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ARTHIST 2A03 Visual Literacy

Academic Year: Fall 2016

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Nikolas Drosos



Phone: 905-525-9140 x

Office Hours: Mondays 1:30-2:30 or by appointment (Togo Salmon Hall 434)

Course Objectives:

This course aims to assist students in developing their skills of analyzing visual material – both in speech and in writing – through readings, lectures, discussions, and assignments. Still and moving images from a wide variety of eras and cultures, regardless of their classification as art or not, will be examined and compared. Students are expected to learn to apply a range of approaches to this material, from formal analysis to an examination of the greater sociopolitical function of images, their production, circulation and consumption. They will also learn to correctly apply terminology specific to art history and visual culture and employ it effectively in class discussions and writing assignments. Students are invited to apply these new skills towards their own goals in studying art history and/or communications, as well as other disciplines, in the short and long term.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

  • Preble, Duane, Sarah Preble, and Patrick Frank. Prebles’ Artforms,11th ed. In REVEL digital format (Pearson, 2014).
  • Barnet, Sylvan.  A Short Guide to Writing About Art, 11th ed. (Pearson, 2014)
  • Messaris, Paul. Visual "Literacy": Image, Mind, and Reality. Westview Press, 1994. Free access online: (Scroll down: Holdings>Internet>Electronic Access Link)

Method of Assessment:

  • 1st Paper: Formal Analysis of a work from the McMaster Museum (20%) due October 17
  • Online assignments on REVEL (10%), due October 25
  • 2nd Paper: Comparative analysis of two images, chosen from a list supplied by the instructor, or chosen by the student in consultation with the instructor (30%) due November 14
  • Online assignments on REVEL (10%), due November 28
  • Final Exam – cumulative (30%)


  • At least 10% of your final grade will be returned to you prior to November 4th.
  • Detailed instructions for the papers will be available on Avenue to Learn.
  • The papers will only be submitted electronically on an Avenue to Learn drop folder.
  • Online assignments on REVEL will be made available two weeks before the due date, and will not be available for completion after the due dates; no late submissions will be possible.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Late paper submissions will be penalized 5% a day (weekends will count as one day). Late penalties will not be waived unless your Faculty/Program Office advises the instructor that you have submitted to that office the appropriate documentation to support your inability to submit the work by the due date. 

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

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 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 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:

Tuesday September 6: Introduction to the course

Monday September 12: Definitions and functions of art

  • REVEL Chapters 1-2

Tuesday September 13: Introduction to formal analysis

  • REVEL Chapter 3

Monday September 19: Formal analysis: composition

  • REVEL Chapter 4

Tuesday September 20: Painting

  • REVEL Chapter 7

Monday September 26: Sculpture

  • REVEL Chapter 12

Tuesday September 27: Drawing and Printmaking

  • REVEL Chapters 6 and 8

Monday October 3: Writing an effective formal analysis essay

  • Barnet Chapter 3: Formal Analysis and Style
  • Recommended: Barnet Chapters 9, 10, 14 (guidelines for the upcoming essay)        

Tuesday October 4: Photography

  • REVEL Chapter 9


Monday October 17: Interpretation and Evaluation

  • Barnet Chapter 1: Writing about Art
  • REVEL Chapter 5

1st Paper (Formal Analysis) due


Tuesday October 18: Moving Images I

  • REVEL Chapter 10

Monday October 24: Moving Images II

  • Messaris Chapter 3: The Interpretation of Film and Television

Tuesday October 25: Architecture

  • REVEL Chapter 14

Online assignments on REVEL due


Monday October 31: Writing an effective comparison essay

  • Barnet Chapter 5: Writing a Comparison

Tuesday November 1: Graphic Design

  • REVEL Chapter 11

Monday November 7: Craft and Industrial Design

  • REVEL Chapter 13       

Tuesday November 8: Abstraction I

  • REVEL Chapters 22-23-24

Monday November 14: Abstraction II

  • Messaris Chapter 2: The Interpretation of Still Images

2nd Paper (Comparison) due


Tuesday November 15: Ways of Discussing Images I

  • Barnet Chapter 12: Some Critical Approaches

Monday November 21: Ways of Discussing Images II

  • Barnet Chapter 11: Art-Historical Research

Tuesday November 22: Contemporary Art

  •  REVEL Chapter 25

Monday November 28: Museums and Exhibitions

 (Readings TBD)

Online assignments on REVEL due


Tuesday November 29: The Manipulation of Images

  • Messaris Chapter 5: Awareness of Artistry and Manipulation

Monday December 5: Conclusion

  • Messaris Chapter 6: Conclusion: Other Questions, Other "Literacies"

Tuesday December 6: Review

Final Exam on exam date

Other Course Information:

PowePoint presentations from the lectures, as well as handouts and detailed instructions for the assignments, will be posted on Avenue to Learn