Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit



Unit rationale, description and aim

It is essential for visual artists and graphic designers to be able to identify and interpret key historical movements and their cultural contexts. An awareness of this enriches and broadens creativity in general and informs contemporary art-making practices in a real world way. In this introductory unit, students examine art and design history and theory, commencing with the turn of the 20th century and the rise of ‘modernity’ and modernism within the context of society, politics, culture and religion. Students will learn how to apply visual analysis to artworks from a variety of avant-garde art movements such as realism, impressionism, dada and surrealism in Europe and modernism in Australia. These will be examined within the context of industrialisation, technological transformations, colonialism, Indigenous perspectives, the impact of war and shifts in perceptions and religiousbeliefs. The aim of this unit is students developt foundational skills and knowledge in the history of art and which can be extended in later units to provide a basis for better understanding the evolution of creative practices in the real world, up to the present day.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - investigate the passage of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century modalities of visual representation and their avant-gardes (GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9)

LO2 - analyse the foundation of modernist discourse and its impact on both artistic and design production, including Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander and European Australian forms of cultural production; (GA2, GA4, GA6, GA8, GA10)

LO3 - conceptualise the complex relation between the emergence and decline of key political, industrial and social events and the production of art and design (GA1, GA4, GA8)

LO4 - identify a range of significant images and objects from the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries up to the commencement of World War II, with particular reference to the artists and designers, audiences and events to which they are related. (GA4, GA9)

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity

GA2 - recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society 

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 

GA10 - utilise information and communication and other relevant technologies effectively.


Topics will include:

  •  The scope of visual representation in Western and global contexts, including Realism, the Post-Impressionisms, Expressionism, Formalisms, Dada and Surrealism;
  • Australian art and design in the shadow of Western developments in visual representation;
  • Conventions and inventions in picturing in relation to mythology and spirituality, landscape, identity and possession with particular reference to religious art;
  • Case examples of experimental mile posts in nineteenth and twentieth century art and design, including selected representatives from the disciplines of painting, sculpture and architecture as well as from design, object making, film and multi-media;
  • Different historiographical approaches to the investigation of art and design histories;
  • Specific discussion around Australian Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander identities and the appropriation and commercialisation of their cultural production.

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit embraces active learning strategies and is designed to provide students with a foundational knowledge of the academic discipline of art and design history and theory. Students will have the opportunity to build their practical skills and discipline knowledge which will be consolidated and extended in the higher level art history and theory units in this course.


A range of learning and teaching strategies are incorporated into this unit, including formal lectures, seminars, group activities and films. Formal lectures and seminars will be used to model visual analysis techniques, research skills and communication strategies.Online learning resources, guided readings, games and discussions enhance the learning resources. The seminar classes are designed to produce interactive learning with discussion interdispersed with reflection on primary and secondary sources that enliven an appreciation of historical events. Formal lectures and seminars will be used to model visual analysis techniques, research skills and communication strategies. Online learning, guided reading, and discussions support the development of research and other skills which fundamentally underpin the creative industries, such as an understanding of the relationship betyween historical and contemporary practices and the capacity to enhance creative, critical and reflective thinking.To enliven studnets’ appreciation of historical events and their relationship to contemporary creative practice, teaching in this unit will build on formal presentations on visual analysis, research and communication skills with discussion interspersed with reflection on primary and secondary sources. Online learning resources such as films and videos, guided readings and games will further support the development of research skills and other skills which fundamentally underpin the creative industries such as creative, critical and reflective thinking.


This is a 10-credit point unit and has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a pass standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities provided.

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessments have been designed to provide students with a variety of tasks in which they are able to demonstrate achievement of the learning outcomes.


In the textual task, students will have the opportunity to develop their knowledge of ‘modernity’, modernism as a style and how artworks reflected shifts in values, technologies and society in general through an analysis of an art history article. The second assessment requires students to build on their developing knowledge of key concepts in the history of the period and of art movements to research primary and secondary texts to support an argument in a formal essay. This assessment focuses on the development of critical academic skills that are crucial supports for further study. The visual analysis assessment consolidates fundamental skills in reading visual texts and the identification of key movements, styles and formal techniques in modernism. The essay requires students to build on their developing knowledge of key concepts in the history of the period and of art movements to research primary and secondary texts to support an argument in a formal essay. This assessment focuses on the development of critical academic skills that are crucial supports for further study.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Critical Reading Exercise 



GA2, GA4, GA6, GA8, GA10

Major Essay


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA1, GA2, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA9, GA10

Slide Test


LO3, LO4

GA1, GA4, GA8, GA9 

Representative texts and references

Brady, L., (2010). Pictures, Patterns & Objects: rock-art of the Torres Strait Islands. Melbourne: Scholarly Press.

Butler, C., (2010). Modernism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chadwick, W., (2012). Women, Art and Society, London: Thames and Hudson.

Foster, H., Krauss, R., Yve-Alain Bois and Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, (2004). Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism, London: Thames and Hudson.

Gaiger, J. and P. Wood (eds.), (2003). Art of the Twentieth Century, Yale University Press and Open University.Harrison, C., (1997). Modernism, London: Tate Gallery Publishing.

Harrison, C. and Wood, P. with Gaiger, J,. (eds.) (2003). Art and Theory 1815-1900. An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Oxford: Blackwell.

McLean, I., (1998). White Aborigines: Identity Politics in Australian Art, UK: Cambridge University Press

Parmesani, L., (2000). Art of the Twentieth Century. London: Skira

Smith, T., (2002). Transformations in Australian Art: The Nineteenth Century - Landscape, Colony and Nation, Sydney: Craftsman House

Thomas, N., (1999). Possessions. Indigenous Art/Colonial Culture, London: Thames and Hudson.

Walz, R., (2008). Modernism, Harlow: Pearson Longman.

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