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Art and its critical histories

This module showcases the possibilities of art history, for exploring many pasts using different perspectives and approaches, and also for thinking about how understanding aspects of the past might inform actions for the future. It offers the tools to choose, analyse and research your choice of artwork for your dissertation. And it offers the opportunity to engage in a sustained period of independent study. You’ll explore how art historians have developed methods and ideas for analysing and explaining aspects of art, and encounter diverse and stimulating case studies putting these ideas into practice. You’ll also develop your writing skills through the theme of writing as a craft, as you work on writing your own academic dissertation or a dissertation plus a public-facing piece of art historical work.

Modules count towards OU qualifications

OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code




  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.

Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study
3 10 6

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

This module presents multiple ways of approaching works of art, architecture and design within the discipline of art history. It is not bound by beginnings and ends of chronological divisions; it is about thinking and writing with critical analysis. Art historians whose ideas are still valuable today have been selected because they helped to open up interesting questions about art. How do you identify what art means? Why is art connected to society? How do visual works communicate? Can art explain ideas? You’ll be introduced to some key authors and their works, and shown through case studies how you can apply their ideas and methods to a range of artworks. The case studies have a global scope and delve into prehistory as well as reaching into contemporary art.

Writing as a craft is an important theme across the module, leading up to your dissertation project. Across the three blocks, you will be introduced to useful concepts and methods for recognising and understanding different types of writing, from the academic to writing for the public in different forms. You’ll have chance to apply new ways of writing, including a review and a short exhibition, and you may choose to use writing for a general audience as part of your academic dissertation work. Whichever dissertation option you choose, this project will enable you to develop your skills in working independently.

Block 1 looks at the twentieth-century art historians who changed the way art history is written, making connections from art back to society. These authors are grouped here through their shared interest in analysing artworks as if they could be read, like a text, through decoding visual languages. Ways of interpreting art include reconstructing world views of past societies up to the first challenges about writing inclusive art history from the perspective of class and gender, as understood in feminist thought up to the 1990s.

Block 2 works with art historians who have thought about the importance of understanding different cultures and contexts for art. The key writers introduced here worked in the second half of the twentieth century in societies dealing with the impact of two global wars as well as the challenges of contemporary art practices. Questions arising include how can art effectively acknowledge atrocities; what are the boundaries of art; who can be an artist; and how can art represent all identities?

Block 3 extends the contexts for art from about humans to about humans in relation to the rest of the Earth. Once again, human identities are in focus, expanding the discussion through representations of the body and more recent gender theories; then, seeing humans in relation to the rest of the world, considering if other species make art; how the properties of materials for art call attention back to their own qualities; and finally, whether art history can highlight issues of sustainability, as a challenge for the whole Earth.

You will learn

By studying this module you'll learn about:
  • art history as a whole and its links to related subjects
  • the established concepts, theories and principles of art history
  • the potential uncertainty, ambiguity and limits of art-historical knowledge.

Vocational relevance

You'll gain an awareness of art history’s relationship with professional contexts, including the arts and heritage sector. You'll improve as a writer, and use the transferable skills of visual literacy, critical thinking, and communication.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • facilitating online discussions between your fellow students in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

Future availability

Art and its critical histories starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2034.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 3 module, and so you should have a good command of written English and good digital literacy skills for information retrieval. You should be prepared for an increased amount of independent study in preparation for your dissertation research.

If you are studying the BA (Hons) Art History and Visual Cultures (R27), Stage 3 includes Art and its global histories (A344) and, finally this dissertation module.

Preparatory work

This is a dissertation module that's designed as the final stage of a degree. This is why prior study of art history, including an OU level 3 module, is strongly recommended. If you choose to take this module without prior art history study, you will be directed towards additional study materials for Art History on Study Home. The module uses Newall, D. and Pooke, G. (2021) Art History, The Basics. Abingdon: Routledge (Second edition), which is available as an ebook through the OU Library.


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £3636.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2034.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

If your income is not more than £25,000 or you receive a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Joint loan applications

If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and, therefore, the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2025. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

This information was provided on 21/07/2024.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of not more than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

You’ll be provided with a printed module book and have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module materials
  • audio and video content
  • assessment guide
  • online tutorials and forums 
  • scholarly resources including journals and electronic books.

Each week you'll study through this module website which supports what you learn in the book by helping you to put into practice your skills of visual analysis, as well as working with texts and thinking through the concepts and questions you have been introduced to. You will find a specially written skills section, drawing out what you need to be able to do for your assessments and building your research skills towards your dissertation project. There are specially filmed discussions with leading art history professionals, as well as panel discussions with the module team authors, drawing out insights and experiences that you can apply to your own work.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A336 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.