An assignment I wrote on public sculpture and in particular Henry Moore’s piece Old Flo, caused me to become engaged with the campaign to rescue the sculpture from the open market […] the sculpture has now been saved and sits in Canary Wharf at present.
My background was as a town planner for public authorities, but early retirement caused me to re-think my career. I started with undergraduate OU Art History modules then went on to take the MA Art History which I completed in September 2017. The first year involved theory and research methods giving me a strong academic footing; the second year was an excellent mix of research projects leading to a final dissertation.
My interest in public art and architecture with a strong social bent caused me to use primary source material in local archives and buildings local to my area. As a result, I have extensive research on two important local building complexes, which are to be turned into local history talks on the newly re-furbished Piece Hall in Halifax. An assignment I wrote on public sculpture and in particular Henry Moore’s piece Old Flo, caused me to become engaged with the campaign to rescue the sculpture from the open market, having discussed it with the artist Bob and Roberta Smith. The sculpture has now been saved and sits in Canary Wharf at present. I am in discussion with the Press Officer of Tower Hamlets LBC, who wants the work to be revised for general public consumption.
The Art History MA has given me a new direction and the confidence to research and write articles and present talks, propose and prepare exhibitions, and to actively engage and promote the social history and culture of my town.
I am now, with colleagues, preparing an exhibition at the local Halifax textile museum, The Bankfield, called ‘Women Travellers’ involving the collector, Edith Durham, who donated all her Kosovan and Albanian collection to the museum. I travelled to Kosovo and Albania in her footsteps this year to visit textile and ethnographic museums to support the preparation of the exhibition. I have written the interpretation panels for the exhibition.
My OU work has stood me in good stead for the research of this, together with the practical aspects of mounting an exhibition and the community outreach work, in preparing talks and discussion groups with refugees from the area. I am delivering a talk on the exhibition, together with a colleague, to the Art Fund in November. I am also delivering guided tour talks on local architecture over the Heritage Open Days this September in my town. I hope to take these experiences further to engage in local art projects and campaigns.The Art History MA has given me a new direction and the confidence to research and write articles and present talks, propose and prepare exhibitions, and to actively engage and promote the social history and culture of my town.
Art history matters to me because it teaches you to question and challenge what you hear; it can overturn stereotypes and expands understanding of so many things because of that cross over with history, politics, classical studies, religion etc…
Someone once asked me if I could do a degree what would I do it in and I said ‘Art History’… at the time I had no idea whether such a degree pathway existed but some years later when my daughter said “mum there is an evening class doing an A Level in the History of Art at South Devon Technical College” I got really excited and signed up without hesitation. I did really well in that and for the first time in years I felt really engaged and alive. I was bitterly disappointed not to be able to complete the second year because they withdrew it due to low numbers but another friend said “do a degree in it!” At first I thought “what a preposterous idea” but that seed was sewn and when I seriously started exploring that possibility I took a deep breath and decided to sign up for AA100 in 2013.
That was five years ago and in October I start my final module AA315, Renaissance Art Reconsidered, and I cannot believe that at long last that degree is in my sights. Art history matters to me because it teaches you to question and challenge what you hear; it can overturn stereotypes and expands understanding of so many things because of that cross over with history, politics, classical studies, religion etc… It has extended my mind but more importantly it has given me a voice and an avid enquiring mind that I never had before. I would never have had the confidence before to take part in conversations about so many things that cross my path day to day.
I completed module A344 Art & Its Global Histories in June and I am ashamed to say that prior to completing that I had no real sense of Britain’s colonial past. What I learnt opened my eyes to past histories and wrongs; helping to give me gain a better understanding of ongoing global hostilities.
