choice affect meaning?

Week 4A: Compositional Elements and Principles
Focus: Visual bricks, visual mortar

Week 4B: Designing Time
Focus: Elements and principles of temporal art and design

Week 5A and 5B: Contexts, Curators, Community and Consumers
Focus: Variety and significance of visual culture from Venice Biennale to Facebook

Week 6A and 6B: Critical Thinking: Reading and Writing About Art
Focus: Clarifying and communicating your responses

Week 7: Review and Midterm Exam

Possible Themes
Week 8A and 8B: Life and Death
Week 9A and 9B: Visions of Power
Week 10A and 10B: Bodies of Knowledge and Identity
Week 11A and 11B: Tell Me a Story
Week 12A and 12B: Nature
Week 13A and 13B: Cross-disciplinary Creativity
Week 14A and 14B: Systems, Structures and Strategies
Week 15A: Knowledge and Reality

Writing Assignments Planned.
Each should be 500-700 WORDS, typed, double-spaced, spell-checked, with clear paragraph structure. Badly written papers will be returned for re-writing!


2. STUDY OF STYLE: Using illustrated Children’s book collection in Goldstein Library as a reference, analyze relationship between content, style and communication.


  • Provide a brief bio on the speaker, description of the artwork presented.
  • What did aspect of the presentation did you find most surprising?
  • Put yourself in the position of the speaker. What would you do if you were asked to do a project in his or her style? What would you do differently? How would you expand his/her approach?
  • Based on the presentation, what would you say were the speaker’s criteria for excellence?


  • Describe the exhibition, giving venue, artist name or names, number of pieces, mediums.
  • Describe the three or three most impressive artworks, including comments on subject matter, style, composition, and overall impact.
  • Summarize your overall impressions of the show, and note whether you recommend I attend.

Select and read an article from the readings posted on Blackboard, then answer the following questions:

  • What was the basic content or argument presented?
  • What aspect of the reading did you find most surprising?
  • To what degree did it confirm, expand, or challenge your existing assumptions?

6. PERSONAL MANIFESTO. In the 21st Century, what do you think is the appropriate personal and social purpose of art, and what are the characteristics of the very best art?

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