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Unit information: Theorising the Object in 2021/22

Unit name Theorising the Object
Unit code HART20035
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Dent
Open unit status Not open




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


The unit aims to familiarize students with a range of theories and art-historical methods that can be used for constructing a history of visual art, for interpreting meaning in art, or for setting limits on that act of interpretation. We will explore the way in which the discipline of art history has developed, by studying differing views of art and of art history from the Renaissance onwards, and how these came to be formulated into methods of studying art systematically. The unit will centre on issues of methodology and will have a strong textual base. As well as offering an overview of developments over time, the unit will also examine the individual methodologies of a handful of key art historians.


This unit is designed to give students a broad understanding of significant aspects of the development of the history of art as an academic discipline, and of the theories and theoretical perspectives relating to the current practice of history of art. To make students aware that the discipline of History of Art has a history and to highlight the range of theoretical models underpinning the subject. To familiarize students with the main methodologies which have shaped the discipline as historical in the sense that they view or construct art (a) as having its own, internal history, or (b) as something that is determined by a wider social and political history; and to develop students awareness of the interpretative theories of art and their application and applicability to art history.

Intended learning outcomes

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

  1. demonstrate knowledge of the principal histories and theories of art;
  2. evaluate the underlying assumptions in different kinds of art-historical approaches, together with the ability to assess the advantages and shortcomings of competing methodologies;
  3. apply different approaches and methodologies in the analysis of works of art;
  4. express their ideas at a level appropriate to Level I/5, in both written and verbal forms

Teaching details

Classes will involve a combination of long- and short-form lectures, class 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 timed assessment (100%) [ILOs 1-4]


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. HART20035).