I completed module A344 Art & Its Global Histories in June and I am ashamed to say that prior to completing that I had no real sense of Britain’s colonial past. What I learnt opened my eyes to past histories and wrongs; helping to give me gain a better understanding of ongoing global hostilities. This becomes recognisable when looking at other people’s culture like the hierarchy evident in casta paintings and how people of mixed racial identities have been marginalised, which I discovered when studying Primitivism and Picasso also. When I visit an exhibition now I think about its curation; I think is there a bias?- is it fair and representative to all? – which I would have never questioned before. So studying Art history makes you a more democratic individual and it is not that you didn’t have the same sense of right and wrong before – it is just that art history opens your eyes to invisible things.
It has extended my mind but more importantly it has given me a voice and an avid enquiring mind that I never had before. I would never have had the confidence before to take part in conversations about so many things that cross my path day to day.
So much about art, architecture and our visual culture underpins our nation’s sense of national identity; revealing moment’s peculiar to our history that are both bad and good. Art can convey power and prestige and has been used as a powerful tool to speak about our place in the world and studying it has opened my eyes to those inherent socio-political statements. Britain has such a wealth of art history and my husband Jeff and I get such a buzz exploring it and that passion for going out and about exploring stately homes. Visiting exhibitions etc… has just been amplified by the modules that I have done. For example in module A226 we studied about Viscount Cobham and Stowe and after that I was on a mission to see it-and the Temple of British Worthies and the Palladian bridge -which was appreciated all the more because of the context I had gained studying about it.
So studying Art history makes you a more democratic individual and it is not that you didn’t have the same sense of right and wrong before – it is just that art history opens your eyes to invisible things.
The final thing I would like to say about studying art history is how I think it has helped me grow as a person and how that has had a knock on effect with my family. Last September my daughter now 29 started studying Radiography at Cardiff and my son now 24 started studying Osteopathy at Marjon’s University in Plymouth. We have all come to education a little late – but my passion for art history has inspired them because they can see the effect it has had had on me and that has made them more aspirational themselves.
-Amanda Noble, OU student and Directorate Secretary, Torbay & South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, Radiology & Imaging Directorate.
A344, Art and its Global Histories is a new third level module at the Open University. Its textbooks, co-published with Manchester University Press have been widely adopted across the world in the teaching of a global Art History. For our Art History undergraduate courses check out the OU’s online prospectus.
Thank you for sharing this fascinating project in your blogpost, I am so pleased that my discussion of women’s street art in Tamil Nadu inspired you to do this, and by the looks of it, the students really enjoyed it too.
There are a few things I did not get around to discussing in my text for the MA in Art History at the Open University, so allow me to add a few comments here.
You mention the creativity with which students approached the drawing of the designs by using paper cones etc… rather than executing the designs by hand in the traditional fashion. In fact this is very much the spirit in how the drawing of these designs is approached in India as well. I discussed the practice as it is traditionally executed, but in busy, modern day India, easy approaches to producing such designs have been devised, such as the use of stencils and stencil rollers. You can also buy plastic stickers that you can simple attach to the desired space, and I have even seen a small robot programmed to draw such designs on the Internet. Your students therefore well and truly entered into the creative spirit of engaging with this practice!
I also was not able to show some more modern-style Tamil designs, nor to give examples of the traditional designs in other parts of India which are more representational than in Tamil Nadu, as you also mentioned to your students. The drawing of animals, particularly the peacock or birds, and of flowers, and all manner of other objects are commonly found in such designs, and, depending on the regional tradition, might lean to a greater or lesser degree towards abstraction. Yet there is no sense of individual ownership of the designs, which really does challenges one’s assumptions about art and visual practice and brings home some key aspects of what Eurocentricity in the arts entails. Questions of authenticity, which you discussed with your students, are also central issues in this regard, so great to see this raised.
More ‘modern’ kolam designs speaking to education at the Osmania University College for Women (once the British Residency), Hyderabad, January 2018 (photo by Leah R Clark)
Floral designs at the Osmania University College for Women, Hyderabad, January 2018 (photo by Leah R Clark)
I was also very interested in the placing of the design on a speed bump, this is an intriguing engagement with the ephemeral aspect of the tradition, and I loved your ‘Post-Kolam’ challenge – what exciting work, thank you for sharing!
