Understanding Art: Modern Art from Impressionism to Now
"Taking this evening class was one of the best decisions I've ever made." - Angela Hou (Royal College of Art student)
At a Glance
- Live online course
- 2 hours a week
- Thursdays 18:00 - 20:00
- 20 weeks: October to March
- Tutor: Michael Paraskos
- Fees from £220 to £410
- Imperial College Attendance Certificate (T&Cs apply)
- Book from 15 August
Michael Paraskos invites us to join him on an exciting whistlestop tour of the sometimes bewildering world of modern art, starting with the Impressionists in the 1870s, and ending with art now.
The journey is a facinating one, sometimes tragic, sometimes funny, and always extraordinary - if you have ever wanted to understand the modern art in some of our most well-known museums and galleries, by artists ranging from Monet and Picasso, to Dali and Warhol, then this is the course for you!
Study of this period in art history is extremely enjoyable and rewarding, but you will end the course with a greater understanding of some most significant works of art to be found in museums and galleries across the world today. From discovering how the Impressionists used the latest findings in science to select their colour palette, to how fear of the atomic bomb led to a whole new movement in sculpture, this course will give you a real insight into how modern artists have responded to the modern world, and how that world responded to them.
No previous knowledge of art, history, or art history is necessary, and your tutor is an expert at guiding both novices and the more experienced through the - sometimes shocking and sometimes comic - intricacies of modern art. The course is organised to encourage discussion and debate, whilst also allowing us to explore the historical development of modern art, and the ideas and influences behind the work of artists of this period.
Online Access to Course
This is a taught live online course which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time on a specific day of the week. To take part in the course you will need a suitably equipped and internet-enabled device. Please find full details and instructions below under 'Course Delivery'.
Those who attend at least 80% of the course sessions will receive an attendance certificate from Imperial College London upon completion of the course.
Indicative programme, subject to possible modification.
1: 22 October 2020: Victorian Modernisms
In this session we will look at how many of the ideas that came to be seen as key elements of modernism began in Victorian art -- particularly the art of the Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic Movement artists. We will be introduced to the concept of formalism and abstraction, both central to understanding modernist art. We will examine Impressionism and think about whether it is really the first modernist art movement or the last of the more traditional art movements. The session will include slide presentations by your tutor and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion.
2: 29 October 2020: Alfred Barr’s Four Founding Fathers (and the Great Binge)
In this session we will look at four artists who are often seen as the 'founding fathers' of modernism in art -- Cezanne, Gauguin, van Gogh and Seurat. We will think about their work individually, looking at their working methods and ideas, but also how they came to be seen in terms of art history (what is called the critical theory of art history) as embodying key elements of modernist art in their working practice. We will also consider the wider context in which these artists worked, including the concept of the 'great binge' when western society experienced hitherto unparalleled freedoms. The session will include slide presentations by your tutor and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion.
3: 5 November 2020: Matisse and the Anarchists
In this session we will look at Fauvism (also known as French Expressionism) and think about where Fauvism came from as an artistic practice, the ideas underpinning it and how it might relate to anarchist political ideas through its connection to artists such as Paul Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross. As well as considering how political ideas and artistic ideas could interact in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries we will also consider how speculation based on the available evidence is a legitimate tool in art history. The session will include slide presentations by your tutor and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion.
4: 12 November 2020: From Art Nouveau to the Bauhaus
In this session we will look at the development of modern design, from being a reaction by gothic revival and arts and crafts designers against mid-nineteenth century design, to the gradual triumph of the functionalism of the De Stijl and Werkbund movements and Bauhaus School of Arts. In this we will think about the theoretical ideas that underpinned the development of modern art and design, consider key designers including William Morris, Walter Gropius and Anni Albers, and look at the continuing influence of these ideas today. The session will include slide presentations by your tutor and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion.
5: 19 November 2020: German Expressionism in Dresden, Berlin and Munich
In this session we will explore the origin, development and ideas behind German Expressionist art. As well as looking at the origins of German Expressionism in the work of artists such as Edvard Munch and James Ensor, we will focus on two key German Expressionist groups -- the Bridge Group based in Dresden and the Blue Rider Group based in Munich. We will look at artists associated with these movements, including Kirchner, Pechstein, Kandinsky, Munter and Marc, and the relationship between their work and political, social and spiritual ideas gaining ground at the time in western society. The session will include slide presentations by your tutor and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion.
