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 skills to the emergence of 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, shifts in perceptions, beliefs and international conflicts. The aim of this unit is to provide students with the foundational skills and knowledge in the history of art and design that will be developed in future units and to provide a basis for better understanding the evolution of creative practices in the real world context of 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 - Identify the main tenets and stylistic variations of art and design movements of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century (GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9)

LO2 - Explain the complex relationship between art and the socio-historical and political context in which it is produced, particularly with regard to notions of class, the psycho-social impacts of war, indigenous perspectives, and colonialism (GA1, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8)

LO3 - Critically analyse major events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and their impact on the emergence of new technologies and key shifts in perception  (GA4, GA8)

LO4 - Communicate coherently in a range of critical and/or creative forms (GA4, GA9)

Graduate attributes

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

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


Topics will include:

  • The scope of visual representation in Western and global contexts, including realism, post-impressionism, expressionism, Bauhaus, dada and surrealism;
  • Australian art and design in the shadow of Western developments in visual representation;
  • Conventions in image making in relation to mythology and spirituality, landscape, identity and possession with particular reference to religious art;
  • Examining artworks from a multi-disclipline perspective;
  • Different historiographical approaches to the investigation of art and design histories;
  • Specific discussion around Australian and other Indigenous issues and their relationship to colonial and post-colonial discourse.

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. The seminar classes are designed to produce interactive learning with discussion interspersed 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 between historical and contemporary practices and the capacity to enhance 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. Students will study key areas that are essential for the history of art and design including: visual analysis and avant-garde movements; the relationship between cultural production and the context in which it is made; and the development of critical thinking, research and academic writing skills.

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. The second assessment requires students to build on their developing knowledge of key concepts in art history and 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 in modernism.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Critical Textual Exercise

To allow students to develop an awareness of art practices developed in the rapidly changing period of modernism and modernity.


LO1, LO2

GA1, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA9

Image Analysis Exercise

To allow students to demonstrate the core skills of visual analysis and the identification of key movements in modernism.


LO3, LO4

GA4, GA8, GA9


To allow students to demonstrate research skills, a critical approach to the relationship between art making as its socio-historical context whilst developing scholarly writing and referencing skills.


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

GA1, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

Arnold, D. (2020). Art History: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press.

Butler, C. (2010). Modernism: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press.

Chadwick, W. (2012). Women, art and society (5th ed.). Thames and Hudson.

D’Alleva, A. (2020). Look! The fundamentals of art history (3rd ed.). Laurence King.

Holzwarth, H.W. (2020). Modern Art: A history from Impressionism to today. Taschen.

Parmesani, L. (2000). Art of the twentieth century: Movements, theories, schools and trends, 1900-2000. Skira.

Phillips, S. (2018). ... Isms: understanding modern art. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Poynton, M. (2014). History of art: A student's handbook (5th ed.). Routledge.

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

Walz, R. (2013). Modernism (2nd ed.). Routledge.

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