Why Art History Matters: Martin Weller

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.

Martin Weller, an OU Academic took our MA in Art History, so we asked him some questions about his experience.

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:

http://blog.edtechie.net/higher-ed/what-i-learnt-from-being-a-student/

http://blog.edtechie.net/history-ma/being-lost-as-staff-development/

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:

http://blog.edtechie.net/uncategorized/edtech-symbols-of-permanence/

http://blog.edtechie.net/digital-scholarship/cellinis-blood-of-digital-scholarship/

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

For an overview of the MA in Art History, see the Art History Department’s website or take a taster course on Open Learn on Artists and Authorship: The Case of Raphael

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