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University of Toronto Difficulty in Modern and Contemporary Art Essay

University of Toronto Difficulty in Modern and Contemporary Art Essay

Question Description

Choose one of the essay topics below and write a 1500-2000 word, double-spaced analytical essay using MLA citation format. Your essay should have a standard structure that includes an introduction with a thesis statement, a body with analysis in paragraph form, and a conclusion.


For many people, modern and contemporary art has the reputation of being difficult to understand and appreciate. But as we have seen in the course, artists have intentionally chosen strategies to challenge the status quo and common sense. In other words, artists see value in the difficult. What makes an artwork difficult? What would be considered a difficult image or a difficult form? Is certain subject matter difficult and has that changed over time? Difficulty, for the purpose of this essay question, is not only what you personally find difficult, but what has been presented in the course material as being challenging to the general viewer. Identify artworks by at least three different artists discussed in the course that are considered difficult. Analyze the difficult nature of each work and explain why the difficulty has been conceived as an intentional artistic strategy and a positive attribute in 20th century art, citing specific artistic, intellectual, theoretical contexts discussed in the course materials.


Given the many new art media, artistic methods, artistic objectives, popular visual media, and imaging technologies, what new technical, creative, and intellectual skills do contemporary artists need? For the purpose of this essay question, new skills are ones that artists prior to 1900 would not be expected—or have been able—to use in their work, but become important for the new art practices that emerged in the 20th century. Your essay must identify, contextualize, and evaluate three distinct new skills using the work of three artists discussed in the course as examples. You must also cite specific 20th century artistic, intellectual, and technological developments presented in the course material to support your argument. Think creatively about the new art forms we have discussed throughout the course, especially conceptual art, performance, activism, and work involving new visual technologies. Be creative, but make sure you define concrete and precise skills and the rationale for their use in 20th century are. For example, the argument “I will show how being skilled with technology could be useful for artists” is too general. A proper argument would identify a specific technology and a precise reason why it is useful for contemporary art making.


Faced with the exhilaration, alienation, and developments of 20th century life, artists “…could embrace it…they could reject it for its materialism…or they could attempt to reform it.” (Wood 19) In your opinion, is the role of the artist and the function of art most closely associated with one of these approaches? Would you argue that these approaches are mutually exclusive, or could an artist address the world around them in their work in multiple ways? In your argument, make sure you provide context for the approaches listed above by linking them to specific cultural, intellectual, political, or technological changes discussed in the course thus far. Use relevant key terms, material from the reading assignments, and artworks by at least three artists discussed in the course as evidence to support your argument.

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