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ARTHIST 4V03 Art:Study,Criticism&Eval

Academic Year: Winter 2017

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Kristin Patterson


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 434

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23719

Office Hours: 1:30-3:00 TSH-434

Course Objectives:

  • Students will acquire an historical overview of art historical methods of criticism and evaluation.
  • Students will be able to observe, interpret and discuss key components of visual works studied, specifically the formal, aesthetic and technical aspects, but also cultural and social concerns.
  • Students will read and actively engage with a range of theoretical concepts and debates within the practices of art historical evaluation.
  • Through the skills acquired in the course students will be confident observing and critically evaluating a chosen work of art first hand.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Donald Preziosi, The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology, 2nd Ed. Oxford University Press, 2009.  Available at Bookstore, on reserve at Mills and online through library catalogue.

**Additional course readings will be posted on or linked through Avenue to Learn.

Method of Assessment:

Course Evaluation:

Looking Exercise: 15%, 4-5 pages, due January 24th.

Reading Group Presentation: 15%, as assigned

Participation: 15%, weekly

News Feed Share: Jan. 17, Feb. 14, Mar. 7, 15%

Final Paper: 20%, 10-12 pages, due dates as assigned

Final Paper Presentation: 15%, as assigned

Final Learning Statement: 5% 2-3 pages, due April 4th

**Students in this course will have received 15% of their grade in this course by March 10, 2017.

Details of Course Evaluation:

Looking Exercise: 15%, 4-5 pages (1000-1250 words), due January 24th.

This is intended as a primer for your final paper. For this exercise you will write on a work of art on view at the McMaster Museum of Art. Together we will spend part of a class looking at works on view and students must plan at least one subsequent visit viewing the work. The more you are able to study the work the easier it will be to write about it. There is NO research for this exercise apart from observing. While looking consider the size of the work, the medium, technical skill, intended audience, content, formal properties (colour, composition, line, perspective), and any social, historical or cultural aspects evident or suggested. Is there a narrative?  A sense of context, time, or emotion? Your paper should NOT include any biographical information on the artist, wall text excerpts, or exhibition information. You are isolating the work of art and practicing your skills of looking and then subsequently translating looking into writing.

Your paper must be typed, double-spaced and academic in style, meaning there should be a thesis, development of ideas and conclusion.  All formatting should be in Chicago Manual Style.  No images or bibliography are required for this paper.

Readings Presentation: 15%

Each week students will be responsible for a presentation on the required readings. The readings are a tool for exploring and interrogating the practice of looking at and thinking about art. They are not meant as ends in themselves but rather as beginnings for our discussions. Students should plan to briefly present the central arguments and conclusions of each piece and raise leading questions in order to initiate discussion of the ideas within the readings. In developing these presentations groups are encouraged to work together in small groups.You may also find it helpful to bring in images or objects on which the given methods of analysis can be practiced or explored visually.  

For all students: When doing the readings and preparing for class consider what you have found useful (or not) about the reading, how it may be relevant to you, and how you might utilize the ideas expressed.

Participation: 15%

The seminar-format offers a unique opportunity to share with, and learn from, your peers. Each student is expected to come to class with notes, queries, and ideas related to the assigned readings for that week and be prepared to join into the discussion. You need to be present to participate and repeated absence from the seminar, including student presentations at MMA, will be reflected in this mark.

News Feed Share: Jan. 17, Feb. 14, Mar. 7, (3 x 5%), 15%

Students will find and bring into class a current or recent newspaper or journal article related to specified themes on the dates above. To accompany the article students will write a one-page handout summarizing the focus and value of the article. Students should also be prepared to briefly discuss their contribution. The themes for the articles are Jan. 17: Indigenous Art; Feb. 14: Exhibition/Museum Controversies; Mar. 7: Cultural Hybridity, Diaspora Artists.

Final Paper: 20%, 10-12 pages (2500-3000 words)

The final paper is a formal, focused exercise of looking and thinking critically about one work of art. This is not a research paper in the usual sense. Your primary research will be repeated visits to the MMA and your sustained viewing of the work. You will need to take notes each time you observe the work. Students are encouraged to consider different approaches to discussing the work and to engage with any number of the methodologies we have studied in class in the papers, however the paper is not about methodology as such. As you write your paper I encourage you to be transparent about your approach, its usefulness and its limitations.

Your paper should be complete at the time of your presentation but is formally due at the beginning of class one week after delivery of your presentation. When handing in the paper it should be typed, double-spaced and formatted according to Chicago Manual of Style including any relevant images and bibliography. You do not need to include an image of the main work you are discussing, please restrict images to any comparative works you consider.  

