Pearson Exam Board to offer new Art History A level exam from 2017

The recent news that the Art History A-Level is to be saved for future generations to study is very welcome for those of us who believe in providing opportunities for a broad historical and culturally sensitive education. Here at The Open University we have lobbied alongside teachers, other HEIs and the Association of Art Historians to raise awareness about the huge deficit in knowledge and creative opportunities that the dismantling of the arts and humanities subjects at school level could bring.

We are delighted that Pearson will now be offering A-Level Art History. Meanwhile we will continue to use our digital platforms ( to disseminate the subject to a wider public and to produce educational material, enabling more state schools to offer the provision.

One of the main ways in which we have been doing this is through our project, Open Arts Objects, a series of video podcasts exploring works of art from the Renaissance to the 21st century. Each podcast is a free resource, presented by a specialist and is accompanied by support material for lesson plans. These have been developed in close collaboration with secondary school teachers.

This is a growing resource and an open network, if you are a teacher or education specialist and would like to be involved or know more about Open Arts Objects please get in touch with us at

Dr Amy Charlesworth and Professor Gill Perry

Save Art History in the A-level curriculum

Statement from the Art Historians at the Open University

As soon as the news reports about removing Art History from the A level curriculum hit twitter, a campaign was started: #whyarthistorymatters. Responses flooded in from key academics in the field such as Craig Clunas (Professor at Oxford), TV personalities such as Simon Schama as well as individuals who had taken the subject at A-level or at university and whose lives had been profoundly changed by Art History. And then Jonathon Jones wrote an opinionated piece in the Guardian describing the discipline as ‘posh’ and ‘elite’. Fortunately, a better informed response was posted on ‘The Conversation’ by Art Historian Professor Griselda Pollock (Leeds University) showing that axing A-level Art History only amplifies class divides.

One of Art History’s many strengths is that it is fundamentally interdisciplinary. Through the study of art you can learn about gender relations, philosophy, anthropology, sociology or economics, not to mention its important relationship with history. At a time when everyone is glued to their smartphones, looking at images on twitter, Instagram or Facebook, the ability to understand, and more importantly, to be able to analyse critically the wealth of images that bombard us seems more pressing than ever.

The AQA say that the decision has nothing to do with the validity of the discipline, but the difficulty, or the ‘risk’, in teaching it. The discipline has long been seen to be an elitist subject, closely tied to access to museums and galleries, but the Open University has sought to change and challenge this perception. It has provided free online courses alongside a wide range of distance learning undergraduate and postgraduate courses available to non-traditional students—from working parents to seniors who never had the chance to study a degree in the past. The Open University is also leading a new initiative helping to teach the subject in schools—by providing shorts films and teaching materials, increasing the accessibility and outreach of the subject. By so-doing we are hoping to increase the facilities and support available to some hard-pressed state schools, and to increase public understanding of the value of art. In a statement released to teachers the AQA explained the reasons behind their decision:

‘The existing specification is challenging to mark and award because of the specialist nature of the topics, the range of options, difficulties in recruiting sufficient, experienced examiners and limited entries. We had hoped that we could reduce or remove these areas of difficulty in developing the new specification, but this has not proved possible.
We are committed to ensuring the safe and secure delivery of all of our qualifications and, after careful consideration, we have concluded that the delivery risks we currently manage for this subject are not sustainable in the longer term. We have therefore taken the decision not to continue with the redevelopment of this qualification.’

The AQA specifies that they have attempted to reduce ‘these areas of difficulty’ but they have not specified how they have. Indeed, the OU’s new initiative to work with teachers and provide the types of training they would need to teach and examine the subject does not seem to have been known to the AQA or taken into consideration in making this decision.

Art History is a discipline that encourages us to ask questions about how we see the world; by studying visual culture through history, we can reflect on our relationship with society. It can offer a window onto the past, while challenging preconceptions about race, gender and power.  Art History, might be a complex subject, but shouldn’t that be the reason to keep it? At the OU we believe we should be seeking to enable and support the widest possible range of students to study, enjoy and think critically about the world around them, rather than removing opportunities to do so. Given the extraordinary bombardment of visual imagery that we experience on a daily basis in the modern digital era, shouldn’t we be equipping more people to look with a critical eye?  Surely, we should seek to provide future generations with new ways of seeing the world?

Pollock argues that the killing off of art history at A-level is a blow against democratisation:

‘A lack of art history will deprive all young people of opportunities for new kinds of knowledge of the world they live in. It will close down the chance to acquire an understanding of the past and of the present through image and object, place and building, powerful patrons and craftspeople and makers. Far from dismissing this subject because at present it is more often taught in independent schools, we need to be insisting on the value of this way of learning about the world through its cultures, its monuments, its legends, its visual story-telling, its creative imaginations — for all young people in all schools.

For many children in state schools, who may not have the advantages of frequent travel or other occasions to encounter not just art but material culture, this may have been their only opportunity to have these doors opened. And other doors – because art history is a portal to a range of work fields, from high-level art marketing to curation and conservation and, of course, museum and gallery education that is aimed a future generations. And let us also remember that the A-level is also a doorway to architecture and design.’

