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Academic Year: Fall/Winter 2013/2014

Term: 2

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Sally McKay


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 417

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23675

Office Hours: Tuesday, 10:00-11:00 am (TSH 417)

Course Objectives:

This course brings Art History students into the studio environment to engage directly with artists in their process of making work, providing a hands-on introduction to critical theory and contemporary art discourse. Through participation in studio critiques, visiting artists’ lectures, class discussions, independent research and written assignments, students will gain experience in the critical assessment of contemporary art from the aesthetic and theoretical standpoints of art critics and curators. 

                  Many of the classes will consist of participation in studio art critiques. Other classes will cover topics such as the differing modes of art criticism and curatorial writing, introduction to contemporary art journals, the varying models of Canadian art institution, and practical strategies for emerging art curators and art critics. Throughout the course, students will develop professional skills to participate effectively in public discussions about art, as well as the curatorial skills required for one-on-one studio visits.

            Class times run from 1:30-3:20 pm on Thursdays, but studio critiques continue for the entire afternoon. You are welcomed and encouraged to remain and participate in full critique sessions, as your schedule allows.

            In addition to visiting artist’s lectures scheduled during class time, Richard William Hill’s public Art History lecture on the evening of February 4th (TSH 114, 6:30 pm) is a required component of the course.

            In preparation for your final essay, you will also be required to schedule at least three studio visits with 4th year art students on your own time.

NOTE: This document provides a detailed breakdown of all course requirements. Because many of the classes occur during studio critique sessions, the professor may not always be able to remind you of upcoming deadlines and assignment details. It is your responsibility to familiarize yourself with all assignment requirements and meet all deadlines. If you need additional guidance on a particular assignment please make sure to visit the professor during office hours well in advance of the deadline.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

All course readings are available online or through the Library Reserve. See Topics and Readings below for details.

Method of Assessment:

Assignments Breakdown

Participation  _10%

Critique Notes (Due: Jan 23, Jan 30, March 6, March 13, March 20, April 3) _10%

Reading Notes (Due: Jan. 16, Jan. 23, Jan. 30, Feb. 27)  _10%

Notes on Richard William Hill’s lecture of Feb. 4th (Due: Feb. 6) _10%

Critical Review (Due: Feb.13) _15%

Notes on Lorna Mills’ artist’s talk of March 20 (Due: March 27) _5%

Notes on 3 Studio Visits (Due: March 27) _10%

Curatorial Essay Proposal with Annotated Bibliography (Due: March 6) _5%

Curatorial Essay (Due: March 27) _25%


Assignment Details

Participation_10 points worth 10% of Final Grade

Students are required to attend all classes and must engage with the environment of the critiques. This course requires your attendance for two hours a week, however critique sessions typically run from 1:30 to 5:30 or 6 p.m. each Thursday and you are encouraged to extend your time at the sessions as you can.  As the semester advances, you may adjust the time of your attendance according to the presentation of the students with whom you are working. It is important for the objectives of the course that students gain experience in expressing themselves publicly with insight and concision. In critiques, you are expected to ask questions, raise issues, and bring your art historical knowledge to your analysis of the works presented. Participating in group critiques is an important part of providing collegial, constructive feedback for your peers. Active questioning and differences of opinion, respectfully expressed in a spirit of collaboration and mutual exchange, contribute to a positive and supportive group dynamic.


Critique Notes_5 points each = 30 points worth 10% of Final Grade

(Due: Jan 23, Jan 30, March 6, March 13, March 20, April 3)

Critique notes are due the week after each critique session. These notes do not need to be lengthy, but must indicate critical engagement with the issues raised in critique. Please make note of at least one key point or question raised by each artist whose critique you have attended. Use your notes made during the artists presentation to form constructive questions or comments that you may contribute to the group discussion. Point form is acceptable.


Reading Notes_5 points each = 20 points worth 10% of Final Grade

(Due: Jan. 16, Jan. 23, Jan. 30, Feb. 27)

Reading notes are due on the dates specified above. Notes do not need to be lengthy, but must demonstrate critical engagement with the material. Specific guidelines for making notes on each section of assigned readings are noted below in the Schedule section. Please submit full sentences in paragraph form.


