Who’s Who: Emma Barker

Who are you and what do you do at the OU? What modules are you involved in/have been involved in?

I’m Emma Barker, Senior Lecturer in Art History. I’ve worked at the OU for nearly 25 years  and have worked on most of the art history modules that have been produced during that time, including A216 Art and its Histories, AA318 Art of the Twentieth Century, A226 Exploring Art and Visual Culture, A344 Art and its Global Histories as well as several MA modules. I’ve also contributed to the interdisciplinary modules, A207 From Enlightenment to Romanticism and A105 Voices, Texts and Material Culture.

What are your main research areas?

My research focuses on French art of the late seventeenth to early nineteenth centuries, but I have also written about British art of the same period. I have a particular interest in parallel trends in French and British art during the ‘long eighteenth century’, such as the wide-ranging cultural phenomenon known as sentimentalism; changing representations of women, children and the family; and the image of the artist and the idea of genius in the Romantic era.

What Open Arts Objects films have you done? Are they related to your research or a module?

I have made two Open Arts Objects film that each focus on a single work of art. I’ve made one about Jean-Siméon Chardin’s Lady Taking Tea (1735), which relates to my research on the representation of women. It also draws on work that I did for A344 Art and its Global Histories, because of the impact of trade with the Far East evident in the painting. I’ve also made one about Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus (1601), which relates to a chapter that I wrote for A105 Voices, Texts and Material Culture, in which I used this picture to develop students’ skills of visual analysis and to explore changing conceptions of artistic value.

I’ve also made a film for the Critical Terms strand exploring the term ‘Classicism’, which relates to some of the teaching material in A344 about how classicism was spread throughout the world during the eras of colonialism and imperialism.

What did you love most about doing an Open Arts Objects film?

As with any teaching around a work of art, having to talk about it to an audience really focuses the mind on how the work itself addresses an audience.

What is your most significant publication or latest publication? How does it relate to the films?

My recent publications include an essay entitled ‘No Picture so Charming’: The Family Portrait in Eighteenth-Century France’, Art History, vol. 40 (3), 2017, pp. 526-53. Some of the portraits I discuss in this essay borrow from domestic scenes such as Chardin’s Lady Taking Tea. One of these portraits, for example, shows a family taking their morning coffee.

What got you interested in Art History? Fun fact?

When everyone in my class at primary school was asked to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up, I drew an artist at an easel. Sadly, the secondary school I later went to did not take art very seriously, so instead I became an art historian. I think I am probably a better art historian than I would have been an artist.

For more information about my publications and research interests, please see my OU people profile.

Who’s Who: Amy Charlesworth

Who are you and what do you do at the OU? What modules are you involved in/have been involved in?

I’m Amy Charlesworth, a lecturer in Art History, modern and contemporary art with a particular interest in photography and moving-image art, feminist politics and feminist art with particular reference to the 1970s-1990s. 

I am chair of A844 (the second part of our MA in Art History) and deputy chair for A843 (the first part of our MA). I wrote ‘Contemporary art: movement, migration and other histories’ for the fourth book, Art after Empire: from Colonialism to Globalisation for A344 Art and Its Global Histories. I have chaired AA318 Art of the Twentieth Century (which no longer runs) and most recently I have written online material on Benin art and culture for our A111: Discovering the Arts and Humanities. 

What got you interested in Art History?

As an art student I found I was better at writing about art and its histories then I was making it! For me, art and culture allows us to look at the world, our current environment, examine how things are, how different histories and cultures have contributed to this, and crucially, explore how things might change. 

What are your main research areas?

My research (publications, public events and teaching) largely comprise of three main elements: feminist politics and art; moving image and politics of visualising migration and mobility; and digital art and its relation to lens-based art.  

What Open Arts Objects films have you done? Are they related to your research or a module?

The OAO film I did on US artist Martha Rosler’s Service: a trilogy on colonialization from the 1970s also speaks to US and Mexico relations and politics through the subject of cooking. In Rosler’s postcard novel (later – and used in my film – complied as a book) the artist takes three different perspectives on cooking: two from Mexicans either working in private households or in fast food industry north of the border, and one on a US housewife trying to improve and expand her Mexican culinary skills. 

