Modern Art and Mass Culture

Urbanization, industrialization, conquest, mass politics, war and global capitalism: these are some of the forces that transformed nineteenth- and twentieth-century art and continue to shape it today. This course examines modern art, primarily in Europe and the United States, as the product of its dialogue with mass culture, broadly defined as culture that belongs to “the masses.” Whether openly embracing its forms, subtly or overtly critiquing them, or negating them by ignoring them, art in the modern era has always been dialogue with mass culture. What is modern art’s relation to industrially-produced commodities, to new technologies of image making (lithography, photography, film, television, the digital), and to popular entertainments, advertising or the fashion industry? How and why have modern artists from the early nineteenth century to the Impressionists to the Pop movements of the 1960s to today appropriated or sought to transcend mass cultural forms? And how in turn has mass culture appropriated the forms of art? Focusing on select episodes in the history of artistic production from 1800 to 2014, this course understands art as a vital and unpredictable part of everyday life, particularly in its engagement with the mass culture that affects us all.

COURSE STRUCTURE: No prior knowledge of art history is required, and there are no prerequisites for this course. In addition to lectures, the course includes weekly recitation meetings that are designed specifically for students to discuss readings and images, and to exchange ideas with fellow students. Recitations include visits to local museums.