FIN2041 : Electric Dreams and Nuclear Visions: Art, Science & Medicine in the Twentieth Century

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This course will explore the role science and medicine played in the development of experimental visual art in Europe and North America broadly within the period 1900 – 1960 (with some consideration of its ongoing contemporary impact). It will address how the progress of science and medicine (with particular emphasis upon biology, technology, physics and psychiatry) impacted upon artistic consciousnesses and appealed to the utopian, revolutionary and countercultural impulses of the twentieth-century avant-garde. Through a series of thematic lectures and seminars students will gain an understanding of how science and medicine challenged and transformed artistic notions of perception, physical reality, the sublime and the body. By the end of the course students should understand the importance of science and medicine as a stimulus to the visual arts and be able to identify and explain the reasons for this. Students will also develop an understanding of the theory underpinning interdisciplinary work in art-science-medicine and be able to competently discuss some of the major issues in this field of study. The course will use a variety of visual and textual examples from which students will gain knowledge of how to undertake interdisciplinary research in art and science from within an art historical framework.

Outline Of Syllabus

While the course is not a comprehensive or chronological survey it will convey the complex range of ways in which the visual arts responded to science and medicine broadly in the period 1900 – 1960. The course will cover the following topics:

      Cubism, Suprematism & Fourth-Dimensional Geometry
      Making the Invisible Visible: X-rays, radioactivity & the avant-garde c.1909-1920
      Picturing Madness: Visual art, psychiatry & neurology in Vienna c.1900
      The Machine Age; science & technology in Futurism and Constructivism
      Anti-science: Duchamp & Dada
      Biomorphism & biocentrism
      The Divided Self: Surrealism & psychoanalysis
      New Horizons: Surrealism & relativity physics/Ab. Expressionism & the nuclear age
      Bodies of Knowledge: Anatomy & modern art
      New Pathways: Bio-art/ art & ecology

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion160:0060:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture201:0020:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading120:0020:00Seminar preparation
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching31:003:00Office Hours
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching101:0010:00Seminars
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops23:006:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study181:0081:00N/A
Jointly Taught With
Code Title
FIN3041Electric Dreams and Nuclear Visions: Art, Science & Medicine in the Twentieth Century.
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

1.Lectures: to allow definition of the scope of the syllabus, an introduction to a body of knowledge, and modelling of the level and nature of the analysis required.

2.Seminars: to encourage interaction and the development of cognitive and key skills; to allow preparation and presentation of directed research on specific issues and case studies.

3.Tutorials: to provide feedback and analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of submitted work, and increase awareness of the potential for individual development.

4. Workshops to allow for more innovative and cross-curricular teaching

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1M502000 words
Written exercise1M502000 word visual analysis assignment
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The coursework affords the student the opportunity to conduct research with seminar and peer support into particular areas of interest, to develop their organisational, group work and presentational skills in reporting back to the group and then to demonstrate their ability to think independently using their seminar discussion to inform their individual assignments. Assignments are targeted to develop critical thinking, the ability to develop an argument, visual analysis and theoretical comprehension.

Reading Lists