What did you love most about doing an Open Arts Objects film?

The challenge of extracting key information about a single work of art for a short talk to camera. It is always important to think about how one communicates and teaches and so this was a central element to the filming process and the information that needed to be conveyed. I also enjoyed working with the camera person and getting an insight in to how the process of filming and presenting works (the wonders of editing!).

What is your most significant publication or latest publication? How does it relate to the films?

My most high profile piece of published research thus far is on the filmmaker Chantal Akerman and some of her work she made for a gallery in the US on migration at the US-Mexico border in the early 1990s, for the journal The Oxford Art Journal. I also wrote about this work for my teaching material on A344 Art and its Global Histories

I also acted as consultant and co-producer on They Call Us Maids: A Domestic Workers’ Story. This animation short, which was scripted and animated by Leeds Animation Workshop in close collaboration with national campaign group The Voice of Domestic Workers, was made over a two-year period. It seeks to agitate and educate a wider public about the violent realities of women of colour working in private households throughout the UK as cleaners and nannies and the UK government policy decision in 2012 to change their visa status demoting their status as workers and rendering many ‘illegal’.

With the founder of The Voice of Domestic Workers, activist and domestic worker, Marissa Begonia, I co-wrote a chapter of the experience of making this film for Feminist Art Activisms and Artivisms, ed. Katy Deepwell (2020).

In 2016, They Call Us Maids was shortlisted for the AHRC Research in the Arts – Innovation Award. It has won many awards over the years, including Best Short Screenplay at the Philippine International Film Festival, Los Angeles (2016) and The Best Film on Modern Slavery in the UK (2018).

For more information about my publications and research interests, please see my OU people profile.

Who’s Who: Susie West

Who are you and what do you do at the OU? What modules are you involved in/have been involved in?

I am Susie West and I am Senior Lecturer in Art History and Heritage. I have contributed to our current modules A111, A226, A843 and A844; in the past, I have worked on Understanding Global Heritage (AD281), Voices, Texts and Material Culture (A105), and its predecessor A151, and Heritage, Whose Heritage? (A181). 

What got you interested in Art History?

It wasn’t what I expected to do, as I was passionate about archaeology and that was my undergraduate degree. However, I was also influenced by my dad’s interest in historic architecture (he really liked the eighteenth-century architecture of Robert Adam) and I realised that I could study surviving buildings as part of my course, not just ruins underground. Historic buildings specialists use lots of methods shared with archaeologists as well as art historians, it turns out. 

What are your main research areas?

I research British architectural history, particularly 1600-1800 and the English country house; my heritage studies interests mean that I also think about how we look after historic buildings and their landscapes today. 

What Open Arts Objects films have you done? Are they related to your research or a module?

So far I have made two Open Arts Objects films, the first is about St Michael’s Church, at Walton Hall. It is a church that has changed its function, to become part of the OU campus, and it relates to my current research as part of an AHRC project on how communities use historic religious buildings (Empowering Through Design, lead by my Design Group colleagues); I have also written about medieval churches for A226, ‘Exploring art and visual culture’. The second film looks at the historic gardens of Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, which I have researched as part of my work on the De Grey family and their houses at Wrest Park (they rebuilt their medieval house); I have also written about the gardens for A226. My Critical Terms film, Commemoration (see below), with Leah Clark, discusses how ideas about commemoration can be found within art history and heritage studies. 

What did you love most about doing an Open Arts Objects film?

I really like getting outside to be surrounded by the historic building or landscape that I am thinking about, I find it so refreshing to see the play of light on a surface and hear the sounds of particular places. 

What is your most significant publication or latest publication? How does it relate to the films?

