ARTH469 Contemporary Art Theory & Criticism, Maria Antonia Rinaldi, Fall 2019 | SACI College of Art & Design Florence

ARTH469 Contemporary Art Theory & Criticism, Maria Antonia Rinaldi, Fall 2019

What is Art? What is Beauty? Is Beauty still an essential component of Art? Is Art still necessary in contemporary society? What does the concept of “the end of art” really mean? Can aesthetic discourse satisfactorily address contemporary art making and art culture?  Or is Aesthetics a philosophical discipline that, though relating to art, does not help us sufficiently to understand current art practice and art networks?  What is the “art world”?  What is its relationship to institutional theory?

Do these questions still make sense in the 2010’s? Or are they perhaps too general.  Do we instead need to approach every single artwork as a unique entity that can only be analyzed through use of concepts that in some way directly relate to that specific work?

The purpose of the course is to find answers to these and similar key questions by studying the principal art theorists and critics of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Contemporary art criticism, which is often interwoven with current curatorial practices, is very complex.  Each critic is representative of a different school of thought or philosophy.  To understand the contexts within which current critics and theorists work, we will explore analytic philosophy, structuralism, post-structuralism, epistemology, and post-colonial studies.

Reading assignments and visits to contemporary art exhibitions will be critical to the educational process and will provide important information for class discussions.

Course Requirements

  • Attend class regularly.
  • Study reading assignments for class discussion. Each week, two students should prepare a presentation and summary of the reading. The rest of the class should be prepared with a least one question about the reading assignment for class discussion.
  • Midterm: A written critical analysis of approximately 1500 words about one of the essays studied in class and an oral presentation.
  • After the break, students who are also attending studio art classes are encouraged to show their work to their classmates to share critical analyses about the works produced and the art practice.
  • Formal presentation based on a written paper of approximately 1500 words with an oral Power Point presentation (topic to be determined previously with the instructor).


Attendance is mandatory, absence will impact the final grade. For every two unexcused absences, your grade will be lowered by 1/3 of a letter. Two late arrivals to class are considered the equivalent of one unexcused absence. Students who do not stay for the duration of a class session should be marked absent. Students who miss more than 20% of a course owing to unexcused absences cannot be given a passing grade for the course.


Grading is based on attendance, effort, improvement, and demonstration of knowledge gained through the course.

Grades range from A+ to F.  The SACI grading scale follows:
A+    Outstanding
A      Excellent
A-     Nearly Excellent
B+    Very Good
B      Good
B-     Nearly Good
C+    Above Satisfactory
C      Satisfactory
C-     Below Satisfactory
D      Unsatisfactory
F       Failure

Graduate Students
Students in MFA, MA, and Post-Bac programs are expected to complete additional assignments and to produce work at a level appropriate for students in a graduate program. They are required to write the final paper 15% longer than undergraduate and have to prepare a half an hour slideshow presentation about a special subject (that can be also related with their thesis). They are graded accordingly and, if they successfully complete all course requirements for graduate students, receive graduate-level credit for the course.


Note: It is not necessary to purchase the readings in the schedule below. They are available for consultation in the SACI Worthington Library.



Tues, Sept 10

Introduction. The art experience and the ways to talk and write about it.

Thurs, Sept 12

Screening of an art documentary.


N. Warburton, The Art Question, Routledge, 2004, "Introduction. Art and Philosophy", p. 1-6



Tues, Sept 17

“In Van Gogh’s Shoes”: Art historians vs. Philosophers.
Class discussion on The Art Question during the 20th century.

Thurs, Sept 19

Derrida on Schapiro’s dispute. What is the difference between a shoe and its image?


G. Batchen, What of Shoes? Van Gogh and Art History, Leipzig, 2009, p. p. 4-40



Tues, Sept 24

The Overturning of Ideas about Art by Heidegger.
Class discussion on Batchen's essay on Shapiro vs. Heidegger.

Thurs, Sept 26

The useless, necessary, and sufficient definition of "art."


N. Warburton, The Art Question, Routledge, 2004, ch. 3 p. 64-85 and ch. 4 p. 84-118. 



Tues, Oct 1

From Wittgenstein to Danto and the derivative "Institutional Theory."
Class discussion on Warburton's chapters 3 and 4 from his "The Art Question."

Thurs, Oct 3

The semiotics of images.


R. Barthes, Rhetoric of the Image, in Image Music Text, translated and edited by Stephen Heath, Fontana Press, 1977.



Tues, Oct 8 

"Myth is a type of speech." Can images exist without rhetoric?
Class discussion on the Barthes reading.

Thurs, Oct 10 

Exercise - Presentation of an artwork created in the year of your birth.


N. Goodman, Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1968, p. 3-19, p. 21-33. 
W. Benjamin, On the Language as Such and on the Language of Man, in Selcted Writings, edited by M. Bullock and M. W. Jennings, vol. 1, p. 62-74.



Tues, Oct 15

The Analytical Methodological Approach of Nelson Goodman. The structure of the image. Images and speech.
Class discussion on Goodman's reading.

Thurs, Oct 17

Art of the '60s: the encounter with a new identity of the art object.


L. Steinberg, Other Criteria. Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art, The University of Chicago Press, 1972, p. 17-54.



Tues, Oct 22

Class discussion on Steinberg's reading.

Thurs, Oct 24    

Midterm paper and oral presentations.


A. Danto, The Art World, in “The Journal of Philosophy”, Vol. 61, No. 19, American Philosophical Association Eastern Division Sixty-First Annual Meeting, (Oct. 15, 1964), pp. 571-584.



MIDTERM BREAK (October 26 - November 3)




Tues, Nov 5

Modernity and Contemporary. From Baudelaire to Agamben.

Thurs, Nov 7

Boris Groys and contemporary art criticism: poetics vs. aesthetics. 


G. Agamben, What is the Contemporary? in What is an Apparatus? and Other Essays, 2009, pp. 39-54.
B. Groys, Comrades of Time, in Going Public, p. 84-101 




Tues, Nov 12

Class discussion on Groys' essay.

Thurs, Nov 14

Deleuze and “the logic of sensation.”


G. Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, Continuum, 2003. “Painting and Sensation,” ch. 6, pp. 34-43. “Painting Forces,” ch. 8, pp. 56-64. “The Painting before Painting,” ch. 11, pp. 86-98.



Tues, Nov 19

Figure and Figurative, are they two different concepts?
Class discussion on Deleuze's essay on Bacon.

Thurs, Nov 21

Lucy Lippard: feminism and the art scene.


L. Lippard, From the Center. Feminist essays on Women's Art, E. P. Dutton, New York, 1976, p. 1-11 and p. 121-138.



Tues, Nov 26  

What are the biases of art history? 
Class discussion on Lippard's essay on feminist art.

Thurs, Nov 28

Black radical aesthetics: art an politics.


S. Aranke, Material Matters: Black Radical Aesthetics and the Limits of Visibility, in "e-flux Journal", #79 (February 2017), permanent link



Tues, Dec 3

"Black Radical Aesthetics and the Limits of Visibility"
Class discussion on Aranke's essay.

Thurs, Dec 5

Presentation by students of their artworks.


S. Freud, The Uncanny, Penguin Books, 2003, p. 121-162.



Tues, Dec 10

To be announced.

Thurs, Dec 12

Presentation by students of their artworks.





Tues, Dec 17

Final Paper and Oral Presentations.

Thurs, Dec 19

Final Paper and Oral Presentations.


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