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You can prepare for this free course, Making sense of art history, by looking around you. It's likely that wherever you are you'll be able to see some images. It's also likely that many of these will be intended to have some sort of effect on you. In the course itself you will be exploring the power of images via a study of contemporary art from the 1980s onwards. Taking the time to look beyond the immediate appearance of an art work to consider what the artist might be trying to say can be immensely rewarding.
After studying this course, you should be able to:
- identify the effects of art works
- understand a range of artistic techniques, such as the use of colour, composition and medium
- recognise the relationship between effects and techniques in a range of art works
- understand some of the factors involved in interpreting meaning
- understand the significance of context in informing the interpretation of art works.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 What is art?
- 2 The Turner Prize: an annual farce or a celebration of creativity?
- 3 Art works and their effects
- 4 The relationship between effects and techniques
- 5 Colour
- 5.1 Introduction
- 5.2 Question 1: Has a wide or narrow palette of colours been used?
- 5.3 Question 2: Have contrasting colours been placed next to each other?
- 5.4 Question 3: Are there more warm colours than cool colours or vice versa?
- 5.5 Question 4: Are the colours largely bright or dull?
- 5.6 Question 5: In what way is dark and light colour used?
- 5.7 Comparing art works
- 6 Medium
- 7 Composition
- 8 Meaning and interpretation
- Keep on learning
Study this free course
Enrol to access the full course, get recognition for the skills you learn, track your progress and on completion gain a statement of participation to demonstrate your learning to others. Make your learning visible!
Making sense of art history
In this course you'll explore a further arts discipline – art history. But why study art history? Look around you, it's likely that wherever you are you'll be able to see some images – for example, on posters, magazine covers or food packaging. It's also likely that many of these images will be intended to have some sort of effect on you. For example, an image on a cereal packet might be intended to persuade you that eating the product will make you healthy, whereas the images on the front page of a magazine will be chosen to encourage you to read on. While you won't be studying cereal packets and magazine covers in this course, you will be exploring the power of images via a study of contemporary art from the 1980s onwards.
The Study Diamond
The Study Diamond represents an approach to analysing and interpreting texts such as poems, works of art, pieces of music and works of literature. When used methodically, the Study Diamond provides a reliable and reusable formula for arriving at well-argued conclusions when interpreting a particular work.
There are four points to the Study Diamond:
You will apply the Study Diamond to the analysis of art works as well as developing your study skills. Both the activities and the text in this course are designed to be worked on while you look closely at the art works.
Plate 1: Turner prize artists
Rather than giving a historical overview of art, as might be suggested by the term ‘art history’, we'll concentrate on looking at art produced by artists nominated for the Turner Prize. It's worth pointing out that while we're concentrating on art produced since the 1980s, you can apply the same techniques that you will learn here to the study of any art work, from any period.
The Turner Prize is awarded each year to an artist who has made an outstanding contribution to art in Britain during the previous twelve months. I've chosen to concentrate on the Turner Prize because I believe that many of the art works nominated for it have important things to say about the times in which we are living. The art works that you'll encounter here are visually diverse, ranging from pickled cows to paintings made with elephant dung and glitter. Some are beautiful, some are shocking and many might appear on first sight to be very confusing. I can't predict whether you'll like all (or, indeed any) of them, but I hope that by the end of this free course you'll agree that contemporary art can be extremely thought-provoking. Taking the time to look beyond the immediate appearance of an art work to consider what the artist might be trying to say can be immensely rewarding.
This OpenLearn course provides a sample of level 1 study in
This free course includes adapted extracts from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free History & The Arts courses or view the range of currently available OU History & The Arts courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Friday, 18th March 2016
Last updated on: Friday, 18th March 2016
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements and our FAQs section.
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