Decoding Art

We grow up being told that art is difficult to understand. This course is designed to give you the skills to decode art on your own, from simply learning the names of the parts of ancient and medieval buildings and sculpture to interpreting the great art of the modern era. This course is for you if you want to develop a language for appreciating art so that, next time you go to a museum, you’ll have more confidence in interpreting art and sharing stories about the greatest European and North American artists throughout history.

A $50 discount will be applied automatically for adults 55+.

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Online - Barry Magrill $170.00 0 Join Waitlist

Schedule clarification: This is a four-week online course. It runs from Monday, November 8 to Friday, December 3. Each week, all week, you can study that week’s material, post and respond to discussion board topics, and engage in course activities. You will participate in Zoom Meetings sessions each Tuesday from 7–8:30 p.m. Pacific Time.

Learning objectives

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

  • Decode the visual motifs found in art, sculpture and architecture
  • Examine art in connection with the history of the artist
  • Interpret a work of art from the artist’s perspective and from the audience’s point of view

Learning methods

Your online learning will include the following methods:

  • Reading academic and non-academic articles
  • Participation in written discussions with other students
  • Participation in discussion in videoconference seminars

For Liberal Arts for 55+ Certificate students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1: Decoding the ancient world

We explore the Greek Acropolis and medieval cathedrals.

Week 2: Decoding the Renaissance

We examine art collected by the famed Medici family of Florence, Italy, in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Week 3: Decoding enlightenment and impressionism

We look into artists caught up in political intrigue such as Goya and Jacques-Louis David, moving onto the disruptions caused by Manet, Monet and Renoir.

Week 4: Decoding modern art

Picasso and his cohort, plus Marcel Duchamp, are explored to approach an understanding of art that broke the final boundary.

Books, materials and resources

You will access course resources using SFU’s online course management system, Canvas.

Technical requirements

This course is delivered using SFU's online learning system, Canvas. You can check if your browser is compatible with Canvas here.  

To get the most out of this online course, you should be comfortable doing the following:

  • Using everyday software such as browsers, email and social media
  • Navigating a website by clicking on links and finding pages in a menu
  • Downloading and opening PDF documents
  • Posting, replying and uploading images to a discussion board
  • Participating in videoconferencing sessions

You will be participating in videoconferencing using Zoom Meetings. For this, your computer needs to have a camera, microphone and speakers or headphones. Your computer software should be up to date with the latest available operating system and browser versions.

Accessing your course

  • A few days before the course starts, we will email you more information about the course and how you'll access it. You will also receive an email inviting you to access the Canvas learning platform (click on the link in the invitation to join the course). Once you’ve accessed Canvas, you can begin exploring the platform on your own. The full course will be accessible on its start date.
  • We’ll also host a virtual drop-in time on Zoom Meetings a few days before the course starts. This will give you a chance to check that you can access Zoom Meetings, and that your computer’s camera and microphone and speakers are working properly.

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

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