6: 26 November 2020: From Expressionist Film to Horror Film
In this session we ask a seemingly simple question -- what is the relationship between expressionist visual art and expressionist film making in the early twentieth century? While the bright colours and abstract forms of expressionist painting can seem a world away from black and white expressionist film, we will explore connections between the two art forms, focusing on the genre of early horror film to suggest some possible ways in which we can see expressionism in painting and film as related phenomena. The session will include slide presentations by your tutor, possible use of film clips, and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion.
7: 3 December 2020: Cubism, De Stijl and Futurism
In this session we will look at one of the most distinctive art movements of the twentieth-century, cubism and its offshoots. We will look at the origins of cubism in the work of Cezanne, and its early development in the hands of Picasso and Braque. We will consider the theories behind cubism and look at how it was taken up by artists in different countries and developed into unique forms. We will also see how cubism gave birth to art forms which are still with us, including found-object art and performance art. The session will include slide presentations by your tutor, possible use of film clips, and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion.
8: 10 December 2020: Constructivism, De Stijl and Supremativism
In this session we will look at the development of hard edged geometric abstraction, focusing on three movements Constructivism in Russia, Supremativism in Russia and De Stijl in the Netherlands to think about how it was viewed in the 1920s and 1930s as the antithesis of Surrealism. We will look at the claims made for the rational and scientific qualities of Constructivist art, but also question those claims by looking at the religious and spiritual underpinnings of Supremativism and De Stijl. We will also think about the impact of the Russian Revolution on avant-garde art, first as a liberator of artists and then leading to their persecution. The session will include slide presentations by your tutor, possible use of film clips, and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion.
9: 17 December 2020: Dada, Sex and Surrealism
In this session we will look at the development of Dada as an anti-art movement and its relationship to a disillusionment that affected a number of artists following the First World War. We will look at the manifestoes of Dada and how they related to earlier art manifestoes, and we will examine different manifestations of Dada. Following on from this we will consider the theories of Sigmund Freud as they impacted upon Dada and Surrealist artists and think about Surrealist theories of accident, disengagement and dissociation. We will also think about how early Futurist experiments in performance art were taken up by Dada and Surrealism, and look at the first manifestations of the kind of artistic practice that would eventually become known as video art. The session will include slide presentations by your tutor, possible use of film clips, and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion and Surrealist game play. This session contains material of a sexual nature and images showing physical violence.
*** CHRISTMAS BREAK ***
10: 14 January 2021: Modernism in British Art
In this session we will look at the origin and development of modernist art in Britain after the First World War, focusing on some of the movements that dominated avant-garde debates at the time, including Bloomsbury, Neo-Realists, the Vorticists and the Leeds Arts Club. We will consider how events in European art impacted British artists and look at how Britain was important in defining a key modernist theory - formalism. The session will include slide presentations by your tutor, possible use of film clips, and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion.
11: 21 January 2021: British Sculpture Between the Wars
In this session we will look at a key moment in the development of what is arguably the most significant contribution Britain made to modern art - sculpture - developed, focusing on artists such as Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Jacob Epstein, and concepts such as Truth to Materials and Direct Carving. We will also think about how artists wanted to be seen and how they were sometimes depicted in ways they disliked even by their sympathetic supporters. The session will include slide presentations by your tutor, possible use of film clips, and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion.
12: 28 January 2021: Modernist Architecture
In this session we will look at the development of modernist architecture from the arts and crafts movement and architects such as Philip Webb and C.F.A. Voysey, through the work of Louis Sullivan and Peter Behrens, and on to the buildings of the Bauhaus architects Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe. We will look at the form and function of buildings in this period and the evolution of the modernist style from an embodiment of utopian socialist ideals to expressing the power of multi-national capitalist corporations.
13: 4 February 2021: Hope and Fear in Post-War Art and Design
In this session we will focus on the 1950s and think about the Festival of Britain, held at what is now the Royal Festival Hall, and how it embodied both a sense of post-war optimism and aspects of post-war angst. We will look at attempts to use design to lift the morale of Britain in a time of extreme austerity, but also think about how the war and its immediate aftermath helped in the promotion of modernist ideas, first through the phenomenon of Utility Design and then the attempts to foster a scientific new society through the work of organisations such as the Design Research Unit. We will also look at post-war British sculpture from the 1950s and consider it in light of Herbert Read's use of Jungian psychology. The session will include slide presentations by your tutor, possible use of film clips, and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion.
14: 11 February 2021: Abstract Painting
In this session we will look at the development of post-war abstract painting, with its origins in European abstraction from before the war, the role played by refugee artists travelling to the United States, and its presentation by critics such as Clement Greenberg as a quintessentially American form of modernism. We will look at the role of the CIA in this promotion and consider some of the theories behind the work of leading American abstract artists, including Clement Greenberg, Ad Reinhardt and Mark Rothko. The session will include slide presentations by your tutor, possible use of film clips, and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion.
