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Modernism in Scandinavian Art and Design


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenor and tutor: Charlotte Ashby
  • Assessment: a 3000-word essay (60%) and three-hour examination (40%)

Module description

This module concentrates on the development of a distinctive strand of Modernism within the Scandinavian region and the phenomenal transformation from cultural backwater to recognised centre for design excellence over the period 1900-1950. One strand of the course looks at the art and design produced in the region and local debates around modernity, national identity and social responsibility in art and design as well as historiographic issues regarding the expansion of the canon and the writing of national art histories. The other strand looks at the emergence of the idea of Scandinavian design in Britain and America through marketing materials, texts and exhibitions produced inside and outside Scandinavia.

Key areas covered include: The search for a national style, the return to classicism as a new universal language of design, the birth of functionalism, the architect as solitary genius and the position of women artists and designers.

Indicative module syllabus

  • The transformation of Scandinavia through the nineteenth century: urbanisation, the development of the art and design infrastructure and developing national movements
  • National styles in painting, architecture and design around 1900: National Romanticism and the Modernist canon
  • Symbolism and the psychological landscape: alternative routes to modernity
  • Design reform: national and international influences
  • Nordic Classicism: conservative modernity? A consideration of where the classicism of the 1910s and 1920s fits in the story of twentieth-century architecture
  • Functionalism: local and international - the birth of a new design language. Architecture not revolution
  • We too can be modern: painting in the inter-war period
  • The Modern Architect as visionary genius: a construction of the twentieth century
  • Modernity and tradition: the work of Alvar Aalto and Arne Jacobsen
  • Public art: can fine art be democratic?
  • Women artists and designers in Scandinavia
  • 'Design in Scandinavia': International Exhibitions
  • Modern art: local debates
  • The myth of Scandinavian modern design and its reception in Britain and America

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will:

  • have acquired a detailed knowledge of the development of Modernism in Scandinavian art and design
  • have developed the ability to observe, identify and analyse works of visual culture
  • have developed a critical awareness of the functions of such works within the social and cultural contexts of their production and reception
  • be familiar with current debates and approaches to the subject.