Barbara Jaffee

Barbara Jaffee

Associate Professor, Art History
Modern Art and Critical Theory
Ph. D., University of Chicago
Office: Art Building 203G
Office Phone: (815) 753-7876

Barbara Jaffee joined the faculty of the School of Art at Northern Illinois University in 1999. She teaches courses in modern and contemporary European and American art, museology, and art theory and criticism. Before arriving at NIU, she taught studio art and art history at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Professor Jaffee’s research interests focus on the critical discourse and institutional framework within which modern art developed, particularly in the United States. Her work includes systemic analysis of art worlds, the dynamic of self-promotion within artists’ groups, emergence of artistic canons, and the relationship between modern art and industrialism. Her book-length study, Diagrammatics: Industrialism and the Modernizing of American Art, documents the use of diagrams in art pedagogy in the United States, a topic which provides not only a framework for understanding the popularization and diffusion of modernist aesthetics, but an opportunity to investigate the origins and early (pre-1913) development of modern forms of painting.

Professor Jaffee has received fellowships from the University of Chicago, the U.S. Department of Education, and the American Council of Learned Societies. Among her publications are several articles and book chapters, including "Jackson Pollock’s Industrial Expressionism” (Art Journal, Winter 2004) and “Before the New Bauhaus: From Industrial Drawing to Art and Design Education in Chicago” (DesignIssues, forthcoming).

Graduate Seminars

ARTH 601: Art History Seminar
American Art Criticism Since 1945

Explores the practice of art criticism as it rose to unprecedented levels of influence in postwar America. Beginning with the Beat generation poet-critics at ARTNews and ending with the return of poetic criticism in the 1990s, the course pays particular attention to the powerful generation of formalist critics writing for Artforum magazine in the 1960s and their antagonists among the postmodernists at October (founded in 1976).

Theorizing Modernism

 The relation between modernity as a cultural phenomenon and representation as an arena in which the conceptual terms of modern life are structured has been a focus of critical writing since the French poet Charles Baudelaire = s responses to the Salons of the 1840s. The seminar reconsiders the received tradition of modern art and its history by surveying modernism as a series of strategies of representation and tracing a chronological succession of formulations in critical discussion and visual arts practice. 

ARTH 685: Topics in Art History
Controversies in American Art

Through a series of carefully selected case studies, this class explores the diverse, conflicted history of American art as seen through the eyes of artists who, intentionally or not, compose works that visually express various social and political values, and of the broader American public, who express their own, often differing values and interests when they experience or interpret these same works. Along the way, we consider what are the core of expectations for art in our society which underlie the comical comparisons, caustic disparagements, and genuine expressions of anxiety with which art is met, on occasion, by the American public.


The Duchamp Effect

Following in the footsteps of French artist-iconoclast Marcel Duchamp, American artists in the 1970s and after have proclaimed that anything in or out of the gallery B lines drawn on the ground, a set of photocopied documents, a filing cabinet, a sheet of instructions, a gallery performance C could under certain circumstances of production and display qualify as A ART @

This class tracks Duchamp = s adventures in America, real and imagined, and explores the Duchampian spirit underlying postmodern developments including Minimalism, Conceptualism, Appropriation, Performance and Electronic Art.

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