Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2022-2023 (archived)

Module VISU2041: Thinking Through Art Objects

Department: Modern Languages and Cultures (Visual)

VISU2041: Thinking Through Art Objects

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2022/23 Module Cap 30 Location Durham


  • VISU1012: Introduction to Visual Culture Studies, or discussion with the module convenor


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • The module aims to introduce students to various strategies of knowledge production in the art world. Art critics and theorists, gallerists and dealers, museum curators and seasoned connoisseurs possess the credibility, acquired through lifelong learning and experience, to determine the meaning, the quality and the value of art. This module intends to offer a practised-based approach to artistic expertise by encouraging students to conduct an in-depth analysis on a carefully selected series of art objects. Central to this approach is the critical evaluation of a set of tools, skills and criteria that the art world considers essential to examine a work of art and determine its value across different times, regions and cultures.


  • The module uses theoretical and historical readings alongside models of best-practice in order to conduct a critically-informed investigation of an art object. Students will conduct their research on a rich diversity of primary materials. Topics to be studied will typically include:
  • Criteria for the attribution of value in the art market.
  • Distinction between crowd wisdom and specialised expertise.
  • Principles and instruments of connoisseurship.
  • Evaluation of an object’s material, technical, and stylistic properties.
  • Tools and techniques for training a so-called ‘artistic eye’.
  • Tools and techniques for training the so-called ‘period eye’.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of this module, students will be able to:
  • evaluate the accuracy of an art expertise in comparison with other discourses about art;
  • emulate models of best-practice in producing critically-informed descriptions of art objects;
  • gather information about the authenticity, condition, rarity, provenance, historical importance, size, fashion, subject matter, medium, and quality of an art object;
  • distinguish critically between connoisseurial, academic, curatorial and commercial communities of practice;
  • develop a personal critical vocabulary to think through art objects.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • By the end of this module, students will be able to:
  • formulate pertinent questions about art objects;
  • organise information to think through art objects;
  • apply specific criteria to evaluate an art object;
  • produce an in-depth analysis of an art object;
  • develop a critical method to develop artistic expertise.
Key Skills:
  • By the end of this module, students will have developed basic skills to:
  • conduct independent research;
  • formulate research questions;
  • construct reasoned arguments supported by factual evidence;
  • participate in group discussions;
  • present research results in oral and written forms;
  • use digital technology to hone clarity of exposition and productivity of work.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The module will be taught either in term 1 or in term 2. Lectures will discuss selected art objects from a specialised perspective, illustrating models of best-practice commonly performed in the art world and the criteria to establish critical expertise. Lecture material will be available in advance on DUO and accompanied by self-learning tutorials formatively assessed. Interactive seminars will allow students to develop their synthetic and analytical skills by means of discussion, peer feedback, questions, and ideas-testing in order to produce a summatively-assessed detailed project plan. By giving formative presentations, students will take responsibility at an early stage for their own and the group’s learning, as well as developing skills that will be tested summatively. Small-group tutorials will support students as they develop research questions and design their critical commentary.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lecture 1 weekly 2 hours 20
Seminar-tutorial 10 weekly 1 hour 10
Student preparation and reading time 170
Total SLAT hours (20 credits 200, 40 credits 400) 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Detailed project plan Component Weighting: 20%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Detailed project plan 1,500 words 100% No
Component: Presentation Component Weighting: 20%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Presentation 10 minutes 100% No
Component: Critical commentary Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Critical commentary 3,000 words 100% No

Formative Assessment:

Series of in-class presentations, student-led group discussions; identification and categorisation exercises automatically assessed on DUO

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University