Becoming Modern: European Art From Futurism to Surrealism

The details
Art History and Theory
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Sunday 17 January 2021
Friday 26 March 2021
18 May 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA V3R9 Art History with Modern Languages,
BA VR3B Art History with Modern Languages (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.

Some of the topics under consideration include the ways in which new technologies transformed art-making and art discourse from the period; the intersections between art, mass media, and consumer culture; the impact of war on artists and their art practices; and the so-called birth of abstraction.

We will closely analyse and re-examine a range of iconic artworks, such as Boccioni's Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, Kandinsky's earliest non-representational compositions, Kirchner's street scenes, Magritte's The Key to Dreams, and Rodchenko's Spatial Constructions.

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 communication through assignments and seminars.

Module learning outcomes

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

There will be a two-hour combined lecture and seminar each week. All teaching events will be accessible to students on and off campus either face-to-face or remotely through online teaching. Week 21 is reading week.


  • Barron, Stephanie. (c1991) '1937: Modern Art and Politics in Prewar Germany', in Degenerate art: the fate of the avant-garde in Nazi Germany, Los Angeles, Calif: 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   2000 word essay    40% 
Coursework   Quizzes TOTAL     30% 
Coursework   SUMMER 24hr take home exam    30% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Michael Tymkiw, email:
Dr Michael Tymkiw



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

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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