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

Why Art History Matters

The importance of Art History as a discipline that continuously asks new questions about society, challenges preconceptions around race and gender, and offers a window into the past, cannot be taken lightly. Indeed, it might be a complex subject, but shouldn’t that be the reason to study it? To provide our future generations with new ways of seeing the world?

Next week and beyond, the Art History department at the Open University will be showcasing some of the ways that Art History matters. You’ll have the opportunity to hear a range of voices from alumni, OU academics, & current students to artists, A-level students, and other practitioners. This will come in a variety of forms, from a social media campaign on twitter & Instagram to blogs here on Open Arts Extra.

We’d love to hear from you, so if you have a story to tell that you’d like shared, tag us on social media, and if you’d like to write a blog for us, get in touch with us: openartsobjects@open.ac.uk! Have our open access resources changed the way you think about the world around you? Have our modules been life changing? or have our films provided you new insight into works of art you thought you knew well? If you’re a teacher, have our free teaching resources helped you in your teaching? Whatever it is, we’d like to hear from you!

So a little more about the #whyarthistorymatters campaign:

In autumn 2016, when Art History was removed from the A-level curriculum (temporarily), a campaign was started, utilising the hashtag #whyarthistorymatters. The responses were overwhelming from key academics in the field such as Craig Clunas (Oxford) and Griselda Pollock (Leeds) to Turner Prize artists such as Cornelia Parker and Jeremy Deller, 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. While Pearson rose to the task of providing the new qualification with a new global spec and the Association For Art History (formerly AAH) has long been committed to promoting the value of art history and visual culture, we feel that Art History still needs to be recognised as an essential skill in today’s world. The importance of Art History as a discipline that continuously asks new questions about society, challenges preconceptions around race and gender, and offers a window into the past, cannot be taken lightly. Indeed, it might be a complex subject, but shouldn’t that be the reason to study it? To provide our future generations with new ways of seeing the world?

Open Arts Objects, is a project that provides free open access films and teaching materials to support the teaching of Art History at A-level as well as to teach the general public on how to look closely at a wide range of works of art

It is why we have been working hard on Open Arts Objects, a project that provides free open access films and teaching materials to support the teaching of Art History at A-level as well as to teach the general public on how to look closely at a wide range of works of art. This project is part of the current strategy within the Open University to develop a series of public facing initiatives that can help inspire wider and diverse constituencies to enjoy and understand art works and visual culture.

To increase awareness and to widen participation in the discipline, we’ve been creating a series of short films on why art history matters. We’ve asked a wide range of people including academics, curators, teachers, educators, artists, students, and alumni to consider in a single sentence why art history is important to them. We hope that this will also encourage the public to start making their own short films and sharing them on social media (and please do tag us so we can share too!)

Stay tuned for more and follow us on social media!

Why does it matter to you?

The Open Arts Objects team, The Open University

#whyarthistorymatters #openartsobjects #ouarthistory #OUrArtHistory #wahm

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