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ARTHIST 4AA3 Contemp Art/Visual Culture

Academic Year: Winter 2018

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: E

Instructor: Prof. Kristin Patterson


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 434

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23719

Office Hours: Mondays, 5:30-6:30 pm & Wednesday morning by appt.

Course Objectives:

  • Students will gain exposure to a wide range of activist and socially engaged artistic practices.
  • Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of how various political groups, past and present, utilize creative forms of media to advance their interests and/or effect social change.
  • Students will engage with theoretical concepts and scholarly debates on artistic and creative activism and art as a means for social change.
  • Students will gain knowledge of artistic activism on local, national, and global scale.
  • Students will be encouraged to analyze and critique the political potential of art.
  • Student will have the opportunity to analyze the potential aesthetic, social, and political value of a range of art practices in person and through reproductions.
  • Students will refine research, writing, and critical thinking skills through course assignments.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Students will be responsible for reading articles, watching interviews/videos and visiting websites provided on Avenue to Learn under weekly headings.

Method of Assessment:

Short Response Papers, due January 28th & February 18th, 2 x 15%, 30%

Project Proposal and Annotated Bibliography, due March 4th, 10%

Project Presentation, March 19th & 26th, 10%

Final Project, due April 9th, 20% 

Student Led Discussion, as assigned, 10%

Participation & Discussion, including Post a Quote, weekly, 20%


Students will have received 10% of their grade in this course by March 16th, 2018.

**Details of all course assignments will be posted on Avenue to Learn>Content>Assignments.


Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

All written assignments are to be submitted via Avenue to Learn by 11:30 pm on the 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:

Lecture Topics:

Activist Lexicon, Historical Survey of Art and Activism

Spectacle, Situationists and Détournement

Civil Rights Activism, Feminist and Post-Colonial Art

Posters, Propaganda, and Activism

Art and Protest: War and Memory

Culture Jamming and Art Pranks

Participatory Art and Relational Aesthetics

Social Networks and Media Activism

The Future of Socially Engaged Practices


Other Course Information:

Course Description: 

This course focuses on socially engaged artistic and activist practices. We will consider the strategies and uses of artistic aesthetic taken up by individuals and collectives for the purpose of social interaction, intervention or change. We will explore the materials, methods, and theoretical approaches taken by artist activists through readings, case studies, and student projects. We will consider existing scholarship on socially engaged art, as well as closely analyze specific practices on a local, national and global scale. Together we will investigate, analyze, and assess the value of these hybrid practices as aesthetic, social, and political activities.

Note to Students:

We will be viewing and discussing controversial material. Many activist and socially engaged 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.