I was fascinated to explore these sorts of ideas whilst studying for an MA in Art History with the Open University. Indeed my final dissertation explored the problematic identities of Western and non-Western art production and consumption…Off the back of this research, I wanted to challenge my Extended Diploma in Art and Design students’ assumptions about art.
When is housework art? The makers of kolams (designs rendered in rice flour or chalk powder on the streets of Tamil Nadu, India) consider their efforts housework. As a routine daily activity, it certainly has a resemblance to housework. However, to our Western eyes, it seems more like art. It has many of the elements and values we might look for in art such as sensitivity of line or composition and structure; values that are shared by the makers too. It is what separates kolams from a Western perspective of art that reveals our entrenched restricted ideas about art. Those ideas include notions such as: art has an artist, art is special and separate from daily life, and art is made to last. I was fascinated to explore these sorts of ideas whilst studying for an MA in Art History with the Open University. Indeed my final dissertation explored the problematic identities of Western and non-Western art production and consumption. I am indebted to Renate Dohmen, whose research into kolams was an inspiration for this study.
Off the back of this research, I wanted to challenge my Extended Diploma in Art and Design students’ assumptions about art. After introducing them to the traditional dotted grid structure and abstract designs, the technique of pouring the flour, the street, path or doorway location and the ephemerality of the work, students set to their own kolam designs.
We used salt rather than rice flour or chalk, but otherwise students were asked to undertake the task in as ‘authentic’ way as possible. Mindful of their assumptions and previous training in art, it was interesting to see how they responded. The technique was the first deviation. Granted, the students hadn’t been practicing since childhood as the makers from Tamil Nadu would have. However, that the students felt at liberty to fashion cones out of paper to help apply the salt and use brushes to keep stray salt in line, indicated their sense of creative freedom to do things their own way. As they neared completion they became precious about their designs and wary of them being walked over, despite this being an integral part of the kolam’s function. This seemed to indicate their acquired understanding that artistic successes needed to be conserved.
Resigned to the kolams’ fate, one pair of students walked carefully and with purpose arm in arm over their completed design, as if in reverence of the work. This felt like an act of activating the work. They insisted they should be the first to do this which suggested a sense of ownership by the artists. This idea was accentuated by another pair of students who initialled their completed work. This seems to allude to the Western notion of the artist as a genius, whose unique vision rises them above other humans; a notion that many of the students would be aware and accepting of. One of the students went beyond the traditional abstract design to create a fish. This deviation was also inspired by a Japanese design. That this fish was depicted on a speedbump gave it a three dimensionality and an implication that it would be worn away by a vehicle rather than by foot. The combination of these variations illustrate an arguably Western preoccupation to drive creativity forward.
Why is it all right for a Western artist to appropriate imagery from other cultures when practitioners of other cultural traditions are denied that opportunity if they are to escape accusations of inauthenticity? In other words, why does Western art seem to have a monopoly on creative progress and divergence?
A discussion on authenticity followed. I showed the students how kolams evolved to include animal designs, the use of colour and even the use of cartoon characters from Western media. Although these additions seemed to be diluting the authenticity of the kolams, are they really inauthentic? Picasso’s LesDemoiselles d’Avignon seemed an appropriate comparison. Picasso borrowed imagery from African masks. Does that make his work any less authentic as a piece of Western art? Why is it all right for a Western artist to appropriate imagery from other cultures when practitioners of other cultural traditions are denied that opportunity if they are to escape accusations of inauthenticity? In other words, why does Western art seem to have a monopoly on creative progress and divergence?