Notes on Richard William Hill’s Lecture of Feb. 4th_5 points worth 10% of Final Grade

(Due: Feb. 6) (600-800 words)

On the evening of February 4th, Richard William Hill will present a public lecture on the work of artist Jimmie Durham at 6:30 pm in TSH 114. You are expected to attend this lecture and make notes. Specific guidelines for notes on this lecture are noted below in the Schedule section. Please submit full sentences in paragraph form.


Critical Review_15 points worth 15% of Final Grade

(Due: Feb.13) (800-1000 words)

Write a critical review of contemporary art exhibition of your choice. You must visit the exhibition in person, and it must be a current, temporary show rather than a permanent or long-term display of works from a collection. Begin visiting galleries early in the term, and be sure to select an exhibition with enough depth to engage a sustained inquiry. Research the artist(s) in the exhibition and make sure to read any reviews that have already been written about the show. Decide on which kind of publication you would like to write your review for (eg. academic journal such as FUSE Magazine, peer reviewed journal such as Journal of Canadian Art History, major newspaper such as The Globe and Mail, general interest art magazine such as Canadian Art). Keeping in mind the definitions of good art criticism proposed by Michelle Kuran and Earl Miller, write a critical review of the exhibition appropriate for the readership of the publication that you have chosen. Try to give equal weight to the following three components: detailed description of art works; critical context for the exhibition; your informed assessment (critical judgment). Be sure to properly cite any and all sources. On the title page, please list your name, the name of the exhibition, the name(s) of the artist(s) in the exhibition, the dates of the exhibition, the venue, and the name of the publication for which you are writing your review.


Notes on Lorna Mills’ Artist’s Talk_5 points worth 5% of Final Grade

(Due: March 27) (400-600 words)

Artist Lorna Mills will give a talk during regularly scheduled class time on March 20th. Specific guidelines for notes on this lecture are noted below in the Schedule section. Please submit full sentences in paragraph form.


Notes on 3 Studio Visits_ 5 points each = 15 points worth 10% of total grade

(Due: March 27, with curatorial essay, but should be completed much earlier)

As outlined below, the final project for this course will be a curatorial essay for which you will discuss works by at least three 4th year Studio artists of your choice. During the term, you are required to conduct studio visits with these artists. Start this process as early as possible in the term so that the information you gather can inform your other research. Take thorough notes during and/or after each studio visit. In addition, take some time to carefully observe the work, and make detailed notes describing the art itself. Notes on each studio visit must be as thorough and detailed as possible. Point form is acceptable.


Curatorial Essay Proposal with Annotated Bibliography_5 points worth 5% of Final Grade

(Due: March 6)

As outlined below, the final project for this course will be a curatorial essay for which you will discuss works by at least three 4th year Studio artists of your choice. See details on the curatorial essay below. Write a paragraph explaining your concept for the exhibition, list the three artists, and briefly explain how their works are connected to your theme. Provide an annotated bibliography of at least 5 texts that will also inform the theme you are proposing. Provide a proper citation for each text and a brief description of how it is relevant to your research. 


Curatorial Essay_25 points worth 25% of Final Grade

(Due: March 27) (2500-3000 words)

Imagine that you are curating an exhibition of at least three 4th year Studio artists of your choice. Organise your exhibition around a concept or theme. Using the gallery floor plan that will be provided, indicate where you would place the various works that you have chosen. Write a curatorial essay, such as would be included in a major catalogue for the exhibition. Clearly state your thesis for the exhibition, discuss the theme or concept that you have selected, describe the art works, and explain how they inform your concept when placed in the configuration that you have chosen. Drawing on what you have learned from the course, make sure your essay provides in-depth, critical analysis that contributes something of value to the larger art discourse. In addition to handing in your essay for grading, you will also be distributing it to the artists you have discussed.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

It is the responsibility of each student to meet the requirements of submission for coursework. Handing work in late is not acceptable. A penalty of one full letter grade will be imposed for every academic day assignments are late. For example, a grade of A will be reduced to an F if assignment is five days late. Exceptions to this policy will only be made in specific instances where a student is eligible to file a McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF) and follows the proper procedure online at