15: 18 February 2021: The British Origin of Pop Art
Although Pop Art is often thought of as an American art form, in this session we will discover how it began in London, looking at the members of the Independent Group. We will consider the influence of Herbert Read on post-war debates on modernism and the rejection of Read's ideas by members of the Independent Group that led to the development of Pop Art. We will also consider the philosophical underpinnings of early Pop Art and look at the work of Pauline Boty and ask ourselves whether her art should be considered from a feminist perspective as critiquing the Pop Art imagery of her male contemporaries. The session will include slide presentations by your tutor, possible use of film clips, and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion.
16: 25 February 2021: Pop in America
With the invention of Pop Art in Britain, this week we will look at the development of American Pop Art, starting with the work of American commercial artists such as Norman Rockwell, and following through to an examination of the key early exhibitions that showed what we consider today to be Pop Art. We will look at some of the work and ideas of key American Pop Art artists, including Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Tom Wesselmann in art historical and cultural contexts. We will think about the impact of American advertising and other popular cultural imagery on these artists. The session will include slide presentations by your tutor, possible use of film clips, and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion.
17: 4 March 2021: From Pop to Photorealism in America and the World
In this session we will look at Pop Art's often overlooked offspring, American Photorealism, and examine how it developed as a distinct form of art. As with Pop Art we will consider how Norman Rockwell can be seen as a pre-cursor to Photorealism, along with artists such as Edward Hopper, and look at parallels with Pop Art. We will consider the 'rules' of photorealism, how some artists have chosen to break those rules. We will end with the merger of Photorealism with very recent forms of art, including that of Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. The session will include slide presentations by your tutor, possible use of film clips, and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion.
18: 11 March 2021: The New Sculpture in Britain and America
In this session we will look at the development of the New Sculpture (not to be confused with the Victorian art movement of the same name) in Britain and the United States, starting with David Smith and the origin of his work in Surrealism and its evolution into welded steel formalist sculptures; the influence of Smith on Anthony Caro and his contemporaries at St Martin's School of Art in London, and the reaction against Caro's formalism from their students and others, such as Gilbert and George, Richard Long and Bill Woodrow. The session will include slide presentations by your tutor, possible use of film clips, and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion.
19: 18 March 2021: From Pop to Conceptualism
In this session we will look at how the ideas we find in Pop Art, many of which have their origin in the earlier movements of Dada and Surrealism evolved into Conceptual Art in the hands of artists such as Joseph Kosuth, Robin Page, Gustav Metzger and Yoko Ono. In this we will see the work of artists in groups such as Fluxus and the Vienna Actionists, as well as some potentially disturbing political work by figures such as Carolee Schneemann, Marina Abramović and Christopher Burden which pushed the boundaries of art almost to their limit. The session will include slide presentations by your tutor, possible use of film clips, and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion.
20: 25 March 2021: And now?
In this session we will ask the question whether modernism has ended and if so what has replaced it. In the 1980s and 90s that question seemed to have a relatively straightforward answer – we have moved into post-modernism – but despite attempts to rebrand postmodernism as Altermodern, these labels seem inadequate. So what is the art being produced now and how can we characterise it? The session will include slide presentations by your tutor, possible use of film clips, and opportunities for you to take part in the discussion.
There is no compulsory reading required for this course and there is no set course text, but if you would like to read more on the subject we suggest:
- David Britt, Modern Art: Impressionism to Post-Modernism (London: Thames and Hudson, 2007)
- David Cottington, Modern Art: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)
- Pam Meecham, Modern Art: A Critical Introduction (London: Routledge, 2004)
Dr Michael Paraskos is a very experienced adult education tutor, having taught for over twenty-five years. He holds a Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and also teaches art history to undergraduate students at the City and Guilds of London Art School.
He is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction and has published very widely on art of this period, as well as reviewing exhibitions and novels for BBC Radio 4’s Front Row and The Spectator magazine. His first novel In Search of Sixpence was published in 2016 and his second, called Rabbitman, was published in 2017.
All our online courses are taught live which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time. To take part in the course you must be able to attend the online session at the time stated for the course description.
All times stated are British Standard Time.
To take part you will need a computer, or laptop, or tablet computer, connected to the Internet. The device you use will also need to have a camera, microphone and speakers. Most devices now have these built in, but if not you might have to buy them from a computer shop and to connect them to your device.