Of course artists of any nationality can and do create work which might reference traditional practices from their own global region in a new way, but often it is only in a Western, gallery centred context where this becomes innovative rather than an affront to tradition. One of the reasons for this is the mismatch of functions. Regardless of contemporary art’s all-encompassing spectrum of practices, the function is still tied to Western traditions and values. True, Picasso did speak of the magic of the masks that inspired him and sought to feed that function into his art, yet it remains that gallery focussed art has different functions from housework.
Post-kolam, I set the students a challenge: Inspired by a non-Western cultural tradition, they had to produce work that went beyond merely appropriating imagery. They had to respect the function, purpose and values of their inspiration whilst still making something relevant for a UK gallery audience. The various results included: an Ancient Egyptian inspired body bag referencing the relationship between Egyptian art and the afterlife and a contemporary Western utilitarian way of dressing the dead; rubber masks inspired by the transformative power of African masks and the physical and emotional transformations offered by cosmetic surgery; and a set of stamps referencing the dynastic similarities between North Korea and the UK and each culture’s apparent blindness to the propaganda to which they are subjected.
Why does Art History Matter to Mark? Watch this short film here:
-Mark Fearbunce, Course Leader , Creative Arts , Bridgwater & Taunton College, MA alumnus
The important thing I took away was the appreciation of different perspectives on art, architecture, heritage and society more broadly. I’m a film buff, and it has given me the conceptual tools to look at movies.
Who are you and why did you take an MA in Art History?
I’m actually a Professor of Educational Technology here at the Open University. I decided to take the MA in Art History because I’ve always had an interest in art, but felt that I wasn’t really appreciating it as much as I could. When I was at art galleries, I wanted to understand more about the context, approaches and theory underlying the work I was looking at.
What did you learn from being on the other side, as an OU student?
I think it’s very useful for all academics to experience being a student again. Particularly in a field outside of your discipline. I didn’t have any art history background, so a lot of the course was a struggle for me. Because I already have a PhD and two masters, I had a lot of the postgraduate study skills that are developed in an MA, so this about made me even with other students who had a stronger art history background, but hadn’t studied at this level before. I learnt two things. Firstly, what it is like to experience all the university systems as a student. This can be very good, for instance I really appreciated the amazing resources in the library in a way I hadn’t when I was just within my own discipline. But you also learn small bits of frustration, like trying to find a piece of information you need. The second main thing to learn (or to remember) is that being a student is quite a vulnerable position. You are often unsure about what you are writing, if you are doing the right thing, if you should even be here. It’s good to be reminded of these, particularly if, like me, your own undergraduate experience was a long time ago. I blogged about it here:
How have you incorporated Art History into your everyday working life?
I deliberately chose a subject that wasn’t related to my work, partly because I wanted a break, but also because I wanted to experience that feeling of operating outside my own discipline. But having said that, it has informed my thinking on subjects, and I often use examples of art history in talking about how educational technology can be applied. I also used my art history knowledge as the basis for metaphors applied to educational technology for a couple of posts:
Some art history education would go a long way to helping people develop the critical skills they need to deal with the images and content we are bombarded with today.
Why does art history matter to you?
I think when I went into it I just wanted to know more about the history of art and artists. But what I came to understanding was that art history is really about the role of art in society. The important thing I took away was the appreciation of different perspectives on art, architecture, heritage and society more broadly. I’m a film buff, and it has given me the conceptual tools to look at movies, so now I can’t see the new Avengers film without performing a Marxist deconstruction 🙂
More broadly, we see society splintering into echo chambers and self reinforcing groups which don’t question the information they receive. Some art history education would go a long way to helping people develop the critical skills they need to deal with the images and content we are bombarded with today.
And I can now go to galleries and sound knowledgeable.
-Martin Weller, Professor of Educational Technology at the Open University and MA in Art History alumnus
At the OU, we teach our students to scrutinise the visual world around them, whether that’s a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, a ceramic done by an anonymous craftsmen, a local sculpture on the village green, or a building in which they live or work. Art History matters because it is everywhere; it’s the world around us!
