AH 246/CEES 246 Final Exam

The final exam for this course consists of two parts. The first part deals with your understanding of the period as a whole, while the second part allows you to focus more deeply on a particular work or artist.


Essay topics:

Part 1. Choose 2 (two) of the following general questions and answer each of them in the form of an essay supporting your argument with theory and appropriate examples from the legacy of the 20th century “historical” avant-garde (roughly 1900s through 1920s). Each of your essays has to be 400-600 words long, font size 12, double-spaced, Times New Roman. Support each of your claims with ample examples.

  • How does the avant-garde (-s) change the status of art as an institution? Address Peter Burger’s theory of the avant-garde and discuss various ways in which the avant-garde artists move away from the traditional, representational, and illusionistic art.
  • Explain the concept of symbol and symbolism. What is the difference between symbol and sign? What common symbols are shared by Russian and French symbolists? Give examples and identify authors and works of art using these symbols. In which respect do Russian symbolists differ from their French predecessors? Although symbolism and decadence often coexist in one work, what are some criteria by which to distinguish one from the other?
  • How do various avant-garde formations activate, contribute, or problematize existing national, ethnic, and race stereotypes? How do artists reinforce and/or alter traditional orientalist discursive practices?
  • Relate the linguistic experiments done by Italian futurists, Russian “zaumniki” (trans-sense poets), and Dada poets to the Ferdinand de Saussure’s theory of language as a system. What kind of inspiration did the futurists draw from the Cubist painters?
  • Address the idea of organicity and organic architecture in the works of Tatlin, Khlebnikov, Polish and Russian Constructivists, and/or Bauhaus. Some questions to consider: how do Khlebnikov’s futurist cities and Tatlin’s “culture of materials” reflect the idea of the organic? What is the connection between the organic and organization?
  • How does the curriculum of early Bauhaus develop to transform artists into craftsmen? What is the main reason to abolish “easelism” (easel painting)?
  • Discuss various avant-garde attitudes to urban modernity.  Compare and contrast images of the modern city in various avant-garde visual and verbal texts.
  • Discuss the role of Freud’s psychoanalysis in the artistic output of the period, e.g. in French and/or Russian Decadence, German Expressionism, French Surrealism, in the works of Eisenstein, etc. Consider one or two of the following points: what is the main difference between Freud’s and the avant-garde artists’ attitudes toward the unconscious? Explain the main processes involved in “dream work” and show, using a couple of examples, how the principles of dream work are useful in the understanding of a particular work of art.
  • Explain the significance and elaborate on the major points of Viktor Shklovsky’s “Art as Device” (in another translation: Art as a Technique). What is the role of the ultimate goal of art, according to Shklovsky? What means does the artist employ to achieve this goal? Illustrate Shklovsky’s concepts of “estrangement” and “retardation,” and “laying bare of the device,” using a few examples from the course. Reflect on your own perception of a certain work of art in this course.
  • Describe various kinds of photo- and film montage and explain the propagandistic power behind them. Some questions to consider: how do photo montage, photography, and film allow the avant-garde artists to stay away from the representational, academic art, while at the same time serving the state and “the people”? What is factography? What contradictions arise when we apply the criteria of “fact” to the works of Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein? Why were the “Kinoki” attacked for their “formalism” by Marxist critics? What is “wrong” with helping the proletariat “see things better”?
  • Using a number of art works as case studies, discuss how issues of gender and sexuality inform the production of art across the historical avant-gardes.  You might also want to consider the work of avant-garde women artists.
  • What is the relationship between the avant-garde and social realism, according to Boris Groys? Agree or disagree with his position and provide your reasons for either agreement or disagreement.


Part 2. Choose one or two specific works of art belonging to a specific avant-garde movement or genre (e.g., symbolism, expressionism, cubism, dada, etc.) or one or two works by a specific artist (e.g., Malevich, Tatlin, Picasso, etc.) and write a comprehensive analysis, no longer than 1000 words in total, using the theoretical readings provided on the subject as well as your own critical judgment. (Attention: critical judgment is not to be confused with strictly personal, “naïve” opinion you were encouraged to use in the response papers).

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