Why Art History Matters: Karen Downs-Barton

I never expected my studies to lead me into the History of Art path, or that of becoming a published poet, but it has.

I started studying with the Open University while running an app building business but changed direction totally after studying the history of art and creative writing components of the level one modules. This led me on a journey through Exploring Art and Visual Culture (A226) and Art and its Global Histories (A344) and into becoming a published poet specialising in ekphrastic and art centred poetry. The objects and histories I encountered during my studies crop up in unusual ways such as a trip to Cape Verde where reading about its role in the slave trade fed into poems accepted by Tropica Laced Magazine.

While studying, research for various assignments has taken me to a number of cities around the UK, feeding into my writing. A trip to Manchester resulted in a series of poems published by Otoliths, covering subjects as diverse as the Pieta and drug addiction, while visiting Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art resulted in poems to be published by Riggwelter in issue 11, ‘Artist and Empire’ and ‘Glasgow’s Clockwork Orange’ and various other outlets. The art historical journey goes beyond the singular pilgrimage as Renate Dohmen’s Open Arts Objects film The Pilkington Album and Leon Wainwright’s film Sonia Khurana’s Zoetrope have been shared with friends and family as part of a dialogue about art, connections, and globality.

After seeing these films, I visited the Illuminating India exhibition at the Science Museum and saw a fantastic photo album in one of the vitrines. Further investigation into its provenance with the curator and another in India has generated research into representations of gender in South Asian art, poems about which are now being collated into a chap book to be published in 2019. I never expected my studies to lead me into the History of Art path, or that of becoming a published poet, but it has. I don’t know where it will lead me next but I’m sure it will be somewhere both unexpected and exciting.

Karen Downs-Barton, OU student

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. Open Arts Objects provides free films and teaching support materials.

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