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ARTH 266

Savage and Surreal: Modernism's Wild Years in Paris

Picasso once said that he and his friend the painter Georges Braque had been like two mountain climbers in the first days of Cubism, roped together as they progressed, step by step, to the summit of modernist painting's accomplishment in Paris in the early years of the 20th century. He meant that they had worked closely together and had by turns taken the lead in their great discoveries, but also that they had challenged each other to take dizzying risks, going where none had been before, and that they had been alone up there, with nobody to rely on but themselves. In the years before and after the First World War, avant-garde artists in Paris demolished the limits of painting, first the limits of color, with the Fauves or "Wild Beasts," then the limits of perspective and the picture plane, with the Cubists, and finally the limits of painting itself, with the Surrealists, who even demolished the limits of rational thought. In this course we examine this adventure story of modern art, through artworks, original texts and recent scholarship, in the political and social context of France in the early 20th century with its conflicts about national identity, colonial empire, and cultural heritage. We also discuss how and why artists explored issues of gender and racial identity through formal innovations of color, composition, and materials.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course