Changing Times: American Art of the 1960s

Course Number


Study Group Leader (SGL)

Emily Leifer


This course will take place virtually on Zoom. Participation requires a device (ideally a computer or tablet, rather than a cell phone) with a camera and microphone in good working order and basic familiarity with using Zoom and accessing email.

5-Week Course

April 1 - May 6. No Class April 22.


The 1960s were a time of major change in the U.S.: in music, in fashion, in politics and—as we will see in this course—in the fine arts. Artists began working beyond the canvas and outside the studio, engaging everyday life in new and provocative ways. They incorporated popular images, industrial materials, and public spaces in ways that had not been tried before. In this class we will look at the paintings, sculptures, installations, and performances created in the 1960s and ask the following questions: How did artists blur the line between art and life? How did they balance their roles as both aesthetic innovators and cultural commentators? What were the pros and cons of shifting toward either side of this spectrum? We will see how throughout the decade fine art was simultaneously set apart from, yet defined by, the culture and politics of its time.

The course will proceed chronologically through the decade. We will look at artists such as Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, Yoko Ono, and Nancy Spero. We will study movements such as Pop Art, Minimalism, Installation, and Fluxus. We will also examine the intersections between art and the Vietnam War, new communications technology, and the American counterculture. By the end of this course learners will be familiar with major artworks, artists, and movements from the U.S. in the 1960s. Learners will develop the tools to analyze challenging works of art and place them within their historical context. 

Group Leadership Style

Roughly the same amount of lecture and discussion.

Course Materials

All materials will be provided on a class website or by email links.

Preparation Time

1 hour - Up to 20 pages of reading and/or short videos.


Emily Leifer is a PhD candidate in the History of Art at Bryn Mawr College, studying art of the 1960s and 1970s. She is excited to be back at Brandeis (albeit virtually), where she fought to save the Rose Art Museum in 2009 and received her BA in Art History and European Cultural Studies in 2011. She received an MA in the History of Art from Williams College in 2014. She has taught at South Dakota State University and the Philadelphia Museum of Art and held curatorial internships at the ICA Philadelphia, Guggenheim Museum, and David Zwirner Gallery.