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Arts in Society


Admission requirements

Identical to admission requirements for the BA Art History / BA Arts, Media and Society.


In this course, we will examine the interactions between art and society. From ancient practices of employing a dramatic performance as religious or political enactment, to medieval religious art as visual exegesis of the bible, 19th century ideas on realism in art, to art as political and societal activism in the 21st first century: the interactions between art and society have always been very close. Yet, every historical period or cultural era has its own diverse and multiple understandings of art and its role within society: Art has been claimed to be different or even opposed to other cultural and societal practices (think of conceptualizations of ‘autonomous art’ in the 18th century); it has been used to actively engage with societal issues and concerns; finally, art practices have often turned out to be a social practice themselves. In this course, we will focus on the various interactions between art & politics, art & religion, art & technology in ancient and modern societies. Looking at the historical continuities and discontinuities of these interactions will help us to understand the specific characteristics, risks, chances and challenges related to our contemporary society. What does it mean for us when it is not clear at all, whether an object belongs to the sphere of art or not? What is the impact and value of artistic practices that are closely related to societal life? And what this mean for the future?

The course will include the following subjects:
What is art? Theoretical approaches from antiquity to the 21st century; ‘art’ versus ‘non-art’; transitions, transgressions, conflations (e.g. illusion); theoretical approaches on experiencing art (e.g. kátharsis); experiencing cruelty (delightful horror).

To be decided

Course objectives

  • Being familiar with the mutual influences of the arts, politics, religion and technology in selected societies.

  • Being familiar with aesthetic theories.

  • Having knowledge of (modern) theories on aesthetic experiences.

  • Being acquainted with and able to make use of selected texts on the topic of the social and cultural implications of the introduction and advance of new forms of art.

  • Having insight into what is essential for a critical assessment of secondary literature.

  • Being skilled in analyzing the results of scholarly research, constructing arguments, formulating conclusions.


  • Monday 11-13 hrs and Friday 11-13 hrs i.e. two times a week! (draft)

Please note: for the final schedule refer to Collegeroosters / Timetable BA Art History on the Art History website.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

Course Load

Course load in summary: 5 ects (140 hrs)

  • 24 hours: Attendance of the lectures: 4 hrs weekly x 6 weeks

  • 24 hours: Lecture preparations

  • 40 hours: Required readings (c. 280 pages à 7 pages/hr)

  • 26 hours: Preparing and writing the written assignment

  • 26 hours: Preparation of a final written exam —
    140 hrs

Assessment method

  • Midterm assignment (Q&A): answering questions on Blackboard. This counts as a practical exercise (and is therefore mandatory). Students are not allowed to do the final assignment without having finished the Blackboard Q&A component.

  • Final assignment (100%): essay (paper).

Compensation: The paper should be graded at least 6.0.

Resit: If the paper is graded below 6.0 it can be resubmitted once.

Exam review: How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Providing texts and powerpoints

  • Uploading papers (turnitin)

  • Discussion board

Reading list

A selection of readings (to be announced).


Via uSis.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


Prof. dr. Robert Zwijnenberg Prof. dr. Antje Wessels

Or send an e-mail to the study coordinator of the BA Art History / Arts, Media and Society

Arts, Media and Society student administration, Huizinga Building (Doelensteeg 16), room 1. Tel. 071 5272687; [](mailto: