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Modernism versus Traditionalism: Art in Paris, 1888-89

by Gretchen K. McKay, Nicolas W. Proctor, and Michael A. Marlais

What art style will reign supreme at the 1889 World Exposition?

Modernism vs. Traditionalism: Art in Paris 1888-1889 considers questions surrounding artistic developments at the end of the nineteenth century in Paris. Students will debate principles of artistic design in the context of the revolutionary changes that began shaking the French art world in 1888-1889. Images from the 1888 Salon and the tumultuous year that followed provide some of the “texts” that form the intellectual heart of every reacting game. Styles include conservative art espoused by the Academy, as well as more avant-garde art created by artists such as Van Gogh and Gauguin. Also included are the Impressionists and American artists in Paris. Students must read paintings as texts and use them as the basis of their positions in advocating for the future of art. In addition to these visual texts, students will read art criticism from the period, which will help form the basis of their own presentations in favor of one art style over another. These discussions are complicated and enriched by secondary debates over the economics of art, the rise of independent art dealers, and the government’s role as a patron of the arts. The game culminates at the 1889 World Exposition in Paris.



Art History; European History

19th Century; Late Modern Period

In a Few Words
Styles, commodification, visual analysis


Themes and Issues  
Avant-garde and traditional art, visual analysis skills, traditionalist influence, art criticism, avant-garde vs. impressionist

Player Interactions 

Sample Class Titles
Nineteenth-Century Art

Published Level 5 game (what's that mean?)

Rolling Dice, Randomizer/chance element, Image projection

Chaos and Demand on Instructor 
This game is moderately chaotic and demanding on the instructor. The only big issue for instructors could be that they have to invite a crowd and recruit secret buyers. For some institutions, this might be difficult, but this is a key to the game.

Notable Roles

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh

Using the Game

Class Time  
For this game, 1 to 2 setup sessions and 4 to 5 game sessions are recommended.

You can adjust the assignments based on the desired learning outcomes of your class. This game can include: traditional paper/research/thesis-driven writing, criticism, and visual analysis. All roles are required to give formal speeches.

Class Size and Scalability
This game is recommended for classes with 11-27+ students.


Reacting Consortium members can access all downloadable materials (including expanded and updated materials) below. You will be asked to sign in before downloading.  Basic game materials (Gamebook, Role Sheets, Instructor's Guide, and Handouts) are available to any instructor through the publisher. 


Students need a Gamebook, which includes directions, resources, and historical content. The Art in Paris Gamebook is published by Reacting Consortium Press. 

PAPERBACK ISBN: 978-1-4696-4126-3

EBOOK ISBN: 978-1-4696-4127-0
Available wherever books are sold.

Role Sheets and Add'l Materials

Students also need a Role Sheet, which contains biographical information, role-specific resources or assignments, and their character's secret victory objectives. 

.zip file of .pdf files.

.zip file of .pdf files.

Instructor's Manual

The Instructor's Manual includes guidance for assigning roles, presenting historical context, assignments, activities and discussion topics, and more.   

.pdf file.

Additional Resources

Digital Assets

This includes digital Zoom backgrounds for your students.

Webinar Video: Use Art in Paris Online

This includes the video recording of the webinar.


Gretchen K. McKay

Gretchen Kreahling McKay is Professor of Art History at McDaniel College in the Department of History and Art History. She teaches art history and public history courses. A speaker on active learning in higher education, she was the recipient of the 2015 Ira G. Zepp Distinguished Teaching Award.

Nicolas W. Proctor

Nicolas W. Proctor grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. After completing his B.A. in history from Hendrix College, he received an M.A. in Diplomacy and International Relations from the University of Kentucky, as well as an M.A. and Ph.D. in American history from Emory University. He is now a Professor of History at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, where he has also served as department chair and director of the first-year program. Proctor is also the Chair of the Reacting Editorial Board, overseeing game development. He lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with his family, a print shop, lots of books, five chickens, and too many Legos.

After completing a traditional historical monograph, Bathed in Blood: Hunting and Mastery in the Old South, he reoriented his research to fit the needs of a teaching institution and focused on writing historical role-playing games.

Michael A. Marlais

Michael A. Marlais is an emeritus professor of art history at Colby College. He is a specialist in late nineteenth-century French art criticism and author of Conservative Echoes in Fin-De-Siècle Parisian Art Criticism.


Members can contact game authors directly

We invite instructors join our Facebook Faculty Lounge, where you'll find a wonderful community eager to help and answer questions. We also encourage you to submit your question for the forthcoming FAQ, and to check out our upcoming events


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