Sunday, October 19, 2008

Modernism is Hard

Having finally gotten through the American Art exams--which were very satisfactory other than that many students have trouble getting the ID portions--I turned my attention to the Modern exams.
While I'm sure that things will improve, thus far (I have graded the term definition section) I am rather disturbed.
I think almost everyone has been able to define Pointillism reasonably well, but after that it can be quite the train wreck. I am reminded that last time I taught Intro to Modern, students also tended to think Orientalism mean Japonisme. It is true I talk more about Japanese influence on western art, but considering that Orientalism is such a big topic in other disciplines, you would think people would have heard about it there. Oh well, I will have to stress the difference next time I teach the class.
And I'm unsure why "non-objective" art is a stumbling block for almost everyone, because I know that I specified how it is different from "abstraction" (which has some sort of subject matter out there in the world, whether it is an apple or St. George). I'm especially unsure why several people seem to think it simply hasn't got a focus, or a technique, or a meaning. Still, maybe it's just hard to get used to the idea that a work can be "about" color or form or feeling, although 2008 seems a little late to find this new and surprising since non-objective art is all over the place.
Still, while many people gave reasonable definitions for most terms, I am surprised by some of what I'm reading. A few of the more peculiar definitions proffered by my students this semester are:
AVANT-GARDE: upper crust society
FAUVISM: 'false' movement; artwork focusing on the surreal.
SUPREMATISM: focusing on avant-garde/high society
MANIFESTO: The story and philosophies of a person (or "artificially decorating on the natural image")
PRIMITIVISM: Characterized by indistinct brushstrokes
PLEIN-AIRE PAINTING: a style of painting that uses everyday subject matter
ORIENTALISM: Oath of the Horatii (or, as another person suggests, "Orientation of the picture/painting, lay out)
THE ACADEMY: Liberal art
I had been under the impression that more people understood the material better. Were these people not listening at all? Did they not read the textbook at all? (Where do some of these definitions come from, outer space?) Is it that the class begins at dinner-time? Are people malnourished during class?
I do think that Intro to Modern is intrinsically harder to get a grip on for most people. American Art is, for most of its history, about recognizable subjects. Most people quickly recognize portraits of George Washington, and a significant amount of American art up to 1910 or so deals with national themes. Modernism, on the other hand, involves a bewildering cavalcade of artists and movements, most of whom do their best to make the subject matter a bit baffling.
Ah well. I believe I will do a few other things before returning to the exams.

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Blogger Kristen said...

You know, I didn't really get the difference between non-objective and abstract until I taught for Barbara. I think, unfortunately, they are often used as synonyms, which leads to confusion. As far as the other bits, well, you'll always have a few students who come up with wacky things. Remember the infamous 13th-Century Cathedral of Learning...

October 19, 2008 8:54 PM  
Blogger Julia said...

Non-objective and abstract is easy if you've actually done any art, but I do agree that it doesn't click necessarily if you haven't. Hmm..idea for a quiz - draw samples of each! Anyway, you've piqued my interest, what else did you ask on the exam?

October 19, 2008 10:37 PM  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

this is really interesting to me. one reason why japonisme/orientalism could be confusing to them is the same reason it was confusing to me.

when did "oriental" go from connoting, like, turkey, or egypt, to japan/chinese? and then back again?

i don't think i totally caught on to this till i got said's book out of the library, and as you know, i'm buried up to my chin in this stuff all day every day!

October 20, 2008 10:00 PM  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

are the clocks off? it's axtually just 1pm here!~

October 20, 2008 10:01 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

I don't find it all that strange that people would confuse non-objective and abstract, especially since they're often used synonymously, but I did explain the difference.

Just as Japonisme and Orientalism would be easy to confuse except should not be a problem for those who listen in class and take good notes (or read the textbook).

I will always regard the 13th-century Cathedral of Learning as one of the most special errors, right up there with the student who said the pyramids have clerestory windows to make it dark inside.

Clock issue: blog is set to Czech time because changing it screws up the times and dates throughout, unfortunately.

Anyway, the exams improved after I got past the definition section. What a relief.

October 24, 2008 6:18 AM  

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