Becoming Modern: European Art From Futurism to Surrealism

The details
Art History and Theory
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Monday 13 January 2020
Friday 20 March 2020
02 January 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA V351 Curating,
BA V352 Curating (Including Year Abroad),
BA V353 Curating (including Placement Year),
BA V359 Curating (Including Foundation Year),
BA V35B Curating (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad)

Module description

Our module seeks to answer a fundamental question: `What makes art modern?` In pursuit of this question, we will concentrate on key strands of European modern art in the first decades of the twentieth century, such as Futurism, German Expressionism, Constructivism, and Surrealism.

We shall consider several topics: how the excitement for and fear of new technologies influenced the art of the period; the intersections between art, mass media, and consumer culture; the impact of one of the most traumatic events in history, the first World War, on artists and their art-making; and how painters at this time were increasingly dazzled by the possibility of an entirely non-representational or non-objective art.

We will re-examine and unpack such iconic works as Boccioni's Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, Kirchner's series on the city, Brancusi's Bird in Space, Kandinsky's Compositions and Malevich's Black Square.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

1. to develop a greater understanding of key developments in modern European art in the first decades of the twentieth century;
2. to introduce students to artworks from this period and to the comparative study of modernism across European countries;
3. to expose students to debates in past and recent literature about the interpretation of modern European art from the first part of the 20th century;
4. to raise students` awareness of different methods for analysing works of art;
5. to stimulate students to develop skills in written communication through essay and oral communication and debate in seminars.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module the student should have:

1. a greater appreciation and richer understanding of early 20th-century modern European art;
2. insight into different methods of art-historical investigation that have been used to analyse modern European art from this period;
3. some experience in textual analysis relevant to artworks and theoretical debates from this period;
4. an ability to demonstrate all of these competences through one coursework essay of 3,000 words and an unseen examination.

By the end of the module, students should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:

1. define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant;
2. seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information;
3. process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments;
4. compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure;
5. write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions,
arguments, and their presuppositions and implications;
6. be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them;
7. think 'laterally' and creatively (i.e., to explore interesting connections and possibilities, and to present these clearly rather than as vague hunches);
8. maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position based on feedback;
9. think critically and constructively.

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

9 x 2 hour lectures/seminars 1 x Gallery visit Week 21 is Reading Week Week 31 is a Revision session


  • Barron, Stephanie. (1991) '1937: Modern Art and Politics in Prewar Germany', in Degenerate art: the fate of the avant-garde in Nazi Germany, Los Angeles, CA: Los Angeles County Museum of Art., pp.9-24
  • Rainey, Lawrence S; Poggi, Christine; Wittman, Laura. (c2009) Futurism: an anthology, New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Alexandra Parigoris. (2004) The Road to Damascus, London: Tate., pp.50-59
  • Breton, André; Seaver, Richard; Lane, Helen R. (1972) Manifestoes of surrealism, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Vergo, Peter. (1982) 'Painting as Pure Art', in Kandinsky, complete writings on art, London: Faber and Faber., pp.348-354
  • Taylor, Joshua Charles. (c1968) 'Dada Slogans, Berlin, 1919', in Theories of modern art: a source book by artists and critics, Berkeley: University of California Press. vol. 11, pp.376-376
  • Kazimir Malevich. (2017) 'From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Painterly Realism', in Russian art of the avant-garde: theory and criticism, 1902-1934, London: Thames & Hudson., pp.116-135
  • Chipp, Herschel Browning; Selz, Peter; Taylor, Joshua Charles. (c1968) Theories of modern art: a source book by artists and critics, Berkeley: University of California Press. vol. 11
  • Jennifer Mundy; Dawn Ades. (c2001) Surrealism: desire unbound, London: Tate Publishing.
  • Maud Levin. (c1996) 'The Mess of History, or the Unclean Hannah Hoch', in Inside the visible: an elliptical traverse of 20th century art in, of, and from the feminine, Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press., pp.116-123
  • Meyer Schapiro. (1978) 'Mondrian: Order and Randomness in Abstract Painting', in Modern art: 19th & 20th centuries, London: Chatto & Windus. vol. 2, pp.233-261
  • E. L. Kirchner. (2003) 'Programme of the Brücke', in Art in theory, 1900-2000: an anthology of changing ideas, Malden, MA: Blackwell., pp.65-66

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Slide Test    20% 
Coursework   Essay (2500 Words)  20/04/2020  80% 
Exam  120 minutes during Summer (Main Period) (Main) 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
50% 50%


Coursework Exam
50% 50%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Natasha Ruiz-Gomez, email:
Dr Natasha Ruiz-Gomez



External examiner

Prof Richard Simon Clay
Newcastle University
Professor of Digital Cultures
Available via Moodle
Of 20 hours, 20 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information
Art History and Theory

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