I’m going to choose something not very obvious, which is an article about a lost country house, one I can’t visit although if I had a time machine I would love to be able to assess my suggestions for how it looked. I could also meet its owner, and probable designer, the author Lady Mary Wroth, and I would ask her to show me her library. I used archives and methods more usually used by archaeologists and economic historians to reconstruct Lady Mary’s material environment. 

West, Susie (2016). Finding Wroth’s Loughton Hall. Sidney Journal, 34(1) pp. 15–32.  

For more information about my publications and research interests, please see my OU people profile.


Material Mondays: Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Wrapped Museum of Contemporary Art

Christo and Jeanne-Claude Wrapped Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1968-69 Photo: Shunk-Kender © 1969 Christo

This work resonates with the lockdown, perhaps, because it emphasises the logistical challenges, and indeed the sheer labour, involved in the withdrawal of parts of the museum from view. In this period, we can still see the contents of those museums which have digital access, but their material characteristics are somehow more vivid because of their absence.

At a time when the physical sites of most museums are inaccessible, there is an opportunity to reflect on our experience of art, especially on features which may otherwise go unremarked. Since the lockdown, there has been enormous effort to disseminate online access to museum collections. These resources allow important elements of museums’ cultural work to continue. Equally though, they highlight those features of the experience of art that are now unavailable.

A project by the husband and wife artistic partnership Christo and Jeanne Claude, Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, Wrapped is an interesting one to consider at this strange moment. Christo and Jeanne Claude (Christo Vladimirov Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon) are best known for their signature wrapping of buildings, monuments, even coastlines, in a variety of synthetic or natural fabrics.

In the case of Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, Wrapped the building was entirely shrouded in 10,000 square feet of tarpaulin and rope by art students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The project was meticulously planned, both in relation to aesthetic and pragmatic considerations, including the need to leave space for ventilation and maintain entrance and exits to the building. Although the museum remained open during the two week-long exhibit, the interior showed a complementary work, Wrapped Floor and Stairway, the floor of an empty, newly-painted gallery swathed in cotton drop cloths.

This work resonates with the lockdown, perhaps, because it emphasises the logistical challenges, and indeed the sheer labour, involved in the withdrawal of parts of the museum from view. In this period, we can still see the contents of those museums which have digital access, but their material characteristics are somehow more vivid because of their absence. This materiality involves artefacts, spaces of display and buildings, but also the work of all kinds required to sustain such an institution, from the cleaners to conservators and administrators.

-Dr Kim Charnley, Staff Tutor in Art History, The Open University

Make your own Open Arts Objects film!

Open Arts Objects (OAO) is an open access platform which provides free films to support the teaching of Art History. This activity will teach you how to make your own film, based on the same questions that we use to make our professional films with curators and art historians. These are short films (between 2-5 minutes). You can see examples on our website and you can also see examples from other students on our youtube channel . You can also download a pdf of these instructions.

Choose an object/work of art:

From a gallery website, conduct a search to find an object of your choice. It can be anything: a painting, sculpture, a ceramic, metalwork, textile, print… We’ve also compiled a list of suggested websites and resources.

Once you’ve picked your object, answer the following questions (based on the same questions that we use to make our professional films with curators and art historians). Try to use your own words rather than copying what the museum’s website says. You don’t need to answer every prompt under each main question; these are just some suggestions and not each question will relate to the object/work of art you’ve chosen:

1.     Who are you? (Optional)

Introduce yourself and your interests (e.g. your favourite art or art history topic) in one sentence.

If you choose to share this on social media, you might not want to identify yourself. You do not have to introduce yourself by name.

2.     What is it?

In no more than two sentences, describe the main components of the object/work of art.

Does it have a title?

Who is the artist? Or is it anonymous?

What is its medium (painting, sculpture, textile, ceramic)?

Does it have a genre (portrait, landscape)?

What time period is it from?

3.     What is it made out of?

What material is it made from?

How do you think it would feel to touch or hold?

4.     What does it look like?

Are there decorative elements to it? Are these associated with a particular culture or region?

What colour is it?

Is there a subject matter?

What is the scale? (How big is it?)