This course will use Zoom as its online delivery method. Zoom is very easy to use and you do not need to set up a Zoom account to use it. Near the date of your first online session you will be sent an email with a web address (or URL) that will allow you to access the course. This is called the Course Link. All you need do is click on the Course Link in the email and you will be asked to enter your name. This is the name that will be seen by your tutor and other students in the class.
Once you have entered your name you might be asked to enter a password to enter the class. The password will be included in the email sent to you. Once you enter the password you will either be taken directly into the class, or asked to wait in a virtual waiting room until the tutor is ready to let you into the class.
We have also produced a Handy Guide to Zoom [pdf] which gives you basic information on how to use it.
All courses lasting two hours have a 10 minute break in the middle. For one hour courses there is no break.
Course Fees and Rate Categories
|Hours||Weeks||Standard Rate||Internal Rate||Associate Rate|
|40||20|| £410 (Early Bird Rate: £370*)
||£240 (Early Bird Rate: £220*)||£320 (Early Bird Rate: £290*)|
|* The Early Bird rate is available for enrolments made before the end of 30 September for courses starting in October only | All fee rates quoted are for the whole 2-term course.|
Rate Categories and Discounts
- Applicable to all except those who fall under the Internal Rate or Associate Rate category, respectively.
- Applies to current Imperial College students and staff (incl. Imperial NHS Trust, Imperial Innovations, ancillary & service staff employed on long-term contracts at Imperial College by third-party contractors).
- Current Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC) staff, current CLCC PhD students, Science Communication (Sci Comm) postgraduate students, and students enrolled on an Imperial College 'Language for Science' degree programme should email evening firstname.lastname@example.org before completing the online enrolment form.
- Students (non-Imperial College)
- Alumni of Imperial College and predecessor colleges and institutes
- City & Guilds College Association members
- Members of the Friends of Imperial College
- Francis Crick Institute staff, researchers and students
- Friends of the South London Botanical Institute
- Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
- Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council staff
- Harrods staff
- Historic Royal Palaces staff
- Natural History Museum staff
- Science Museum staff
- Victoria and Albert Museum staff
- Royal Geographical Society staff
- Royal College of Art and Royal College of Music tutors and other staff
- Santander Bank staff (Imperial College Walkway branch only)
- Austrian Cultural Forum staff
- Staff of Exhibition Road Cultural Group (Discover South Kensington) organisations
- Lycee Charles de Gaulle staff
- Tutors and other staff of other universities and higher education institutions
- Tutors and other staff of institution members of the Association of Colleges
- Residents of postcodes SW3, SW5, SW7, SW10 and W8
- Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
- Members of the South London Botanical Institute (SLBI)
It is possible to enrol on many CLCC Evening Class and Lunchtime Learning programmes after the course has started. For non-language courses this is subject entirely to agreement by the tutor. For language courses it is subject to agreement by the language Coordinator conducting level assessment. If you want to join a course late do bear in mind there might be work you will need to catch up on, particularly in language courses.
Applicable terms & conditions
Please read the before enrolling on any course.
|Hours||Weeks||Autumn term||Spring term||Summer term||Summer School|
|40||20||19 Oct - 18 Dec 2020 (9 weeks)* PLUS||11 Jan - 26 Mar 2021 (11 weeks)||n/a||n/a|
|* Followed by the Christmas break|
Web enrolment starts 15 August
Enrolment and payment run through the Imperial College eStore. Please click on the blue booking link on the relevant course page noting below instructions:
- Our rate categories are explained on the course page and your applicable rate category must be selected on the eStore
- First-time eStore users please create an account by entering an email address and password. These credentials should also be used for future bookings. Imperial College users please note the eStore is not a single-signon College system
- The booking process involves entering payment details after your course choice and applicant details are collected via an in-built questionnnaire
- The following email notifications are sent:
|What is sent||When is it sent||What does it contain|
|1. Payment confirmation||Is sent instantaneously following submission of your online application||
|2. Enrolment confirmation||Is sent within 10 working days. Please treat your payment confirmation as confirmation that your applicant details and payment have been received||
|3. Programme information||Is usually sent on Friday late afternoon the week before term starts||
|If you need further help with the above information please ring 020 7594 8756
- Questions regarding the content and teaching of this course should be sent to the tutor, Dr Michael Paraskos at email@example.com
- Questions about your enrolment and payment should be sent to the Programme Administrator, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have enjoyed this course, why not look at other arts and humanities evening class courses at Imperial College. This includes courses on the history of western art from ancient Greece to the nineteenth century, Understanding Modern and Design, the history of film and cinema and Greek and Roman mythology in art. We also run practical courses in art and photography and creative writing classes, and a growing programme of science based evening classes.