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The Social Roles of Art in the Modern and Contemporary Period


Admission requirements

Same as admission requirements for the BA Art History/BA Arts, Media and Society.


In this course, we will examine the interactions between art and society in our contemporary world. Through a close analysis of many different artworks—sculptures, videos, installations, performances, videos — by artists from all over the globe, we will study the multiple ways in which the arts have both responded to and affected broader political, economic, sexual, and ecological developments. Likewise, the increasing amount of artists dealing with inequalities of gender, race/ethnicity, class and sexuality since the 1970s cannot be understood if we do not take into consideration the social movements that surfaced in the 1960s; the emergence of the international art market in the late 1990s is indicative of economic and social processes; the establishment of biennials all over the globe throughout the 1980s and 1990s is not independent from the division of the world in East and West; and the recent art collectives protesting against oil industry sponsorship of cultural institutions is related to the world’s current concern about climate change.
Throughput the course, we will use the book Art Since 1980: Charting the Contemporary by Peter R. Kalb and some additional readings. These will guide us through the history of contemporary art and its interactions and intertwinement with society. We will start with an introduction to some artistic practices of the beginning of the 20th century which are exemplary in addressing new perspectives on the relation between art and society. The following lessons will be dedicated to one specific topic which will be introduced by the lecturer. These include, amongst others, the art market, feminism, memory, body, race and ecology. After this lecture , students will present some specific works by artists who worked around these topics. Thereby, they will aim to consider the linkages between artworks and societal issues and concerns.
A broad range of questions will be posed: Can we only understand artworks if we take into consideration the conditions (political, economic, etc.) under which they were made? How can we articulate the relationship between art and society? What are the potentials of artworks? Can they do something else than show us a certain reality?

To be decided

Course objectives

  • Students will acquire knowledge of a wide range of contemporary artworks

  • Students gain insight into broader social, economic, sexual, ecological developments of the last few decades and how they have related to the arts

  • Students develop skills to analyze contemporary artworks and to articulate their relationship with societal issues and concerns

  • Students acquire skills to analyze artworks in a scholarly manner


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


  • Individual presentation (or movie) of two minutes in which one artwork is discussed

  • Final exam: written exam (multiple choice and open questions)


  • Individual presentation: 30%

  • Final exam: 70%

The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average. To pass the course, the weighted average of the partial grades must be 5.5 or higher. Additionally, the mark for the final exam and individual presentation must both be a passing grade (5.5 or higher).


A resit examination can be done for examinations which are failed. As far as applicable all resits take place at the same time, after the final (constituent) examination.

Inspection and feedback

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.

Reading list

To be announced.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website

Registration À la carte education, Contract teaching and Exchange

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of À la carte education (without taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of Contract teaching (with taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.
For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Student administration Arsenaal


Not applicable.