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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 and societal issues. These artist’s writings can take various forms, such as a treatise on artistic theory, or a manifesto to present a new movement or promote new ‘revolutionary’ notions on art. Vasari is often called the first art historian because of his publication of the biographies of the most important artists from his past and present. Van Mander followed his example writing about the lives and works of Dutch painters. Other artists wrote an autobiography, for example the 16th-century sculptor Cellini, or diaries such as Albrecht Dürer, while they were travelling. Finally, there were many artists who wrote letters to their family and friends but also to fellow artists, with Vincent van Gogh being one of the most famous examples. To a great extent, our notions on the arts are 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 in which artist’s writings will be discussed via different approaches. The first two blocks will be on artistic theory whilst the final two blocks will be on artists and society.

The first block will start with an introduction to the course. The next two lectures will focus on the writings by Alberti on painting and Vasari's Vite. The second block of three lectures is taught by Prof.dr. Stijn Bussels. He will focus on artist’s writings from the 17th century. Artists such as Philips Angel, Samuel van Hoogstraten, and Gerard de Lairesse all focus on the importance of raising the impression that a painting is not a mere representation of reality, but that contemporary audiences experienced them as 'living beings'. As such, the artists appropriate rhetorical concepts and most importantly the concept of vividness or enargeia will be discussed. 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/she is an eyewitness.

The third block by Dr. Marion Boers-Goosens will be on the letters of Vincent van Gogh and the writings on art and society by Piet Mondrian. These lectures will reflect on the tragic life of Van Gogh, his artistic development, and his ideas on which role artists had to play in society. Both artists mention painters they admired and how they influenced the artistic choices Van Gogh and Mondrian made, respectively. Van Gogh praised famous authors, such as Balzac, but he also idolised artists that are now almost forgotten. In his letters, Piet Mondrian not only describes his artistic choices, but more importantly, his ideas on the role artists had to play in contemporary society.

The final block by Dr. Arthur Crucq focuses on artist’s writings from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day. It will start off 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 WWII, a new generation of artists, raised within a consumer culture, started 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 with a discussion on 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 the way in which 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.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

Assessment method


  • Two individual papers of 1000 words each: 60%

  • One group assignment of 1000 words: 30%

  • Three small assignments in preparation for lectures: 10%

The three small assignments consist of a short theoretical text where a few questions need to be answered with a maximum of 100 - 150 words each. You can get either a pass or a fail.

The three larger assignments form a portfolio of around 3000 words. You will have to upload these papers in Turnitin. The assignments uploaded in Turnitin will be marked with some comments to indicate how the final mark was established.


The three large papers constitute 30% of the final mark each, together 90% of the final mark. The small assignments in preparation for the lectures constitute 10% of the final mark.
Grades below 6 are not allowed for the three written assignments.


A resit/ rewrite can be done for the three major papers if they 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 have to be organized.

Reading List

Course materials will be published on Brightspace.


Via Usis

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