Where is the viewer? (Are we looking up/down at the scene?) or if it’s an object, how might the beholder engage with it?

Can you describe the composition? (How are elements arranged in the space?)

If there are figures, can you describe their poses, gestures, expressions?

5.     What is its purpose/function?

Where is the object from?

Where did it end up?

Who created it and why?

For what purpose was it created? Does it still have the same function?

How was it used and by whom?

6.     What is its relevance for today?

Where is it housed?

Why is it important to study?

What does it tell us about the culture who produced it or used it?

How might it be related to a current issue or debate?

Presenting your object

Once you have answered the questions, rehearse your answers: how will you put these into your own words to present to camera?

Once you feel you are ready, have a go! Try not to look at your notes but present to camera as if you were talking to someone in person. Remember, it doesn’t have to be long: about 2-5 minutes should be enough to cover all the above points.

Tech spec:

On smart phone, make sure the camera is set horizontally, not vertically.


Once you are done, you can share it on youtube, (if you’re a minor, only if you have permission from your parents). Mention OpenArtsArchive in a comment and use the hashtag #myOAOfilm and we will add it to our playlist!  If you don’t have a youtube account, you can also upload to Instagram tv (IGTV) and tag @openartsobjects and use the hashtag #myOAOfilm. Alternatively you can email your video through wetransfer to openartsobjects@open.ac.uk along with your permission form from your parents to share on social media.

You can watch more students’ films here





{Free Art History Teaching Resources}


We realise this is an exceptional time and many of you will be struggling to suddenly take classes online or to help support students working from home. This will be on top of your own personal and professional hurdles in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.

Just a reminder that we have over 50 free films on the Open Arts Objects platform, many of which are directly related to A-level Art History. Some of these films are filmed inside museums that are currently closed and offer virtual handling sessions.

You might not also be aware that we have a list of our free open access courses on OpenLearn, which could be rather useful: from Renaissance Venice to Dutch painting to the Enlightenment to graffiti. Most of these are aimed at university level, but they are written in an accessible way: you might find an activity or two here that you could direct students to.

Open Arts Objects in schools

We’ve had the opportunity to come into classrooms and meet students. As part of our school visits we’ve had students make their own films on objects. You can make your own film from home. We think this might be a fun and engaging way students can keep occupied while they are stuck at home. All info here.

My Travelling Object

What stories do the objects in your home tell? Take a picture, send us a video, create a still life, or draw your object and tell us your object stories! Find the instructions on how to do so here,  watch our video outlining the project on youtube (and below) and follow us on social media to see your object stories featured!

Critical Terms for Art History

We also have a series of films on critical terms for Art History: MobilityEssentialismIconographyCommemorationGlobalisationClassicism, Hybridity and 3 on Modernism.

Finally, if there’s anything else we can do to make this time any easier for those of you who teach, for students at home, or for people who just need to keep occupied as they self-isolate, please do get in touch with suggestions!

Stay safe and well!

Leah Clark (Project Lead, Open Arts Objects)

Teaching Global Art History: Resources

We all would like to expand the scope of our teaching to incorporate a global art history, and many of us would also like to think about ways of decolonising the curriculum. But where to start?

Below are some links to free articles and resources that might help:

Other resources:

Teaching Resources

Critical Terms films: 

  • Hybridity: Leah Clark and Kathleen Christian discussing the term hybridity. Includes Mass of Saint Gregory, 1539, feather on wood, Musée des Jacobins and Apothecary jar, c. 1700, Puebla, Mexico, Tin-glazed earthenware, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 11.87.9.
  • Essentialism: Renate Dohmen and Kathleen Christian discussing the complexities of the term essentialism, exploring the ideas of art and culture it produced in the nineteenth century and what its legacies are today. Includes James Stephanoff, An Assemblage of Works of Art in Sculpture and in Painting, 1845; Johann Zoffany, Major William Palmer with his second wife, the Mughal princess Bibi Faiz Bakhsh; Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume.
  • Mobility:  Leah Clark and Kathleen Christian discussing the term mobility, and how it has changed the way we approach Renaissance works of art. Includes Holbein’s Ambassadors; Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and its circulation in print; a devotional diptych with a portrait of Joos van der Burch.
  • Commemoration:  Susie West and Leah Clark discussing commemoration and how it can be applied to works of art and architecture. Includes war memorials; tomb sculpture; Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, Tower of London.
  • a new film on Globalisation coming soon!