In addition, as an appendix to your paper you need to include a separate “Comments and Revisions” section (1-2 pages) that addresses any comments or ideas that are generated after your paper has been presented. Late submission of written papers will be penalized at 5% per day.  Assignments later than 5 days will NOT be accepted.  Exceptions to the lateness penalty for valid reasons such as illness, etc. will be judged by the instructor ONLY when supported by written documentation such as a medical certificate.

Final Paper Presentation: 15%

This mark is for the formal presentation of your final paper. You may read your paper, but you should acknowledge your audience, engage the work of art, and be prepared to entertain questions and discussion. Your presentation should be about 20 minutes in length with an additional 5-10 minutes for discussion. Your mark will be based on your presentation style, content of paper, and how well you entertain questions and comments about your subject.  Failure to present your paper on the assigned day will result in a presentation mark of zero.  

Final Learning Statement: 5% 2-3 pages 

This short paper is intended as an exercise for evaluating your individual learning in this course.   Your paper is to be 2-3 pages (500-750 words) typed, double-spaced. This assignment does not require research. I would like you to think about the articles and methodologies we have studied, the practice of looking and observations that you have undertaken in the course and the process of writing and delivering your final paper. What have you discovered or learned about art historical methods and your own way of observing and writing about art? This assignment is due April 4th, no late submissions accepted.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Late Policy and Penalties:

All written assignments are to be submitted via Avenue to Learn by 11:30 pm on the due date specified above. Late assignments will be penalized 5% per day for up to 5 days. Assignments more than 5 days late will not be accepted.

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:

Jan. 10: Introduction to course: Art as History

Readings:  Introduction, pp. 7-11; Chapter 1, pp. 13-53 (Intro, Vasari, Winckelmann, Davis, Baxandall).


Jan. 17: Exhibition Talks: Indigenous Ways of Knowing

Looking exercise at MMA

Readings: TBA


Jan. 24: Aesthetics

Looking Exercise due at beginning of class.  

Readings: Chapter 2, pp. 55-88; 109-112 (Intro, Kant, Hegel, Pietz).


Jan. 31: Form, Content, Style /Mechanisms of Meaning I    

Final Paper Topics must be chosen by the beginning of class today.

Readings: Chapter 3, pp. 115-140; 144-148 (Intro, Wolfflin, Gombrich, Summers, “Style”); Chapter 5, pp. 215-235 (Intro, Panofsky).


Feb. 7: Mechanisms of Meaning II/ Deconstruction and the Limits of Interpretation

Readings: Chapter 5, pp. 243-268 (Bal/Bryson, Bann); Chapter 6, pp. 271-273; 284-315 (Heidegger, Schapiro, Derrida).


Feb. 14: Museum Collecting and Collections/Telling Stories Through Objects

Time in vaults and MMA Collection Tour


Mieke Bal, “Telling, Showing, Showing off,” Critical Inquiry Vol. 18, No. 3 (Spring, 1992), pp. 556-594.

Daniel Buren, “The Function of the Museum,”

Ivan Karp and Fred Wilson “Constructing the Spectacle of Culture in Museums” in Thinking about at Exhibitions pp.180-191. e-book:


Feb. 21: Reading Week, No Class


Feb.28: Authorship and Identity

Readings: Chapter 7, pp. 317-351; 375-401 (Intro, Foucault, Owens, Jones, Doyle).


Mar. 7: Globalization and its Discontents

Readings: Chapter 8, pp. 409-423; 435-442; 488-509 (Mitchell, Benjamin, Epilogue, Coda).


Mar. 14:  Student Presentations


Mar. 21: Student Presentations

       Papers presented March 14 due today


Mar. 28: Student Presentations

       Papers presented March 21 due today


Apr. 5:   Course Conclusion

      Final Statement, 5% due today

      Papers presented March 28 due today

Other Course Information:

Note to Students:

We will be viewing and discussing controversial material. Many art practices focus on a politics of difference and raise issues around racial and gender identities, oppression and resistance. Graphic violence, alternate life styles, and explicit sexuality are themes pursued by some contemporary artists. Some works may express viewpoints with which you do not agree. Some contemporary pieces are made expressly with the intent of provoking new ways of seeing or thinking about art or the world around us. I urge each student to express his/her views in a respectful manner in class and if for any reason you find the material difficult to view or discuss with please come and see me.