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Art, Mass Media & Communication, 1945-1991 - HOA00099M

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  • Department: History of Art
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Anna-Maria Kanta
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

This module explores art’s complex, and often conflicted, relation to mass media and communication technologies in the aftermath of the Second World War and during the Cold War.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

This module explores art’s complex, and often conflicted, relation to mass media and communication technologies in the aftermath of the Second World War and during the Cold War. Focusing mainly on major art historical developments in Western Europe and in the USA and through a variety of case studies, we examine how artists and artist groups responded to the shifting techno-scientific and ideological conditions of their time, by experimenting with the formal, conceptual and emancipatory possibilities of mass media. The module pays particular attention to the divergent ways in which artists during this period sought to intervene in larger systems of publicity and propaganda, and considers art’s intersection with the visual and textual economies of the printed press and broadcast television, and with vernacular modes of attention and reception.

The selected case studies are designed to examine artists’ critical engagement with mass communication forms and technologies of reproduction, recording and transmission in the light of wider aesthetic reconsiderations of “traditional” artistic mediums and genres; contested debates on art’s shifting social and communicative function and its role in the construction of alternative publics; shifting definitions of mass and popular culture; and new conceptualizations of the public sphere. At the same time, the module examines how art’s continuous transactions with the mass media in this period intersected with crucial shifts in the theorization of both the work of art and the visual image. The module will include lectures and structured discussions around specific works of art and draws on art historical and critical texts, as well as on the literatures of sociology, political theory and communication studies.

Module learning outcomes

At the end of the module, students should have acquired:

  • the ability to situate and investigate the evolving relationship between art, mass media and communication technologies within broader theoretical, geopolitical, social and cultural contexts
  • detailed knowledge of a range of artworks and of their contested readings and meanings
  • a critical understanding of cross-disciplinary discourses on communication and their intersection with major artistic developments in the period under examination
  • familiarity with a range of artistic media, materials and techniques
  • the ability to critically evaluate a diverse range of texts and to use different forms of historical materials
  • development of visual analysis skills through image-led discussions
  • familiarity with art historical discourses
  • ability to construct and present coherent arguments through class discussions
  • development of research skills through in-class presentations and essay writing

Indicative assessment

Task Length % of module mark
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Indicative reassessment

Task Length % of module mark
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on assessed work within the timeframes set out by the University - please check the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback for more information.

The purpose of feedback is to help you to improve your future work. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further, you are warmly encouraged to meet your Supervisor during their Office Hours.

Indicative reading

  • Susan Buck-Morss, “Culture of the Masses,” chap. 4 in Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West (Cambridge, Mass. and London: The MIT Press, 2000)
  • Hal Foster, “Readings in Cultural Resistance”, in Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics (Seattle, Washington: Bay Press, 1985), pp. 157-179.
  • John J. A. Curley, “Introduction: The Art That Came in from the Cold,” in Conspiracy of Images: Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter, and the Art of the Cold War (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2013).
  • Grant H. Kester, “The Eyes of the Vulgar,” chap. 1 in Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art (Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press).
  • Pamela M. Lee, “Presentness is Grace,” chap. 1 in Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s (Cambridge, Mass. and London: The MIT Press, 2004).
  • Catherine Spencer, Beyond the Happening: Performance Art and the Politics of Communication(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020).
  • Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” in Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), pp. 94-136.
  • Hannah Feldman, “Of the Public Born: Raymond Hains and La France déchirée,” October 108 (Spring 2004): 73-96.
  • Jürgen Habermas, “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article,” New German Critique 3 (Autumn, 1974): 49-55.
  • Fred Turner, “Therapeutic Nationalism,” chap. 7 in The Democratic Surround: Multimedia & American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2013).
  • Norbert Wiener, “Progress and Entropy,” chap. 2 in The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (London : Eyre and Spottiswoode 1950).
  • John McHale, “The Fine Arts and the Mass Media,” Cambridge Opinion 17 (1959): 28-31.
  • Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message,” in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: McGraw Hill, 1964).
  • Henri Lefebvre, “Clearing the Ground,” in Critique of Everyday life vol II (London: Verso, 2014).
  • Frances Stracey, “Situationist Radical Subjectivity and Photo-Graffiti,” chap. 5 in Constructing Situations: A New History of the Situationist International (London: Pluto Press, 2014).
  • Eve Meltzer, “The Dream of the Information World,” chap. 1 in Systems We Have Loved: Conceptual Art, Affect, and the Antihumanist Turn (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press).
  • David Joselit, “Open Circuits,” chap. 1 in Feedback: Television Against Democracy (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2007).
  • Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge, “The Public Sphere as the Organization of Collective Experience,” chap. 1 in Public Sphere and Experience: Toward an Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere , transl. Peter Labanyi, Jamie Owen Daniel, and Assenka Oksiloff (London, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).
  • Karin L. Crawford, “Gender and Terror in Gerhard Richter’s October 18, 1977 and Don DeLillo’s ‘Baader-Meinhof’,” New German Critique 36 (2) (2009): 207-230.
  • Benjamin Buchloh, “Hans Haa >Jean Baudrillard, “The Precession of Simulacra”, in Simulations (Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, 1994).
  • Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi, with a foreword by Fredric Jameson (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986), pp. 3-17.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University constantly explores ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary. In some instances it may be appropriate for the University to notify and consult with affected students about module changes in accordance with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.