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ARTS112 Art in the Early 20th Century

Unit rationale, description and aim

This unit examines the major forms of cultural production in art and design in relation to the changing social, political, and economic contexts from the 1940s to the present. Students are introduced to a broad range of art movements and styles including abstraction,  pop art, conceptual art, minimalism, land art performance and feminist interventions.  Historical shifts in thinking and knowledge during this period will be examined to better understand changing notions of identity, counter-cultures and the radical movement away from traditional art practices. Critiques of modernity, the idea of freedom, the rise of the civil rights movement in America and postcolonial discourse will be explored as well as the emerging concerns around ecology and cultural difference. There will be an emphasis on  Indigenous artists both from Australia and the ‘global south’ whilst also focusing on the shift in the epicentre of the art world from Europe to America.

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 - Articulate the intellectual foundation of Postmodernist discourse and its impact on artistic production, including Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander and European Australian forms of cultural production (GA1, GA2, GA5, GA8, GA9)

LO2 - Explain the complex relation between the emergence and decline of key political, industrial and social events and the production of art and design (GA2, GA8, GA9)

LO3 - Critically analyse the relationship between historical arguments and scholarship in the field (GA2, GA4, GA8)

LO4 - Demonstrate a development of written communication skills; (GA4, GA5, GA8, 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 

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

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


Topics may include:

The scope of post-1940 visual representation in Western and global contexts, including Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Conceptual Art, Land Art, Feminist Interventions, postmodern art/architecture and digital art:

  • An examination of the social, cultural and historical contexts of the postwar period in order to better understand the nature of postmodern art, architecture and design.
  • Reference to alternative 'histories' drawing upon feminism, post-structuralism, post-colonial theories;
  • Discussion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural narratives;
  • The drawing of illustrative links between modernist and current art and design practice with particular reference to the possible meanings of post-modernism.

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

The learning and teaching strategy used within this unit is to deliver research informed and culturally rich lectures. The tutorials are based on constructivist theories of learning where the student becomes actively involved in the primary construction of knowledge through student participation. The main aim in doing this is for students to develop multi-layered critical responses to the analysis and research of art history and theory.

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment tasks for this unit are designed for you to demonstrate your achievement of each learning outcome. This unit is focused on learning outcomes for students, in the form of knowledge, understanding and skills and aims to develop the attitudes and values of learners; it proceeds from an understanding of students’ knowledge, capabilities and backgrounds; is coherent in the integration of objectives with teaching procedures and assessment; ensures the clear communication to students of expectations, requirements and ways in which they can achieve their potential. The unit also engages students as active participants in the learning process, while acknowledging that all learning must involve a complex interplay of active and receptive processes, the constructing of meaning for oneself, and learning with and from others; provides opportunity for improved information literacy; makes use of a wide range of teaching strategies, including the use of various information and communication technologies and encourages students to develop independent learning skills by providing appropriate tasks to develop analytical and critical thinking skills.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Critical Evaluation Task 



GA1, GA2, GA5, GA8, GA9

Major Essay


LO2, LO3, LO4

GA2, GA4, GA8, GA9

Slide Test



GA2, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

Collins, J., (2007). Sculpture Today, London: Phaidon.

Foster, H., Krauss, R. Bois, Y. & Buchloh, B.H.D., (eds.) (2005). Art Since 1900: Modernism Antimodernism Postmodernism, London: Thames and Hudson.

Howells, R., & Negreiros, J. (2010) Visual Culture. Polity Publishing.

Lydon, J. (2005). Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians, Durham, Duke University Press.

McLean, I., (ed.). (2014). Double Desire: Transculturation and Indigenous Contemporary Art. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Poli, F., (2008). Postmodern Art from the Post-war to Today, New York: Collins.

Ran, F., (2009). A history of installation art and the development of new art forms: technology and the hermeneutics of time and space in modern and postmodern art from Cubism to installation. New York: Peter Lang.

Terraroli, V., (2009). 1969-1999: Neo avant-gardes, postmodern and global art. Milan: Skira: New York.

Woods, T., (2009). Beginning Postmodernism, Manchester: Manchester University Press,

Young, J., (2010). Cultural appropriation and the arts. John Wiley & Sons.

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