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BA History of Art / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Art and Fiction Since the 60s

Unit code AHCP30532
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This seminar-based course examines the interrelations between art and fiction since the 1960s. It considers a series of novels written by artists as an integral part of their broader practice.  The course tracks a historical shift from artists producing novels understood to be literature (the artist's novel) to artists producing novels understood to be art. This shift came about because of the challenge to the traditional system of the arts that was mounted during the 1960s, most radically by conceptual art’s opening of the category of a generic, postconceptual art in an expanded field. The course traces the genealogy and development of an important new category of the novel whose contours continue to be elaborated in the work of significant contemporary artists. It also situates these historical developments within the broader context of the shift from late modern to contemporary art.


None (although students will find it advantageous to have studied one or more aspects of modernism and the historical and/or neo-avant-gardes at Level 2).


  • The course enables students to understand the evolution of the relationship between art and fiction since the 1960s (focusing on the novel) and to appreciate the theoretical stakes of this work in relation to wider debates about the delimitation of the arts after the breakdown of late modernism.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Analyse the major developments in the relationship between art and novelistic fiction since the 1960s.
  • Appraise the contribution of individual artists to the overall artistic developments in question.
  • Distinguish and critically evaluate the notion of the artist’s novel and the novel as art.
  • Produce a sophisticated account of the implications of the breakdown of the traditional system of the arts in relation to wider debates about the character of late modern and contemporary art.


Indicative course syllabus (final topics may differ):

W1. Introduction: Exhaustion, Confusion, Fusion

W2. The Cut-Up: Brion Gysin

W3. Visual Literature: Eduardo Paolozzi

W4. Taped: Warhol

W5. One Thing After Another: Carl Andre

W6. Conceptual Art and After: Joseph Kosuth

W7. The Picaresque Rebooted: Eleanor Antin

W8. Epistolary Form Revisited: Martha Rosler

W9. The Photonovel: Allan Sekula

W10. Novel Interpolations: Rodney Graham

W11. Conclusion and Revision: Art and/as Fiction

Teaching and learning methods

•    Seminar-based course
•    Directed reading
•    Small-group discussion of artistic practices and texts
•    Core reading and slide presentations made available on Blackboard

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Describe the evolution of the relationship between art and fiction since the 1960s.
  • Evaluate the concept of generic art in the expanded field (with specific reference to the novel as art) and discuss artistic practices that exemplify or challenge it.
  • Appraise current theorisations of the character and significance of late modern and contemporary art.
  • Assess to what degree artistic practice of the period accords with its art historical schematisation.

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Analyse artworks critically and form reasoned, comparative judgments about them.
  • Critically evaluate a diverse range of texts including art history, art theory, art criticism and artists’ own writings.
  • Analyse and synthesise a series of secondary texts on a given topic.
  • Define and develop a viable research topic.
  • Produce a compelling, well-reasoned argument expressing their own viewpoint on a given issue.
  • Think independently and imaginatively about issues and debates in the discipline.
  • Present and publicly defend their own original research.
  • Situate artists’ fiction in its broader social, economic and political contexts.
  • Think self-reflexively about theoretical and historical methods in the discipline.

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Undertake independent research in academic libraries (using both print and digital resources) and online.
  • Devise and execute a structured research and writing plan.
  • Work independently to produce a high-level discursive presentation.
  • Publicly defend their work.
  • Comment on and evaluate the work of peers; accept and incorporate peer feedback on their own work.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Evaluate, synthesise and deploy material from diverse sources.
  • Present in public in a clear, compelling and sophisticated manner (including responding to critique).
  • Produce a clear, sustained and engaging written exposition of a given topic.
  • Manage time effectively to deliver work to a deadline.
  • Improve their performance self-reflexively in light of others' feedback.
  • Use IT resources for research and communication.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
For those students who do pursue careers directly related to the history of art ¿ such as teaching, curating or dealing ¿ the course furnishes them with a deep understanding of the art of the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
Oral communication
The course equips students with a range of transferable skills in research, the weighing and synthesis of sources, time management, oral presentation and written skills as well as general IT competencies that will serve them in the their future development and career.
Problem solving
The self-directed nature of the students¿ seminar papers and research essays encourages them to identify opportunities and develop effective problem-solving techniques.
Written communication
In addition the course¿s critical approach encourages students to challenge conventional thinking and to develop their own intellectual position with imagination and creativity.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 40%
Written assignment (inc essay) 40%
Report 20%

Feedback methods

  • Oral and written feedback on seminar paper
  • Written feedback on essay
  • Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hour or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading

Barth, John. ‘The Literature of Exhaustion’. The Atlantic Monthly, August 1967, 29–34.

Drucker, Johanna. The Century of Artists’ Books. 2nd ed. New York City: Granary Books, 2004.

Greenberg, Clement. ‘Towards a Newer Laocoön’. Partisan Review 7 (August 1940): 296–310.

Maroto, David, and Joanna Zielinska, eds. Artist Novels. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2015.

Moretti, Franco, ed. The Novel: History, Geography, and Culture. Vol. 1. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2015.

–––––––––––––. The Novel: Forms and Themes. Vol. 2. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2016.

Wall, Jeff. ‘Depiction, Object, Event’. Afterall, no. 16 (Autumn/Winter 2007): 5–17.

Watt, Ian. The Rise Of The Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Oxford: Bodley Head, 2015

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Luke Skrebowski Unit coordinator

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