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Seeing Sculpture - HOA00119M

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  • Department: History of Art
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Jeremy Melius
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
    • See module specification for other years: 2024-25

Module summary

This module examines the connection between modern sculptural practice and aesthetic thought, with a focus on art and writing in Britain.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

This course examines the relation between two linked phenomena: the rise of modern sculpture during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, especially in Britain, and the parallel development of new modes of sculptural encounter, staged in experimental critical writings. What does sculpture do to us, and what do we want it to do? How can we best account for its experiential parameters? In what ways have those parameters changed under conditions of modernity?

Close analysis of both texts and objects will bring into view the special demands that sculpture makes on its viewers as an art of matter, space, and touch as much as one of sight. We will consider the ways writers have registered the phenomenological complexity of the medium—its emphatic three-dimensionality, experienced by embodied viewers in real space and time—along with various attempts that have been made to flatten such complexity out, reducing sculpture to two dimensions on a page. Sculpture’s uneasy adjacency to other mediums, including photography and film, will be examined.

Most of all, attention to the procedures, challenges, and rewards of critical description will enable us to come to works of sculpture themselves with fresh eyes. Visits to local collections, alongside intensive study of reproductions and critical texts, will allow us to develop a precise and flexible vocabulary of our own with which to describe encounters with sculpture’s forms.

Artists considered may include Antonio Canova, Jules Dalou, Auguste Rodin, Hamo Thornycroft, Alfred Gilbert, James Havard Thomas, Medardo Rosso, Camille Claudel, Constantin Brancusi, Alberto Giacometti, R. D. Fergusson, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore.

Writers may include Johann Gottfried Herder, William Hazlitt, Rainer Maria Rilke, Edmund Gosse, Walter Pater, Vernon Lee, H. D., Carola Giedion-Welcker, R. H. Wilenski, Adrian Stokes, Robert Lowell, Rosalind Krauss.

Module learning outcomes

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

  • Detailed knowledge of modern sculpture, especially in Britain;
  • Detailed knowledge of key modern critical and descriptive writings about sculpture;
  • Familiarity with broad methodological trends in the study of these fields;
  • A developed sense of the historical and critical stakes of descriptive modes of writing.

Indicative assessment

Task Length % of module mark
Essay : Assessed Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Indicative reassessment

Task Length % of module mark
Essay : Assessed 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 Tutor and/or Supervisor during their office hours.

Indicative reading

  • Droth, Martina, Jason Edwards, et al. Sculpture Victorious: Art in an Age of Invention, 1837-1901. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014.
  • Giedion-Welcker, Carola. Modern Plastic Art: Elements of Reality, Volume, and Disintegration. Zürich: Dr. H. Girsberger, 1937.
  • Gosse, Edmund. “The New Sculpture, 1874-1894.” Art Journal 56 (1894): 138-42, 199-203, 277-82, 306-11.
  • Harrison, Charles. “Seeing Sculpture.” In An Introduction to Art, 173-293. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009.
  • Herder, Johann Gottfried. Sculpture: Some Observations on Shape and Form from Pygmalion’s Creative Dream (1770/1778). Edited and translated by Jason Gaiger. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.
  • Krauss, Rosalind. Passages in Modern Sculpture. New York: The Viking Press, 1977.
  • Prettejohn, Elizabeth. The Modernity of Ancient Sculpture: Greek Sculpture and Modern Art from Winckelmann to Picasso. London: I. B. Taurus, 2012.
  • Read, Herbert. The Art of Sculpture. London: Faber & Faber, 1956.
  • Stokes, Adrian. The Critical Writings of Adrian Stokes. London: Thames & Hudson, 1978.
  • Wagner, Anne. Mother Stone: The Vitality of Modern British Sculpture. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005.

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.