Why Art History Matters: Amanda Noble

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.

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