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

This is a self-reporting tool for undergraduate students to report absences DUE TO MINOR MEDICAL SITUATIONS that last up to 5 days and provides the ability to request accommodation for any missed academic work. Please note, this tool cannot be used during any final examination period. You may submit a maximum of 1 Academic Work Missed request per term. It is YOUR responsibility to follow up with your Instructor immediately (NORMALLY WITHIN TWO WORKING DAYS) regarding the nature of the accommodation. If you are absent for reasons other than medical reasons, for more than 5 days, or exceed 1 request per term, you MUST visit your Associate Dean's Office/Faculty Office). You may be required to provide supporting documentation. This form should be filled out immediately when you are about to return to class after your absence.

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:


Location: we will meet in TSH 114 at 1:30 for a talk by artist (and Studio faculty member) Carmela Langanse. After Laganse’s talk we will move to TSH 321 for an introduction to the course.

No assignments due




Location: We will meet in TSH 114 at 1:30 for the studio critique.

Due: reading notes on the following:


RM Vaughan, “Antwerp Diary,” Canadian Art (Summer 2006): 54-57,


Michelle Kuran, “Drawn but not Quartered: the crisis in art criticism,” Ryerson Review of Journalism (Summer, 2010):


Skye Gooden, “Critics' Q&A with Earl Miller: ‘We Need to Raise the Standards of Art Writing’,” Blouin Art Info (July 13, 2012):


Reading Notes Guidelines:

• What is your own opinion of RM Vaughan’s review, “Antwerp Diary”? Does it make a valuable contribution to Canadian art discourse? Why or why not?

• What different kinds of art writing are identified by Kuran and Miller?

• What problems with art criticism are identified by Kuran and Miller?

• What solutions do Kuran and Miller propose for improving art criticism?

• What connections does Miller draw between the role of the curator and the art critic?

• What questions do these texts raise for you?




Location: We will meet in TSH 114 at 1:30 for the studio critique.

Due: critique notes from Jan. 16th and reading notes on the following:


You must read:

Richard William Hill, “Close Readings: Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art,” FUSE 36, no. 4 (2013):


...and at least 2 of the following:


David MacFarlane, “Sakahàn at the National Gallery: indigenous art with a self-assured sense of mystery,” Toronto Star /, September 4, 2013,


Sarah Milroy, “Sakahan at the National Gallery: an Aboriginal triumph,” The Globe and Mail, July 19, 2013,


Paul Gessell, “ARTFUL BLOGGER: ‘Wow factor’ is high at the National Gallery’s new international indigenous exhibition,” Ottawa Magazine, May 15, 2013,


Bryne McLaughlin, “Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art,” Canadian Art (Fall 2013):


Reading Notes Guidelines:

FUSE Magazine’s mandate reads as follows:

FUSE is a venue for timely and politically engaged publishing and programming reflecting the diversity of the contemporary art world. Our work fosters the exchange between social movements and the arts, featuring critical treatment of the most pressing and contentious issues in art, culture and politics from a Canadian perspective. (

Given this context, how does Richard William Hill’s review of Sakahàn for FUSE differ from the other reviews of the same exhibition?

• What mandates are the other reviewers, writing for more mainstream publications, trying to fulfill?

• Have the other reviewers been able to insert some criticality into their reviews? If yes, how have they achieved this? If no, why not?

• What questions do these texts raise for you?


FYI: You may wish to refer to The National Gallery of Canada’s website for the Sakahàn exhibition at


See Assignment Details above for guidelines on critique notes.




Location: We will meet in TSH 321 at 1:30 for class discussion.

Due: Come to class with a list of at least three 4th year artists whose work you would like to address in your curatorial essay and some thematic ideas about you want to connect their work. Also due: critique notes from January 23rd, and reading notes on the following:


3 Reviews of the same contemporary art exhibition (within the past 15 years).


One critical review of a contemporary art exhibition from FUSE Magazine, C Magazine, Parachute or any peer reviewed journal (examples: RACAR, Journal of Canadian Art History, Journal of Curatorial Studies, The Art Bulletin, Art Journal...there are more!)


