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Taking your first steps into higher education
Taking your first steps into higher education

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2.2 Contemporary visual art

In Week 3, the focus was on contemporary visual art. This can be an area that is even harder to understand because of the volume and intensity of public comment. It’s difficult to avoid such comments about art works like Tracey Emin’s My Bed or Damien Hirst’s Mother and Child.

A picture of Emin’s well-known work: 'My Bed'
Figure 2 Tracey Emin, My Bed
A picture of Hirst’s work comprising of four white framed tanks in which there is a clear liquid.
Figure 3 Damien Hirst, Mother and Child (Divided)

Week 3 encouraged you to go beyond these reactions and to explore your own responses and to shape these using the study diamond. It would be useful to spend a few minutes reminding yourself about this by going back to Week 3 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Once you have done this please go on to the next activity.

Activity 3 Reflecting on contemporary art

Timing: Allow approximately 20 minutes

This is an opportunity to think about how your responses to and understanding of modern art might have changed.

Answer the following questions:

Table 3 Understanding contemporary art
NowWhat changed?
  1. What were the key ways to understand art?
  1. Have you used these to try and understand an example of modern art?
  1. Do you enjoy modern art more now?
  1. Do you understand modern art more now?
  1. Are you more or less likely to study an arts subject as a result of this week?


This activity encourages you to reflect on both your responses to modern art and your understanding of it. There is an inbuilt assumption that these two are related and that the more you understand the more you will enjoy modern art. You might want to disagree with this assumption, but it is one that is tested out by the final, more forward looking question.

In a short course like this, it is only possible to provide a snapshot or a taster of what study in the arts and humanities is like. Most of the separate subjects that are included under the broad heading of arts and humanities have not been included.

That said, the course authors hope that you have picked up a real sense of what studying arts and humanities subjects at university is like.