What you will study
The arts past and present is presented through four themed books:
Book 1: Reputations
Why are some individuals famous? What is it about Cézanne’s paintings or Cleopatra’s life that makes them so well known? This book takes you from the distant past to the contemporary world to consider these questions in the light of the famous and the infamous. Case studies of significant figures (Cleopatra, Josef Stalin and the Dalai Lama) introduce subject-specific skills such as differentiating between primary and secondary sources, and understanding and interpreting varied points of view. This will enable you to develop an understanding of how we construct ideas of the past. Chapters on Christopher Marlowe and Paul Cézanne consider artistic reputation through the works that made them famous: Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, the absorbing, tragic story of the man who sells his soul to the devil; and Cézanne’s mysterious, beguiling paintings of bathers and the Mont St Victoire. You’ll acquire competencies in visual analysis and the critical reading of literary texts. A chapter on the musical Diva explores artistic reputation from a different perspective and investigates why some performers become famous. The same chapter also introduces varied musical repertoires and develops your close listening skills.
Book 2: Tradition and Dissent
Tradition is a widely used word, particularly in academic contexts, but what do we mean by it? Why is it important to an understanding of the arts? What does it mean to dissent from tradition? This book provides some answers while extending the range of your skills. We begin with Laches, the work of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, which raises questions about how reliable tradition is as a source of knowledge.
This is followed by discussion of tradition in relation to poetry, centred on an attractive anthology of poems about animals. Linked chapters explore religious dissent in England (including the cataclysmic story of the Reformation in England), and the gothic revival of the nineteenth century, concentrating on the work of the revolutionary architect Augustus Pugin. Ideas of tradition underpin the formation of nation states: by looking at the invention of tradition in Ireland, you’ll examine this historical process in action.
Finally, you’ll listen to the string quartets of the controversial Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich, which raise fascinating questions about the importance of tradition to music and the extent that musical works might act as a form of political dissent.
Book 3: Cultural Encounters
Cultural Encounters addresses questions that are pertinent both to the changing world we live in and to all arts subjects: what is the relationship between works of art and colonial history? To what extent can objects and texts be translated from one culture to another? There’s more interdisciplinary work in this part of the module. The book begins with linked chapters on the art of Benin – these are extraordinary sculptures from West Africa, which were taken by Britain and other European countries in the late nineteenth century. The chapters consider this encounter between Europe and Africa from both historical and art historical perspectives.
The book continues by examining the philosophical tension between liberal ideas of inclusivity and the pressure for exemptions for minorities in contemporary society. You’ll then read a collection of modern short stories from around the world that explore the ways encounters between different cultures shape ideas of identity and belonging. These short stories are followed by an epic of the exchange of knowledge between cultures: the transmission of medical knowledge from Ancient Greece to the Arabian world and then back to medieval Europe.
The book ends with another ancient text – Sophocles’ seminal tragedy, Antigone. You’ll study this play in the Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney’s 2004 translation, The Burial at Thebes. Cumulatively, these individual case studies enrich and complicate our sense of the interplay and exchange of ideas from one culture to another.
Book 4: Place and Leisure
The final book explores ideas of place and leisure: how should we interpret sacred spaces or Roman villas? What is the meaning and history of leisure? As well as these thematic questions, the end of the module prompts you to consider what you’ve learnt and what you’ll want to study in the future. With AA100 as the basis for your studies, you will have a good grounding in a range of subjects and their methodologies. The book has two related concerns, outlined in the opening chapters. First we consider leisure as a philosophical issue: what is the purpose of life, and how does leisure fit into broader accounts of what its purpose should be?
Secondly, we look at how we interpret the human environment, from ancient monuments through to twentieth-century cities, by interrogating what we mean by the idea of sacred space. These concerns are joined together by focusing on Roman ideas of leisure, both in the evidence of Latin literature and the archaeological remains of villas from across the Roman Empire.
The module concludes with a multidisciplinary study of the seaside. This material combines social history of the development of the British seaside resort in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including work on the changing technologies and medical ideas that fostered seaside holidays, with analysis of different representations of the seaside phenomenon in film, music and visual art.