Personal Expression in Art History

How have the emotions and life experiences of renowned artists shaped the sculptures and paintings we’ve come to know and love? In the first half of each class, we’ll look at how artists from the 18th century onward communicated their grief, fear, jealousy, anger, joy and passion in their art. In the second part of each class, you’ll do hands-on work with clay and oil pastels to explore your own feelings and experiences. What do you feel compelled to express? What happens when you get it onto the page for you and others to witness? What images, colours and shapes would you use to bring form to your life’s stories, struggles and celebrations?

This course focuses on creative expression rather than technique, so no previous art experience is necessary.

Note: Back by popular demand, from fall 2018.

A $60 discount will be applied automatically for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:

  • Describe aspects of modern and contemporary art and its function in society
  • Recognize and identify a range of modern and contemporary art movements 
  • Discuss the role your own personal artistic expression plays in your life

Learning methods

You will learn through a combination of lecture, discussion, group work and creative excercises. For Liberal Arts Certificate for 55+ students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1: Play is FUNdemental

We look at Dada art and how play was used to reimagine the post-war world. In the second part of class we explore how play, humour and absurdity can open us up to new creative possibilities.

Week 2: The Soul of the Earth

From Canadian Indigenous artists to the Impressionists to the Land Artists of the '60s, we explore those who looked to Mother Nature for their inspiration. In the second half of class we use clay and other artistic means to explore how our own identity is intertwined with our birthplace.

Week 3: Exploring the Felt Sense

We consider artists such as Frida Kahlo, Joseph Beuys and Louise Bourgeois, who used their own somatic and life experiences to explore what it is to be a vulnerable human being. In the second half of class we explore ways in which to employ our own senses, making art from the inside out.

Week 4: Love and Relationships

We discuss artists who created from the joy, pain and depth of love—whether romantic, platonic or familial. In the second half of class we each consider a relationship of our own and explore its essence through drawing, writing and sharing.

Week 5: The Monster

We look at monsters in art history and how they express the darker side of human emotion, evoking fascination and wonder. In the second part of class we give form to our own fears to see if we can gain new insights about their power, necessity and maybe even their beauty.

Week 6: Self-Portraiture and Mask

We look at the many artists throughout the ages who have explored identity and emotion through mask-making and self-portraiture. In the second part of class you will create your own self-portrait and explore who you are, where you are going or who you want to be.

Books, materials and resources

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

Academic integrity and student conduct

You are expected to comply with Simon Fraser University’s Academic Integrity and Student Conduct Policies. Please click here for more details. Simon Fraser University is committed to creating a scholarly community characterized by honesty, civility, diversity, free inquiry, mutual respect, individual safety, and freedom from harassment and discrimination.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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