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Topical Course Artists' Writings


Admission requirements

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


Most artists speak through their work and leave writing about art to others. But some artists do engage in debates on crucial artistic and societal issues. These artists’ writings can take various forms, such as a treatise on artistic theory, a manifesto to present a new movement or promote new ‘revolutionary’ notions on art, letters to other artists, family or friends, biographies, facebook posts, etctera. The forms of texts that artists can choose today seem endless. Critical analysis of artists’ writings is crucial for the studies of art because to a great extent, our notions on the arts are based on the theoretical ideas developed in these writings, which from the Italian Renaissance until the present day have proved to be important primary sources for art historical research.

In this course we will critically analyse artists’ writings in all their forms as they have appeared in the course of time. Though we acknowledge that every form of text is situated in history we will not necessarily follow a chronological approach but discuss different forms of texts in relation and interplay with each other and aim to contextualize the artistic and societal concerns from which these texts were written. We will therefore closely look at the aspects such as rhetoric and visual means through which artists brought artistic, political and philosophical arguments to the fore. We will critically analyze the aims and interests, which encouraged artists to express themselves through texts. Furthermore, artists’ writings will not only be considered as functioning within different discourses but also as being tied in with, and part of the artist’s oeuvre. This allows to question the extent to which the artist writing must also be considered as an artwork in its own right, as well as an invaluable contribution to the art theoretical discourse.

Course objectives

  • Students broaden their basic knowledge on artistic theory acquired in the first year, by studying the way in which ideas developed in artist’s writings from the Italian Renaissance till today.

  • Students are introduced to the most important issues that are addressed in artists' writings.

  • Students learn to identify the context in which these debates took place.

  • Students learn to distinguish different kinds of artist’s writings and learn to establish their value for art historical research.

  • Students learn how to write a case study on an important issue raised by an artist in his writings and learn to apply the appropriate methods.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

Assessment method


  • One individual paper of 2000 words: 70%

  • One group assignment (writing your own manifesto) of 1000 words: 30%
    The two assignments must be uploaded to Brightspace.


The individual paper constitutes 70% of the final mark, the group assignment 30% of the final mark. For both assignments grades below 6 are not allowed.


A resit/ rewrite can be done for the individual assignment if failed (lower than a 6.0). In the case of failing the group assignment a request for a replacement assignment will have to be made through the Board of Examiners.

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

Course materials will be published on Brightspace.


Enrolment through My Studymap (Login | Universiteit Leiden) is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la Carte and Contractonderwijs

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

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