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Topical Course: Artist's 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 issues in particular. These artist’s writings can take various forms, such as a treatises on artistic theory, or a manifesto to present a new movement or promote new ‘revolutionary’ notions on art. Some artists wrote an autobiography, for example the 16th-century sculptor Cellini. Other artists, like Albrecht Dürer, wrote diaries while they were travelling. Finally, there were many artists that wrote letters to family and friends but also to fellow artists with Vincent van Gogh being one of the most famous examples. Our notions on the arts are for an important part based on the theoretical ideas developed in artist’s writings that were published from the Italian Renaissance until the present day. This course consists of four blocks each, in which artist’s writings will be discussed from different approaches.

The first block taught by prof. Zwijnenberg focuses on one of the most important discussions in artistic theory from the Renaissance onwards, the Paragone in which the sister arts (painting, sculpture, poetry, and music) are compared and are placed in hierarchical order. This is one of the key topics in Alberti’s De Pictura (1435). Leonardo da Vinci’s Paragone (from the period 1492-1510) is the first Renaissance text which meditates upon the nature and status of all four sister arts. Leonardo reflections are of such probing nature that it is no surprise that his ideas and vocabulary has influenced the debates on the arts ever since.

The second block is taught by prof. Bussels. He will focus on artist’s writings from the Dutch Golden Age. Artists as Philips Angel, Samuel van Hoogstraten en Gerard de Lairesse all focus on the importance of raising the impression that a painting is not a painting, but the subject that the painting depicts. Therefore, the artists appropriate rhetorical concepts and most important the concept of vividness or enargeia. If the painter wants to persuade as much as possible, his painting has to leave itself out of account. The viewer has to start believing that he is an eyewitness.

The third block of dr. Boers is on the letters of Vincent van Gogh and Piet Mondrian. These lectures will reflect on the tragic life of van Gogh, his artistic development and the artists admired by both van Gogh and Mondrian and how these have influenced the artistic choices Van Gogh and Mondrian respectively made. Van Gogh praised famous authors, such as Balzac, but he also idolized artists that are now almost forgotten. In his letters Piet Mondrian describes his artistic choices, but he seems to be less than honest about his admiration for his famous contemporaries.

The final block of dr. Crucq, focuses on artist’s writings from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day. It will start by discussing the Bauhaus manifesto in which visions about the future of architecture, decorative art and the fine arts strongly cohere with idealistic views on society. After WW II a new generation of artists raised within a consumer culture start expressing themselves more subversively. Taking Andy Warhol as a case study, excerpts from Andy Warhol’s diaries, The philosophy of Andy Warhol and Popism highlight the irony and airiness with which postmodern artists reflect upon their work . The course finishes by discussing the richness of present day media through which artists express themselves from the perspective of globalized networks and the dissolving boundaries between artist and public and fiction and reality.

Course objectives

  • Students broaden their basic knowledge on artistic theory acquired in the first year by studying how ideas developed in artist’s writings from the Italian Renaissance onwards.

  • Students are introduced to the most important issues that are addressed in artist’s 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.


Please check the final schedule of Art History/AMS

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

Course Load

Course load in summary: 5 ects (140 hrs)

24 hrs: Attending lectures (2 hrs weekly x 12 weeks)
12 hrs: Lecture preparations (reading texts)
104 hrs: Preparing portfolio (preparing and writing a total of ca. 5000 words on four different assignments)

140 hrs

Assessment method

The course is evaluated by four written assignments, one for each block, each assignment for 25% of the final mark. Three out of these four assignments are an individual paper, the final one is a group assignment.

  • Together the four assignments form a portfolio of around 5000 words. You will have to upload the final versions of the four ‘chapters’ of the portfolio in Turnitin. The assignments uploaded in Turnitin will be marked with some comments to indicate how the final mark was established.

  • Grades below 5.5 are not allowed for any of the assignments.

Resit: A resit/ rewrite can be done for constituent examinations which are failed. As far as applicable all resits/ rewrites take place at the same time, after the final (constituent) examination.

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 be organized.


Blackboard will be used to post announcements, the required reading list, primary sources discussed during class, power points plus abstracts of the lectures, announcements and discussion board, and for submitting the assignment.

Reading List

  • To be announced.


Via Usis

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Mw. Dr. M.E.W. Boers-Goosens