ARTS-2540 The Multimedia Century    Fall 2010

Monday and Thursday 2:00 – 3:50 pm

Classroom:  West Hall 323


Prof. Michael Century

276-2302 West Hall 115b

Office hours Wednesday 12-2 pm

Online syllabus and reading links:



The purpose of this class is to lay a foundation for understanding modern art and culture, with an emphasis on the twentieth century.


This course should hone your skills in the interpretation, analysis and knowledge of cultural creations, which specifically includes works of art presented in class and texts assigned for homework. You will examine key critical dialogues related to these works, engaging ideas with an aim toward broader cultural understanding, and developing independent responses to contemporary art works and those of the last century.  The course covers multiple media, ranging from the visual arts to music, theater and film, and particular emphasis on recent electronic and digital media.


You are expected to learn the basic "alphabet" of this course; key movements, artists, specific works, dates, cultural contexts, etc. Communication skills – writing, speaking, and discussion – will be emphasized and developed in class work and course requirements.


Method of Instruction

Lectures will be illustrated with audio-visual materials – slides, video, sound, digital multimedia, etc.  Discussion and participation are a crucial part of the class, and weighted in the grading accordingly.  Participation is defined as being prepared for class (having thoroughly reviewed all materials assigned), engaging thoughtfully in discussions, and punctually submitting written assignments.


Assessment and criteria

20% Attendance and participation, including Filament Project

30% Online Journal (reading responses)

10% Final paper (critical review, due last day of class)

20% Midterm Exam

20% Final Exam


A Range                 Conceptual: thorough and coherent, original thinking, moves beyond assignment bounds. Writing: Excellent writing and grammar skills.  Expresses ideas clearly and effectively; spends time on the work; attention to detail.  Participates fully, taking a leadership role in discussion in class and online community outside of class. Brings new ideas to class consistently. Listens to others’ views with respect. Attends class on time and turns in work on time.


B Range.             Conceptual: Complete assignments with some originality. Writing: Good writing and grammar skills. Writing is clear and ideas are organized. Participates fully in discussion. Attends class on time and turns in work on time. Participates in online comments and engages with others’ ideas.


C Range              Conceptual: Unoriginal or common sense thinking; doing only what is required; Writing: Unclear writing, grammatical errors, lack of thoroughness. Inconsistencies in presentation of work and participation, or does not frequently participate. Attends class but minimally engages with others’ work.


D  Range             Falls below expectations in most areas. Inconsistencies, sloppiness, inaccuracies, errors, lack of effort.


F                                Fails to meet requirements of Assignment/Not turned in on time.



Critical Essay

The critical essay should be a closer consideration and development of your ideas, Though formal requirements and style are more free in this essay than in a standard term paper, use this as an opportunity to be very creative while maintaining a high level of concision and clarity. Length should be 750-1000 words.


Midterm and Final Exam

Students will be shown images and sound excerpts and will be asked to identify basic information (time period, artist, related movement, etc.) as well as key points about the piece's significance (within the context of that period, movement, the artist's work, broader cultural perspective, etc.). A selection of more open-ended questions will address the understanding of certain core concepts, as well as provide opportunities to express independent critical responses.

The final exam is in class and will follow an identical format to the midterm exam


Online journal

In advance of each class, students are required to post reading notes, discussion points and questions to a personal journal on LMS course website  These will be in response to the reading and other assignments for each upcoming class.  Discussion points can be questions, comments, ideas for debate, etc.  These discussion points will help structure lecture and discussion.


Required Texts and Study Materials

Additional materials and web links will be used throughout the course, either posted online or otherwise distributed.  There is no textbook. Articles for downloading are available at:


Academic Dishonesty Policy

Academic dishonesty is, by definition, considered a flagrant offense to the education process. It is taken seriously by students, faculty, and Rensselaer and will be addressed in an effective manner. If a student is found in violation of academic dishonesty policy (for example submitting another student's assignment for your own), your grade will be submitted as "F" for that assignment and the incident will be reported to the Dean of Students Office For the full formal policy, please see






Assigned reading

Selected Keywords, Artists, and Key Works

Mon 8-30

Course Introduction, Syllabus, Assignments


The “short twentieth century” (Eric Hobsbawm)

Techno-economic paradigms (Chris Freeman)

Modes and levels of cultural analysis

Art as understood by evolutionary biology

Thu  9-02

Modernity:  Aesthetic, political and industrial revolution.

Modernity” by Terry Smith, in Oxford Art Online

Felix Stalder, Autonomy and Control in the Era of Post-Privacy, nettime, July 2010.

Modernity and the Postmodern

Contemporary art (theories of contemporaneity)

Privacy and social media

Thu 9-9

The Machine-Made Image:  Photography, Film, Phonograph

Way of Seeing, by John Berger, first episode, view in 4 parts on Youtube

Music becomes a thing,  Eisenberg, Evan (1987). The Recording Angel:  Explorations in Phonography

Origins of cinema and  18-19th century proto-cinema devices

Walter Benjamin

Sound recording (Edison), effects of phonography

Mon 9-13

From Realism to Abstraction; From Tonality to Atonality

Oxford Art Online articles: "Abstract Art" #1-2; "Cubism" #1-3.  Chanan, Michael (1994).  The Birth of Modernism

Abstraction Kandinsky, Malevich, Picasso, Braque

Tonality/Atonality, Schoenberg, Ives, Debussy.

