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DRPS : Course Catalogue : Edinburgh College of Art : History of Art

Postgraduate Course: Art and Occultism in the Long Nineteenth Century (HIAR11109)

Course Outline
SchoolEdinburgh College of Art CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course offers a detailed examination of the relationship between art and occultism in the long nineteenth century. The course is structured as a series of two-hour seminars with a focus on group discussions, which respond to set readings and images. The seminars will focus each week on different themes arising from occultism¿s cultural impact on the art of the period, ranging from Swedenborg to the Surrealists.
Course description Often associated with secret forms of knowledge revealed only to carefully selected initiates, occultism might seem fundamentally opposed to artists openly revealing its ideas and beliefs to wider audiences. Nonetheless, during the ¿occult revival¿ of the long nineteenth century, in which older forms of esoteric belief, mysticism, alchemy, and ritual magic were rehabilitated or invented anew, occult ideas permeated the art and visual culture of the period.

This course explores how and why the occult became so central to the period's popular imagination and aims to understand the relationship between art and occultism in both the private and public spheres. What did it mean to believe in the supernatural in the modern world, and what was the cultural significance of such beliefs in the age of industry and reason? How did occultism offer alternative ways of seeing the world? And why was this important for artists who sought to depict realms beyond those that were visible?

Starting with attitudes towards rationalism in the wake of the Enlightenment, this interdisciplinary course will consider the development of occult and esoteric currents throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We will consider the work of artists such as William Blake, Georgiana Houghton, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Odilon Redon, Hilma af Klint, Wassily Kandinsky and Ithell Colquhoun as reflecting and contributing to occultural changes in society ¿ and we will look again to understand the intersections between Swedenborgian mysticism and Romanticism, Spiritualism and Symbolism, Theosophy and early abstraction, and alchemy and Surrealism.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2020/21, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  21
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20, Feedback/Feedforward Hours 1, Formative Assessment Hours 1, Summative Assessment Hours 1, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 173 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) 1 x 4000 word essay 100% - submitted weeks 8-11
Feedback Students are given feedback on FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT as follows:
Students will submit a mid-semester essay plan (c.500 words) and annotated preliminary bibliography. Written feedback on the student plans will be provided with the opportunity for a one-to-one follow-up meeting. Group feedback will also be provided and built into seminar activities.

SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENT: Written feedback on student essays will be provided, in addition to the opportunity for a one-to-one meeting towards the end of semester.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Visually analyse and interpret key examples of occult art from the long nineteenth century alongside relevant primary source texts.
  2. Analyse artists' engagement with occultism in order to represent complex belief systems and to seek alternative ways of seeing and perceiving.
  3. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the theoretical discourses and contemporary scholarship in this interdisciplinary area of study.
  4. Critically examine how and why the broader historical changes in modern society contributed to the developments in occult art.
  5. Apply developed skills of analysis, communication, and organisation.
Reading List
¿ The Occult World, ed. Christopher Partridge. Routledge: 2016.
¿ The Occult in Modernist Art, Literature and Cinema, eds. Tessel Bauduin & Henrik Johnsson. Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.
¿ The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985, ed. Maurice Tuchman. Abbeville Press: 1986.
¿ Paul Kleber Monod, Solomon¿s Secret Arts: The Occult in the Age of Enlightenment. Yale University Press: 2013.
¿ Alex Owen, The Darkened Room: Women, Power and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England. University of Chicago Press, 1989.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Visual and critical analysis; Clear thinking and the development of an argument; Independent research; Presentation and communication skills; Organisation and planning; Teamwork through group discussion
Course organiserMiss Michelle Foot
Course secretaryMrs Anna Johns
Tel: (0131 6)51 5740
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