One review of the same exhibition from Canadian Art magazine, or The Globe and Mail.


One review of the same exhibition from a general interest magazine, blog or any of the publications listed above that you have not yet drawn from.


Reading Notes Guidelines:

• Consider the differing mandates of the publications for which the reviewers are writing.

• What strategies does each reviewer use to effectively address their readers?

• To what extent is each reviewer able to insert criticality into their review?

• Thinking as a future art critic, what strategies would you adopt to write an excellent art review?




Richard William Hill: “The Malice & Benevolence of Inanimate Objects“

Public Talk

February 4, 2014 – 6:30 p.m.

The New Space – TSH 114


Guidelines for notes on Richard William Hill’s Lecture:

As a curator and art critic, Richard William Hill has a long-standing professional relationship with the artist Jimmie Durham.

• How does Hill position his theoretical investigations in relation to Durham’s work?

• What kinds of critical questions has Hill been able to raise through his in-depth investigation of Durham’s work?

• This lecture is based on a curatorial essay that Hill wrote for an exhibition of Durham’s work. How does Hill’s role as a curator add to the discourse around Durham’s work?

• Thinking as a future curator, what kind of relationship would you like to establish between yourself and the artists you work with?

• What questions has this talk raised for you? (Feel free to pose your questions during the Q.&A. period - courage!)




location TBA (check your email!)

Due: notes on Richard William Hill’s lecture.




Location:  We will meet in TSH 321 at 1:30 for class discussion.

Due: critical review


See Assignment Details above for guidelines on critical review.







Location: For those who are able to attend, we will meet at the McMaster Museum of Art for a talk by artist (and Studio faculty member) John Ford at 12:30. Class will convene in TSH 114 at 1:30 for the studio critique.


Due: reading notes for the following:

Read two curatorial essays from exhibition catalogues. A number of exhibition catalogues will be placed on library reserve and a list will be provided. At least one of the essays you read must be selected from that list, the other may also be from that list, or it may be a catalogue essay of your choice.


Reading Notes Guidelines:

• Curators writing for exhibition catalogues rarely make negative comments about the artist(s)’ work because their are acting, in part, as an advocate. Given this context, what elements of critical thinking can you find in the essays you have read? (Keep in mind the ways that Kuran and Miller have defined the term “critical.”)

• In what ways has each author expanded the discourse around the artist(s)’ work?

• What connections has each author made between the artist(s)’ work and larger cultural issues?

• Thinking as the future writer of a curatorial essay, what kinds of thematic connections, critical issues, or cultural contexts are raised by the works of the artists you are following in this course?




Location: We will meet in TSH 114 at 1:30 pm for the critique.

Due: curatorial essay proposal with annotated bibliography and critique notes from February 27


See Assignment Details above for guidelines on the curatorial essay proposal and annotated bibliography.




Location: We will meet in TSH 114 at 1:30 pm for the critique.

Due: critique notes from March 6

NOTE: 1st draft of curatorial essay should be underway.




Location: We will meet in TSH 114 at 1:30 pm for an artist’s talk by Lorna Mills and afterwards we will reconvene in TSH 321 for class discussion.

Due: critique notes from March 13

NOTE: 3rd-7th draft of curatorial essay should be complete (do not submit an essay in this state).


Guidelines for notes on Lorna Mills’ artist’s talk:

• Thinking as an art critic, what themes, contexts and critical issues are raised by Mills’ work?

• Thinking as a curator, what strategies would you use to position Mill’s work in an exhibition context?

• What questions does Mill’s presentation raise for you? (Feel free to pose your questions during the Q.&A. period - courage!)




Location: We will meet in TSH 114 at 1:30 pm for critique.

Due: notes on Lorna Mills’ artists talk from March 20th, Due: curatorial essay with notes from at least 3 studio visits attached. NOTE: you must hand in a hard copy of your essay for grading, and distribute the essay (hard copy or electronic copy) to each of the artists you have discussed.

See Assignment Details above for guidelines on the curatorial essay and studio visit notes.



Location: We will meet in TSH 114 at 1:30 pm for critique.