Western Art: From the Renaissance to the Present (55+)

In this survey course, we’ll relate Western art to the leading ideas of the following periods: the Renaissance, the baroque, the rococo, the neoclassical, the Romantic and post-Romantic, and the modern and postmodern.

We will see Western art, up to the 19th century, as expressing the alternation and combination of two philosophical and artistic traditions: the classical and the Christian. As we enter the Romantic period, we’ll notice a change toward the celebration of emotion for its own sake, although often with reference to these traditions. With the 20th century, we’ll observe how modern artists rejected much of the past, and how postmodern artists are divided between those who wish to return to that past, and those who reject it with even greater intensity.

Note: Back by popular demand, from spring 2015.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: The Renaissance and the birth of the baroque

The Italian Renaissance marks the rebirth of the humanist classical tradition, and the partial rejection of the religious medieval tradition. The artists of the Renaissance attempted to revive the classical past as the model for present life and art. We shall study the art of this audacious attempt, which began in Italy and then moved north.

Week 2: The baroque, rococo and classic

Artists trained in the baroque, as they abandoned religious depth, created the decorative style of the rococo, which was quickly associated with the decadent aristocracy. In reaction, revolutionary artists and thinkers once again championed the revival of classicism also known as the neoclassic style.

Week 3: Romanticism

Romanticism was an artistic movement that did not so much create a new style as recreate—and often mix—the styles of the past in the service of a greater emotionalism. Romantics celebrated emotion, and associated it with the natural world, which they viewed as being despoiled by the Industrial Revolution.

Week 4: After Romanticism: realism, nationalism, impressionism and post-impressionism

The High Romantic movement of the first half of the 19th century broke up, as the century went on, into a number of movements that are easier to define. All of these movements departed in style from High Romanticism, but all were continuations of it, in that the search for emotional expression remained paramount.

Week 5: The modern age

The modernist revolution in art came about when artists rejected the traditions of the past, including romanticism, and attempted to re-found the arts in revolutionary ways of seeing. The results, in painting, were the revolutionary styles of cubism, abstract expressionism and surrealism. Analogous styles in sculpture and architecture also developed.

Week 6: The arts today: Modernism and postmodernism

Modernism in art was challenged by postmodernism. Some artists and thinkers, especially those described by the term “deconstructionist,” rejected the modernist styles because they thought these styles were not revolutionary enough. Others rejected the modernist styles because they thought that modernism had been too revolutionary in its rejection of the past.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

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

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

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