SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Understanding Art East and West: from Asmat Shields to Tate Modern

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2018/2019
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 1

The course is designed to build a theoretical base to underpin history of art courses offered in the Department. We look at the principal conceptions of art as they have been defined through the ages in different societies, including the perplexing contemporary art worlds of Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.
The course aims to give participants confidence in understanding why and how humans create art in various societal settings and what happens to them when they experience it.
It elucidates how canonical judgments on the status of great artists are arrived at. The course emphasises a cross-cultural approach focused on the difficulties and subtleties in interpreting the art of societies remote in time and geography. Hermeneutic approaches will be compared with unsatisfactory ‘Orientalist’ ones.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • Familiarity with the major conceptual attempts to define art and its role in society from Plato and Aristotle, through the Renaissance and Enlightenment to the contemporary art world, including that of Asia and Africa.
  •  An understanding of both the classificatory and evaluative approaches to defining art that have made the most signal contributions to the extended and perplexing aesthetics debate in the contemporary art world from Duchamp’s Fountain to 21st century installations in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.
  •  A working knowledge of the aesthetics of Hume, Kant, Tolstoy, Collingwood, Danto, Carroll and Scruton.
  •  A critical base for understanding a broad range of visual forms of expression, ranging from art objects and architectural spaces to ritual and performance art, archaeological complexes, artefacts and craft objects.
  •  Familiarity with the cross-cultural Hermeneutic approach to penetrating and interpreting remote cultures with an emphasis on non-Western and ethnographic art forms.
  • An initiation into connoisseurship theory and practice.
  •  An appreciation of the approaches and methods of the art historical discipline that has enabled scholars and connoisseurs to reconstruct the history of societies remote in time and geography.


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Method of assessment

  • One 3 000 words essay (worth 91%)
  • One oral presentation on research (worth 9%)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules