Modern Art and Mass Culture

This subject introduces undergraduate students to the history of modern art, primarily in Europe and the USA, from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, specifically as a product of the interface with industrially-produced mass culture, advertising, and/or the “folk” or popular arts. Through lectures and recitations we will examine the interaction between these domains of culture, and assess their role in forming a modernist aesthetic in the visual arts, and prompting a “postmodern” revolution. Modernism became a conscious program and strategy for visual artists more than a century ago, postmodernism is itself thirty years old! We will follow these strategies of engagement through their checkered pasts, assess their effectiveness over the last 150 years, and conclude with the uneasy cultural politics of the 21st century’s emerging new media practices.

How does art produce, reflect, exaggerate or ameliorate the effects of modernization, such as urbanization, industrialization, global capitalism, or mass politics? Is culture generated by elites, or by anonymous energies bubbling up from below? What is the relationship between art and visual technologies such as photography, cinema, television, and the digital media, each of which emerged at a specific historical moment to challenge the complacency of high art? And finally, which theories of cultural production remain useful for thinking about such issues today?