Syllabus‎ > ‎







 A short (5 page) paper addressing one or more of the issues raised by Gauguin and Cézanne will be due on Oct. 4.  Choose one of the following questions and write an argumentative essay using both texts (primary and/or secondary sources) and images.


1.       Gauguin’s masterwork ask three questions:

Where do we come from?

Who are we?

Where are we going?

Choose 1 of those questions and argue for a specific answer using the painting (both its iconographical and formal elements); the theories of modern art we’ve discussed (e.g.  Primitivism and Baudelaire), and/or the history we’ve covered in this class.  

2.       “Treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone” (Chipp 18-19) is one of the most famous and most difficult statements about modern art.  Using one work by Cézanne argue for a specific interpretation of this passage.




DUE:  Dec. 6; Abstract Due:  Nov. 1


Is it modern? 


            Over the course of this semester we will look at the various ways of and problems with defining the modern.  For this assignment, you will be asked to address those issues by looking in-depth at one object and its interpretation(s).  At base, I would like you to make a strong, art historical argument for a specific reading of that object

Your paper should address the ways one of work of art fits or does not fit into the definitions of modern we will discuss in this course.  The work should date from roughly 1880 to 1940 and it should speak to one or more of the following themes:  the historical experience of modernity, formal changes (especially abstraction), rationality and irrationality, primitivism, design, and/or the avant-garde.


The way you choose to define the modern will lead to a specific methodological stance for your paper, and in the course of answering this question you apply that method to the artwork you have chosen.  This means you should explain the work (its meaning, its importance, its relationship to its own context and to other works). 


General Requirements:

This paper is intended to give you experience interpreting a work of art and in constructing an argument based on formal analysis, research and theoretical writings.  It should have a strong and clearly stated thesis which is backed up by various types of proof.  It should also have an evident point-of-view. 



Your abstract should identify the work of art you’ll be dealing with as well as the definition(s) of modernism you’ll be using.  It should outline both the question your paper seeks to answer and your thesis, even if it is tentative.  You must also include your working bibliography.  The abstract should be about one page (including bibliography).



8-10 double-spaced pages (excluding bibliography and images)



Obvious as this may seem, it’s important to remember that not all books contain the same information.  Just because a source deals with your artist and/or your painting does not mean that it will be helpful for your paper.   You are expected to use only sources that are actually applicable to your topic.  In order to save yourself unnecessary work, review your bibliography with Tara.


You must utilize at least five sources in addition to the course readings.  For the most part these should be scholarly books and articles (i.e., texts written by academics and/or curators).  The use of primary sources such as artists’ writings, criticism and theoretical treatises from the period being studied is encouraged; however, these resources should not be used exclusively.   Survey textbooks, while helpful, will not count as a source.


The internet is both a blessing and a curse for art historical research.  On one hand, it is a useful and efficient way of finding facts and images.  On the other, it often contains false information and unsubstantiated opinions.  Treat internet sources with skepticism.  A good rule of thumb is that websites connected to non-electronic resources (e.g., museum websites and on-line journals) tend to be held to the same rigorous standards as printed materials; whereas, those that exist solely in cyberspace (wikipedia, blogs, personal websites) are not.


All sources must be included in your bibliography, and ideas and quotations taken from them must be cited in footnotes—parenthetical notation is not acceptable.  For information on the correct format of bibliographies and footnotes, see the Chicago Manual of Style (, follow “N” for footnotes and “B” for bibliography).


For help identifying sources, check the BU library’s research guide for art history ( and the bibliography of Art Since 1900. Ginger and I would also be happy to help you create a bibliography.



This course is governed by the guidelines described in the College of Arts and Sciences Academic Conduct Code.  Should you have any questions about what constitutes plagiarism or any other issue of academic conduct, please contact me.