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This content is taken from the University of York's online course, Modern Sculpture: An Introduction to Art History. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 4 secondsLast week, we learned how to articulate our direct encounter with sculpture, using relevant art historical terminology to describe an object. This week, we'll think about some schools of thought and how they influence more sustained thinking about sculpture beyond our initial encounter. Art history, just like any other discipline, is a shifting set of ideas, rather than a prescriptive set of rules, and the way we discuss art changes along with these ideas. These sets of ideas are often referred to as theories or critical concepts. These theories and critical concepts use complex ideas - which at first might seem quite challenging in order to interpret art. However, theories are meant to stimulate debate and help to explain artworks, especially modern sculpture.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 secondsEvery work of art is an expression of its culture, time and place, maker and material a complicated set of issues that theories help us to think through and understand. At the same time, theories are not universal doctrines and art historians frequently challenge and disagree with critical readings. Some critical concepts are well-known and are used in disciplines beyond art history. You might have heard of theories such as Marxism, feminism, or post-colonial studies. In this course, our interest lies with critical discussions surrounding modernism and the concept of modernity. We've already placed modern sculpture in its chronological context as a movement that emerged in the early twentieth century that sought to reject the precedents set by sculptors of the past.

Skip to 1 minute and 39 secondsIn our earlier discussion, I also raised the differences between terms

Skip to 1 minute and 43 secondssuch as: modernism, modernity, Modernist, and modern. However, this was not the only idea that sculptors confronted in their work. If modernism was a reaction against the past, then it also embraced the future and new ideas that hadn't been considered in discussions of sculpture before. In the next set of articles, we will explore some of the new themes that typified the character of modern sculpture. We'll use sculpture from York campus to discuss these theories, but they all have broader applications which will help to you to understand a wide range of artworks.

Case Study: Meditation on Exhaustion by Tom Taylor

In this video, we’ll use an example from the York sculpture collection to summarise some of the lessons we’ve covered in the previous activities on the history and theories of modern sculpture.

This is also an example of how we can combine our direct encounter with theoretical contexts. This reveals an important and unique aspect of art history: how to transform a direct experience of artwork into a verbal or written description.

Art history relies on direct encounters with works of art, actually going and seeing objects in person. Art historians have to deal with artworks firsthand and in person.

However, this section will help you to combine the direct visual analysis skills we’ve developed so far with written critical texts and images.

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This video is from the free online course:

Modern Sculpture: An Introduction to Art History

University of York

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