Open Arts Objects films: 

OpenLearn interactive on Travelling Objects, allows users to trace the travels of objects across the globe.

While not free, the Open University’s textbooks on Art and its Global Histories are worth checking out.

Teaching Global Art History: Challenges & Debates

On Tuesday 15th October 2019, the Art History department at the Open University will be hosting an afternoon event in London for teachers and museum educators on the challenges and opportunities of teaching Art History from a global perspective. We will draw upon our experience of co-producing BBC’s Civilisations and of creating our new third level module and its textbooks, Art and its Global Histories.

2019 marks fifty years since the foundation of the Open University. The department of Art History at the OU has followed its mission of widening participation, most recently with our Open Arts Objects project. The new A-Level Art History specification has widened the discipline by incorporating a global curriculum. It seems a crucial time to address how these changes in the discipline can attract and encourage new interests in, and new audiences for, Art History.

Bringing together a variety of educators who approach the history of art from many different perspectives, the event will enable conversations, brainstorming, networking, and reflection. The event is aimed at sharing best practice, providing an opportunity to reflect on where the discipline is and where it is going, and addressing some of the challenges of teaching Art History in a global age.

You can sign up for the free event here.


Open Arts Objects shortlisted for the Times Higher Education Awards!

The department of Art History and project lead, Dr Leah Clark, are delighted to announce that Open Arts Objects (OAO) has been shortlisted for the prestigious Times Higher Education Awards 2019, in the category ofKnowledge Exchange/Transfer Initiative of the Year! (winners to be announced in November.)

Open Arts Objects (OAO) is an open access resource for the general public, which supports teachers and influences many different levels of learning with a national and international scope. It has led to a change in museums’ educational programmes and professional practice including introducing new audiences and has increased public awareness about a global approach to Art History. Underpinned by the research of members of the Art History and Design departments, OAO promotes the understanding of art informed by the innovative methodologies of mobility and global approaches. OAO ensures the sustainability of Art History at all teaching levels, advocating for the democratisation of the subject, and promotes educational opportunity.

Revisiting Modern Art and Modernism

On 29 March 2019, organisers Amy Charlesworth and Veronica Davies were thrilled to welcome over 150 delegates to the conference Revisiting Modern Art and Modernism.  Our stellar line-up included keynote lectures by Professors T.J. Clark and Briony Fer, as well as contributions from many other eminent speakers: this was really special because every single speaker has been associated with our modern art courses in some way over the last 40 years.  What was so stimulating about the day as a whole was that it offered both a celebration and a critical evaluation of what we have achieved in that time, as well as what we are doing now and plan to do in future.  Each session is presented as a separate recording, so you can dip into what interests you at any time.  Enjoy the recordings – and don’t forget the Open Arts Objects Facebook page if you have any comments!

The full programme of recordings can be found at the links below:


‘In conversation’ session on how OU methods and teaching materials spread to the wider world of art history education with Steve Edwards, Gail Day, Joanne Crawford & Barry Venning.


Chair: Amy Charlesworth

Gavin Butt: It’s Not Made by Great Men: Post-Punk and Art History

Wendy Frith: Summer School


Chair: Veronica Davies

Anne Wagner & Nick Levinson: ‘The Complexities of Representing Sculpture (Case study: Rodin)’

Warren Carter: ‘Utilising 21st century media (Case study: Mexican muralists)’


‘In conversation’ session discussing the ways OU scholarship has contributed to developments in this subject area in recent decades with  Emma Barker, Paul Wood and Warren Carter



Many thanks to the audio-visual team at the OU for recording and editing the whole event.

-Veronica Davies