The OU’s mission has always been to “be open to people, places, methods and ideas. We promote educational opportunity and social justice … to all who wish to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential.” Here in the Art History department, we take this mission seriously. This is particularly important in Art history– a discipline that is often seen as elitist and irrelevant for today’s world. We believe that art history is relevant and that as a discipline it will only be enriched by widening participation.
It teaches us to look critically at the world around us…& to think about the things we do in our everyday lives from the buildings that we live in or work in, to the sculpture on the local village green or the graffiti on our street.
Art History matters because it is everywhere; it’s the world around us!
Watch this short film to learn about how the #arthistory department at the #openuniversity has always been dedicated to democratising the discipline.
The shy teenager has managed to survive his ordinary life in 1990s provincial Italy, to visit, study, and work in many of the places he had so wildly dreamed of, and to find a way in the competitive fields of arts and culture without losing the simple pleasure of wonder, and still enjoying the healing and exciting effect that art has always had on him.
My first encounter with art history happened when I was about eleven years old. My sister was about to begin secondary school and, among the many new books she got, there was this Storia dell’Arte volume I. It immediately caught my attention. There were images, big images of wonderful stuff: sculptures, and ruined, majestic spaces, fascinating remnants of past civilisations. In the first pages, statues seemed clumsy and a bit stiff, although their big eyes and smiling faces made them look friendly, serene. By reading the captions, I understood that these works came mainly from Greece, Turkey, and southern Italy. Italy? How was it possible that I had never come across such interesting objects? I felt a desire for exploration mixed with some frustration: wonderful treasures were scattered around me, maybe even below my own feet, and, for a strange conspiracy, I had been kept unaware of them. They seemed close and familiar, and yet inaccessible; there was a treasure, I had the will to find it, yet there was no map to guide me there.
While advancing in my exploration of the book, I observed how statues got more and more naturalistic, until reaching a point of unbelievable similarity to the real thing; and how beautiful and sensual they were! The architecture got grander and grander: my imagination was fired by the dramatic black and white pictures of the ruins of the Caracalla Baths, the temples of the Foro, the Pantheon, and the Imperial Palace in Rome…Rome! I knew it was not far from my small, boring hometown. Like all young escapists, I snubbed my own place, being absolutely certain that real wonders could be found only at a reasonable distance. In fact, Fondi vaunted some pretty decent stuff: medieval and Renaissance churches with some paintings and sculpture of interest, an imposing castle, bits of pre-Roman and Roman city walls, but everything was difficult to access, or closed.
However, there was one place that I loved: at the time, some Roman fragments of statues and architecture that had been found in the area were gathered in a fifteenth-century cloister with a well, among orange and lemon trees. It was open to the public and completely unsupervised, not bad as a roaming field to spend some hours alone. Occasional visits to local archaeological sites such as the Jupiter Temple in Terracina or Tiberius’ Cave in Sperlonga increased my desire: I wanted to wander among the ruins; I wanted to see the sculptures that were the model of the fragmented copies lying on the floors of the cloister in Fondi. I wanted to go to Rome! I tried to temper my curiosity by reading the Rome Touring Club Guide owned by my grandfather Ezio, and studying the map of the city: the curves of the river Tiber, the main thoroughfares, the parks, and the areas highlighted as ‘being of interest’, the precise locations of the archaeological sites, the piazzas, monumental fountains, and museums. When, much later, I went to Rome with a school trip, I was able to tell my friends what the huge buildings we were seeing through the windows were, while the bus drove us around.
