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Unit information: The Artist (Level C Special Topic) in 2020/21

Unit name The Artist (Level C Special Topic)
Unit code HART10209
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Ann Matchette
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History of Art (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


As a discipline, art history has frequently moved between the study of the cultural products of a given historical era and a study of its cultural producers. Since the publication of Giorgio Vasari's highly influential Lives of the Artists in 1550, biography has been central to art historical studies and continues to play a dominate role in art historical publishing and exhibition policy. The identity of the artist, however, has never been stable. From the anonymity of the medieval craftsperson to the explicitly claimed 'originality' of the Modernist 'artist-genius' the notion of what might constitute an artist has frequently been debated and shifting gendered and socio-historical conditions have demanded distinct identities for such an individual. More recently, theoretical interventions have proffered a critique of the very notion of the 'dominant author' and emphasised instead the collective nature of all artistic production. These debates will form the context of this unit.


  • To introduce students to a broad theme within art history and to explore this theme in a broad chronological context.
  • To introduce students to working with visual and textual sources
  • To introduce students to issues relating to setting visual and textual sources in their wider context
  • To introduce students to the practice of learning independently within a small-group context
  • To introduce students to debates about the dominant author versus the collective nature of all artistic production.

Intended learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. demonstrate an understanding of current art historical study and research
  2. work with both visual and textual sources
  3. articulate an understanding about what might constitute an artist and relate these to shifting socio-historical conditions.

Teaching details

Classes will involve a combination of discussion, investigative activities, and practical activities. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. This will be further supported with drop-in sessions and self-directed exercises with tutor and peer feedback.

Assessment Details

One 2000-word summative essay (75%) [ILOs 1-3]

One timed assessment (25%) [ILOs 1-3]

Reading and References

  • Barker, Emma et al (eds.) (1999) The Changing Status of the Artist, New Haven and London: Yale University Press/Open University
  • Battersby, C. (1989) ‘The Clouded Mirror’ from Gender and Genius, London: The Women’s Press, pp.32-40
  • Goldstein, Carl ‘The Image of the Artist Reviewed’ in Word and Image vol.9, no.1, January-March 1993
  • Nochlin, Linda (1971) Chapter 7: ‘Why have there been no great women artists?’ in Nochlin, Linda (1988) Women, Art and Power London: Thames and Hudson
  • Parker and Pollock (1981) Chapter 3: ‘God’s little artist’ in Old Mistresses London: Pandora Press
  • Perry, Gill (ed.) Gender and Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press 1999)
  • Vasari, Giorgio (1991) The Lives of the Artist (edited and translated by G. Bull; first published in 1550) Oxford: Oxford University Press