Thu 9-16

Futurism, the Art of Noise, The Liberation of Sound

Manifestos of the Avant Garde – 145-149

Russolo Art of Noises

The “war to end all wars”.  Futurism.  Marinetti, Russolo.  Noise.  Stravinsky, Ballet Russe, Rite of Spring.

Mon 9-20


Manifestos of the Avant Garde 248-55

Dada. Anti-art. Marcel Duchamp. Ready-made.  Collage Schwitters, Merz.  Grosz.  Dada Film.  Entr’acte.  Satie. 

Thu 9-23

Constructivism, Soviet Revolution and the Arts 

Oxford Art online "Constructivism" (section 1, Russia)

Karl Marx 1859 Preface to a a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

Vertov Kino Eye – Introduction

Lenin, Stalin.  Agit-Prop.  Constructivism.  Tatlin.  Montage, Vertov, Man with a Movie Camera.  Eisenstein.

Mon 9-27


Surrealist manifesto 432-439

Freud and “discovery” of the unconscious.

André Breton.   Chance, Randomness.

Critique of rationality and the “decline of the West”

Dali, Ernst, Varése.  Improvisation and the European reception of jazz.

Thu 9-30

Bauhaus and International Style. Weimar culture


Frampton History of Bauhaus,

Manifesto of the Bauhaus: pp 338-343


Bauhaus, Modernism in Architecture, Gropius.  Fundamental art pedagogy.  Klee, Kandinsky, Schlemmer. Brecht, Weill, Three Penny Opera.

Mon 10-4


New Deal America

 Readings TBA.

Fascism.   Speer, Riefenstahl. 

Socialist realism, Shostakovich.

Works Project Administration.  Copland.

Thu 10-7


Guest presenter LARRY CUBA, Punta Y Raya Festival


Tue 10-12

Electronic Music – Special Guest Kathy Kennedy

T. Taylor Post War Music and the Techno-Scientific Imaginary, pp 41-60 only

Serialism, formalism.  Musique concrete, electronic music, Stockhausen, VarŹse, Poeme electronique, Oliveros, free improvisation. Notation experiment.

Thu 10-14

New York School in Music and Art, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art

Abstract Expressionism, from Oxford Art Online

John Cage, readings from Silence

Warhol survey in Fineberg, Art Since 1940, p. 250-59

Pollock, Newman, DeKoonig, Rothko

John Cage, indeterminacy, experimental music.

Warhol, Pop Art

Mon 10-18

1960s Cultural Revolutions


Rielly The 1960s, pp ix-xx, Intro. and Timeline.

Marwick pp 316-318

McLuhan.  1968 a year of revolution and failure.  Paris Situationism.  Conceptualism.

Thu 10- 21

Feminism and the Arts



Oxford Art Online "Feminism and Art"

Linda Nochlin, Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? (1971)

Pauline Oliveros, “And Don’t Call Them ‘Lady’ Composers (1970).” Page 1, Page 2, Page 3

Historical waves of feminism. Judy Chicago, Eva Hesse, Ana Mendieta, Martha Rosler, Nancy Spero, Barbara Kruger

Pauline Oliveros




Mon 10-24

Mid Term Exam



Th 10-27


Lovejoy Electronic Era & Postmodernism



Stylistic, philosophical, and technological post-modernism.  Pastiche, appropriation, hybridity, simulation, hyper-reality.

Mon 11-1



Oxford Art Online "Minimalism" 

Website of DiaBeacon museum

Reich, Music as Gradual Process

Visual artists:  Judd, André, LeWitt.  Composers: Reich, Riley, Young, Glass

Thu 11-4

Video Art


Hanhardt, Video Culture Introduction

Oxford Art Online "Video Art"

Nam June Paik, Vasulkas, Joan Jonas, Martha Rosler, Bill Viola, Douglas Gordon, Stan Douglas, Christian Marclay

Mon 11-8

Performance Art

Roselee Goldberg on Dada and Futurist performance  Kaprow:  Essays on Blurring of Art and Life  Website of Performa festivals Marina Abramovic Interview, MOMA retrospective

Happenings, Multimedia theater:  Laurie Anderson, Robert Wilson, Wooster Group


Thurs 11-11

Environmental Art

Oxford Art Online "Land Art", "Environmental Art"

Smithson, Turrell, Irwin, Beuys, Maya Lin, Soundscape; Schafer

Mon 11-15

Abstract film, early computer animation,

Moritz on Fischinger, Moritz on John Whitney, Explore films of McLaren.

Fischinger, Whitney, McLaren, Richter, VanDerBeek,

Thu 11-18

Interactivity and Immersive Art

Rokeby Subjectivity and Control in Interactive Art

MediaArtNet:  Immersion and Interaction:  From Circular Frescoes to Interactive Image Spaces

Krueger, Weinbren, Hershman, Rokeby, Lozano Hemmer, Sommerer, Utterback, Naimark, Benayoun, Davies, Laurel

Mon 11-22




Thu 11-25




Mon 11-29

Sound Art and Contemporary Music

Oxford Art Online "Sound and Art"

Optional - Christoph Cox From Music to Sound: Being as Time in the Sonic Arts

Cage, Amacher, Neuhaus, Kubisch, Cardiff/Miller

Thu 12-2

Digital authorship and remix culture


Lev Manovich, Remix and Remixability

L. Lessig Remix 1-19, optional to page 84

Jaron Lanier You are not a gadget (précis) and Confusions of the hive mind

Copyright, fair use, appropriation, open source/free software, remix/pastiche, social media, user-generated content

Mon 12-6




Thu 12-9

Final Exam