Many of us working in UK universities have been promoting and disseminating the subject precisely because it has so many academic, cultural and career possibilities. We believe, like Pollock that it is a force for democratisation and high quality learning. Hence the importance of the subject in the curriculum at the OU, an institution committed to open access. The support we are now providing teachers suggests it is an important time to offer this subject to the widest possible range of students—not a moment to pull the plug. Give more people, young and old, the chance to study it.

Dr Leah Clark and Professor Gill Perry


Review of Mike Perry’s “Môr Plastig” at Venice

Mike Perry’s Môr Plastig at the Venice Biennale 2015  is the subject of a recent review on
Irenebrination: Notes on Architecture, Art, Fashion and Style.
This series addresses the impact of plastic objects in the living world and the erosive power of nature.

Mike Perry has recently been the Coastal Currents Artist in Residence at Oriel y Parc, North Pembrokeshire and a short film of the residency, directed by Eilir Pierce, is available on OAA.

Invitation to Lecture ‘Moving House: Homes and Hut Myths in the Installation Art of Agnés Varda, Tracey Emin and Michael Landy’


Wednesday 19 November 2014 at 6.30pm
Room 126, Geography Building,
Mile End Campus, Queen Mary University of London

Houses, homes, huts and domestic themes have become ubiquitous in installation art over the last few decades. Gill Perry explores some of the mythical, metaphorical, aesthetic and social concerns that have inspired artists to engage with these everyday themes. She focuses on the work of three contemporary artists (Agnès Varda, Tracey Emin and Michael Landy) for whom (as she argues) ‘home’ is rich in contradictory, playful and nomadic meanings, evoking both local and transnational associations. Exploring issues of gender, play and the imaginative and experimental potential of ‘homely’ structures in the gallery space, she argues that these forms of contemporary art can invite a compelling critique of ‘everyday life’.

A reception will follow the lecture.  For more details please see the flyer.

Publication of Issue 3 of the Open Arts Journal, ‘Disturbing Pasts’


The latest issue of the Open Arts Journal has just been published.  ‘Disturbing Pasts: Memories, Controversies and Creativity’, co-edited by Elizabeth Edwards (De Montfort Leicester), Uilleam Blacker (University College London) and Leon Wainwright (Colgate, New York and The Open University, UK) contains 220+ pages and is fully illustrated.  All content is open access and available free on the Open Arts Journal website.

The issue is the culmination of three years of international project work (including a major conference at the Weltmuseum Wien/Vienna in 2012).

In many countries, legacies of war, colonialism, genocide and oppression return again and again to dominate contemporary culture, politics and society. The controversies surrounding traumatic pasts can shape policy, make or break governments, trigger mass demonstrations, and even spark violent confrontation. These pasts also inspire creative means by which the past is remembered, remade and challenged.

This, the third issue of the Open Arts Journal, explores the theme of traumatic pasts and their complex and often dramatic influences on the present day, bringing to the foreground the rich visual and creative responses to such pasts that issue among artists.

The collection derives from a major knowledge exchange project that focused on a two-day event (Museum of Ethnology, Vienna/Weltmuseum Wien, 2012) sponsored by the Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA), European Science Foundation. The project drew together individuals from the arts and heritage sectors and the wider public beyond academia – a diverse range of creative practitioners, including artists and photographers, curators, cultural policy-makers, and academics.

The collection includes clickable links to film footage of authors’ presentations and audience discussion.

Go to the Disturbing Pasts Project website.  You can view footage from the Disturbing Pasts Conference in Vienna on the Open Arts Archive.

Caroline Devine ‘On Air’ excerpt

You can now listen to an excerpt of Caroline Devine’s University of the Air recording ‘On Air’, via the Open Arts Archive.  The piece was part of a series of art works commissioned to celebrate the impact of the University’s research on society over the past 40 years.  Hosted at the University’s Milton Keynes campus on 9 and 10 November 2013, the piece was a large-scale outdoor sound work designed into the walkways, buildings and grounds of The Open University campus.

The 60 channel sound installation transformed the air, animating the architectural and acoustic space around it. Artist, Caroline Devine explored the theme of OU research in design and technology, integrating an acoustic layer which allows fragments of thoughts, voices, knowledge, research and histories of The Open University to float on the air.

The Meaning of Colour, collaborative study day with the National Gallery

The National Gallery in collaboration with the Open University: A Study Day to accompany the exhibition Making Colour (18 June – 7 September, 2014)

Saturday 6 September, 10.30am–3.30pm
Sainsbury Wing Theatre

Speakers include Caroline Campbell, Gill Perry, Emma Barker, David Batchelor and Roger Hiorns


£25/£10 concessions

Book tickets

“The National Gallery exhibition ‘Making Colour‘ takes visitors on a journey through colour from the ancient world to the Impressionists. On this study day, the journey continues up to the present day. You will hear from art historians and artists who will explore different aspects The National Gallery exhibition Making Colour takes visitors on a journey through colour from the ancient world to the Impressionists. On this study day, the journey continues up to the present day. You will hear from art historians and artists who will explore different aspects of the exhibition and discuss the symbolism of colour in different contexts. The cultural fear of corruption from colour will also be examined – along with the work of artists and writers who have challenged that fear.” From the National Gallery website 

For more information and to book tickets go to the National Gallery website