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What is Abstraction?

Making extensive use of the artworks at Stanford’s Anderson Collection and Cantor Arts Center, this course considers a variety of objects we might call “abstract,” including indigenous art, Surrealist painting, American Abstract Expressionism, psychedelic art, Pop and Conceptual art, Minimalism, land art, feminist and political art, photography, and digital art. Students will learn to understand abstraction both broadly, as a fundamental human expressive capacity, and specifically, investigating how this capacity emerges in particular historical contexts and geographic locations. We will make abstract works come alive by exploring the broader, non-discipline specific questions they pose: How do different kinds of expression convey different kinds of information? What is the relationship between an artwork and its historical context? What can studying art tell us about the culture in which we live? The course prioritizes introductory art historical skills, such as methods for looking at and strategies for writing about art, equipping students with a toolbox for approaching new works beyond the scope of the class itself, and getting them to think about the relationship between art and day-to-day life on a personal level. To this end, students will have the opportunity to write an original paper on an abstract artwork of their choice from an on-campus collection.

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Portrait of Maria Cichosz
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Session One
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Open