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ARTHIST 4H03 Art/Visual Culture

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 seminar focuses on realism in the visual arts since the nineteenth century. Variably defined as a style, a method, and a political position, realism has been the subject of intense debates during the period in question. A survey of key proponents of realism such as Gustave Courbet will be complemented by a discussion of their reception by subsequent generations. Particular emphasis will be given on realism’s unsettled place within the history of twentieth-century art, as well as its different manifestations around the world, from Latin America to China and beyond. Through class discussions, presentations, and short response papers, students will engage with recent scholarship on the topic, as well as with artists’ writings and historical primary sources available in English. They will also develop their research and writing skills and apply them in an oral presentation and paper on a relevant topic of their choice.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required readings, in the form of articles and scanned book chapters, will be uploaded on Avenue to Learn; no textbook purchase is required.

Method of Assessment:

  • 3 Response Papers on assigned readings (20% in total):

The papers will respond to the readings assigned for each class, and will have to be submitted on Avenue before these readings are discussed in class. You cannot submit more than one paper per class, and you are free to choose for which 3 classes you will prepare a response paper. It is your responsibility to make sure that you submit the required number of papers by the end of this course. If you submit less than 3, you will receive a failing grade for the papers you didn’t submit. Each paper should not exceed 2 double-spaced pages.

You can focus on only one text, or discuss all assigned texts for that week in a comparative manner. The point is to analyze critically the text(s)– summarizing without analyzing and arguing for your opinion on the issue will not suffice. You can argue for or against the author’s thesis, dissect the way it is argued and/or propose ways to strengthen the argument. This assignment is about your opinions; there is no need to use any sources other than the readings.

You will be graded for your ability to identify the main arguments and think on the issues raised, as well as for conciseness and clarity of argumentation. The response papers are a great writing practice leading up to the final paper, and could also serve as your notes for our class discussions.

  • Short Presentation on a class reading (10%):

A 10-minute presentation on a class reading, to be chosen during our first class. Your task will be to present the reading to your classmates and jumpstart the discussion. You should research some background information on the text and its author (context of its publication, other texts it is responding to etc.) Keep in mind that everybody in class will have read the same text; therefore, rather than summarizing, you should identify the main issues raised and propose ways to explore them (you can also bring questions in class). In addition, you should bring in any contextual information that you think could enhance our understanding of the text.

  • Presentation on the Research Paper (20%):

A 20-minute presentation with images on the topic of your research paper. All presentations will take place during the final three classes and will be accompanied by discussion with the class.

  • Research Paper (35%):

8-10 double-spaced pages (excluding images and bibliography), on a topic chosen by the student in consultation with the instructor. It should include images, citations and a bibliography. Due Thursday, December 8, to be submitted electronically on Avenue.

  • Participation in class discussions (15%)



  • At least 10% of your final grade will be returned to you prior to November 4th
  • Detailed instructions for the research paper (ie. formatting, citation style etc.) will be posted on Avenue to Learn
  • All papers will be submitted electronically on an Avenue to Learn drop folder; no other form of submission will be accepted.

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:

(All readings will be posted on Avenue to Learn)

September 12: Introduction / Overview of the course

September 19: Courbet and Realism c. 1848

  • Nochlin, 1st Chapter of Realism: Style and Civilization
  • Schapiro, “Courbet and Popular Imagery: An Essay on Realism and Naïveté”
  • Courbet, “Statement on Realism” and “Letter to Young Artists”

September 26: 19th-century Realism beyond France

  • Needham, 6th Chapter of 19th-Century Realist Art
  • Del Lago, “Realism as a Tool of National Modernisation in the Reformist Discourse of Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century China”    
  • Belinsky, “A View of Russian Literature in 1847”

October 3: The “Return to Order” after 1918

  • Grenier, “Multiple Realisms”
  • Buchloh, “Figures of Authority, Ciphers of Regression: Notes on the Return of Representation in European Painting”    

October 10: NO CLASS

October 17: Soviet Socialist Realism

  • Cullerne Bown, Socialist Realisms (excerpts)
  • Groys, The Total Art of Stalinism (excerpt)
  • Zhdanov, “Speech to the Congress of Soviet Writers”       

October 24: The 1930s and the Problem of “Totalitarian Art”

  • Ades and Benton, Art and Power (excerpts)
  • Golomstock, “Totalitarian Art” (excerpts)
  • Greenberg, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch”

October 31: 20th-century Realism in the US, Canada, and Mexico

  • Prendeville, Realism in 20th-Century Painting (excerpts)
  • Cateforis ed., Rethinking Andrew Wyeth (excerpts)
  • Rodríguez-Prampolini, “Rivera’s Concept of History”
  • Rivera, “The Revolutionary Spirit in Modern Art”

November 7: Post-1945 Socialist Realism in China, Western Europe, and Elsewhere

  • Hung, “Oil Paintings and Politics”
  • Baudin, “Why is Soviet Painting Hidden from Us?”
  • Fougeron, “The Artist and his Battlement”
  • Siqueiros, “Open Letter to the Painters, Sculptors and Engravers of the Soviet Union”

November 14: A Global Realism?

  • Röhrl, World History of Realism (excerpts)
  • Jesty, “The realism debate and the politics of modern art in early postwar Japan”       
  • Drosos and Golan, “Realism as International Style”

November 21: Student Presentations

November 28: Student Presentations

December 5: Student Presentations


Other Course Information:

  • All PowePoint presentations from class, handouts, and any other relevant information will be posted on Avenue to Learn
  • Relevant books will be put on reserve at the Mills Library.
  • A bibliography for the course will be posted on Avenue to Learn, and students will be invited to add relevant entries as they encounter them during their research.