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

Undergraduate Course: Forms of Life in Modern and Contemporary Art (HIAR10154)

Course Outline
SchoolEdinburgh College of Art CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course explores the idea of 'life' as it has inspired twentieth and twenty-first century art-making and art-writing, and situating contemporary theories of biopolitics in a longer and more diverse material and theoretical context. The course is structured thematically, as a series of two-hour seminars, each week examining different artists' approaches to topics including life on earth, living together, animation, the lives of objects, animal and new life.
Course description This course examines the idea of 'life', as it is explored in a variety of forms of art, art writing and visual culture, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Henri Focillon's 1934 book, The Life of Forms in Art, expresses an organicist model of art history, in which changing styles in art are understood as growing and developing, as if the artistic form itself were alive. Drawing, as a mode of artistic practice, has long been understood as a form in which a quality of waywardness, impulse, or 'life' comes into collision with some system of administration or rule; and in some ways this makes it paradigmatic for the problem examined here. On the other hand, artists have been fascinated with the life that objects of common use appear to take on, an idea that has come into new prominence via theories of 'object-oriented ontology' and 'thing theory'. Maternity, and the generation of 'new life' has been an important source of inspiration to artists at key historical junctures, including in the interwar sculpture of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore; whilst a refusal of parenthood and the model of futurity it represents inspires others today. Likewise, animal life, life on earth, and living together are all themes with a rich treatment in artistic and theoretical practice. A premise of the course is that the nexus, or knot, between 'life' and the 'forms' it is understood, or permitted to take is fundamentally political, and accordingly, the course aims to situate political theories of the interconnection between 'life' and 'forms' such as Foucault's 'bio-politics' or Agamben's 'bare life' in a longer history of attention to the ways in which life is administered, controlled and imagined. What is at stake in this history? In what ways has the longing to be confronted with a 'life' beyond ourselves shaped art of the past, and what are the prospects for this form of hopefulness now?
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: History of Art 2A Reason, Romance, Revolution: Art from 1700 to 1900 (HIAR08027) AND History of Art 2B From Modernism and the Avant-Gardes to Postmodernism and Globalisation (HIAR08028) OR Architectural History 2a: Order & the City (ARHI08006) AND Architectural History 2b: Culture & the City (ARHI08007)
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesThis course is not open to exchange and visiting students.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Look closely at a wide variety of modern and contemporary works of art and the wider visual culture, and show how disparate objects and images may be related to one another through their contribution to or participation in an underlying thematics of 'life'.
  2. Read difficult texts on the theme of 'life' and its different meanings skilfully and with understanding, and use them to build your own arguments and interpretations.
  3. Successfully analyze ideas and arguments concerning the political implications of the theme of 'life' in art, art writing and visual culture and put them in historical context.
  4. Present your own ideas clearly and well in writing and in debate.
  5. Prepare and organize your work effectively to deadlines.
Reading List
Giorgio Agamben, The Use of Bodies, trans. Adam Kotsko (2014; Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016).
Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude, trans. Isabella Bertoletti, James Cascaito, Andrea Casson (New York: Semiotext(e), 2004).
Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).
Sianne Ngai Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005)
Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012)
Sabine Folie, Franke Anselm, Maurizio Lazzarato, Animism: Modernity Through the Looking Glass, exh. cat. (Vienna: Generali Foundation, 2011).
Diedrich Diederichsen, Anselm Franke, The Whole Earth: California and the Disappearance of the Outside exh. cat. (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2013).
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Visual and critical analysis;
Clear thinking and the development of an argument;
Independent research;
Presentation and communication skills;
Organization and planning.
Course organiserDr Tamara Trodd
Tel: (0131 6)51 3120
Course secretaryMr Nathan Ross-Hammond
Tel: (0131 6)51 5880
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