Meanwhile, there were journeys to Rome, but, although I could catch some glimpses of what I had seen in the books, it was always slightly frustrating, because often the people I was with did not share my curiosity. I learned that the statues that I was so eager to see were kept in museums, and museums were not among the priorities of our day trips to the capital. Thus, I started developing a craving for those big palaces, where you had to pay to get in and look at the magnificence of their interiors, and the beautiful pieces of art created by people in the past! When I came back from a three-day school trip to Pisa, Florence and Siena, my mother was so disappointed at the fact that the pictures that I took (I was given a camera for the first time), once developed, showed just buildings and statues. I have a vivid memory of the places that we visited: Piazza della Signoria and the copy of the Michelangelo’s David in Florence, Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa, and, above all, climbing, unseen, the façade of the never completed new cathedral of Siena, getting on the open-air terrace on top of it, and find the stunning view of the city and the hills around, while the snow begun falling. How beautiful it was! How happy I felt.
Florence, Piazza della Signoria, 1992 (photo by the author)
When it was my turn to decide which secondary school I wanted to go to, I had no doubt: the Scientific Lyceum in a town nearby offered classes of history of art and drawing. Unfortunately, my teacher was not very keen in the art history teaching but, at least, when it came to drawing, he let us copy from our art history manual. I started looking at Renaissance and Baroque art for subjects, and my interest slowly shifted to more recent forms of creative expressions. By the end of secondary school, I had never studied art history, and yet I was sure of what to choose at university: Heritage Studies. I immersed myself in the study of art, and since then, I have been lucky enough never to stop. The shy teenager has managed to survive his ordinary life in 1990s provincial Italy, to visit, study, and work in many of the places he had so wildly dreamed of, and to find a way in the competitive fields of arts and culture without losing the simple pleasure of wonder, and still enjoying the healing and exciting effect that art has always had on him.
-Dr Antonio David Fiore, PhD OU alumnus
Antonio received his PhD from the OU in 2017 on ‘The Artist as an Instrument of Propaganda: Giulio Rosso and the Decorative Arts in Italy during the Fascist Ventennio.’ For info on our PhD programme, check out the Art History website. If you’re interested in antique sculpture and reception, watch our Open Arts Objects film on the Laocoön. Watch Antonio’s why art history matters film on youtube!
I live, and have for the majority of my life, lived in a small Devon village and we did not visit galleries and there were very few galleries to see without travelling and it was OU that opened this opportunity to me.
I finished my BA open OU degree in 2016 and I took mainly multi-disciplinary humanities courses and that is where I discovered Art History. I really enjoyed those modules and I particularly remember discovering the 60s artists particularly Pop Art and Rothko and visiting the Tate gallery to view these paintings.
I live, and have for the majority of my life, lived in a small Devon village and we did not visit galleries and there were very few galleries to see without travelling and it was OU that opened this opportunity to me. I have been so pleased that my eldest son who has now just finished his law degree in Liverpool has discovered the benefits and joy of art, which is great living in a city like Liverpool that is rich with culture. I really enjoyed the art history content of the course so much that I chose my last module to be the level 2 Exploring Art and Visual Culture (A226) which was fabulous. I gained my highest grades I had ever received, in my 15 years at the OU (I started and stopped a lot).
I want to share the benefits that I have experienced through art with the diverse audiences we have in a public library. My degree has also enabled me to develop my writing skills and to be able work under pressure to deadlines but also has helped me to develop a creative mind.
I am a Mum of 3 boys and I worked as well as studying throughout my degree and in the last year full time at the library. I also have an anxiety disorder and went through huge life changes whilst carrying out my course and I love how art can stop you overthinking and concentrate on the moment. I learnt so much and I love to go to galleries and I promote art in my job as a Senior Supervisor for Development in a busy public library, which includes programming the events in the library.
I love to be able to put art experiences on in the library and last year I was able to programme a piece called the Bellhouse which was an interactive Sound Installation:
I was really excited about the reach of this installation, which included scientists, academics, and children and young people.
I want to share the benefits that I have experienced through art with the diverse audiences we have in a public library. My degree has also enabled me to develop my writing skills and to be able work under pressure to deadlines but also has helped me to develop a creative mind.
-Karen Huxtable, OU alumna, Senior Supervisor- Development at Exeter Library