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

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Taking your first steps into higher education

Week 3: Art history in the arts and humanities


You’ll now focus on the discipline of art history. I will use contemporary visual art and culture to introduce you to skills and strategies that can help you gain a better understanding of the approach to learning in HE art history studies. As with poetry, I will start with initial reactions and move on to a more considered analysis.

As a first question, what do you think might be included in the term visual art?

For the art historian, visual art is a broad category of study, including traditional fine arts, such as drawing, painting and sculpture, together with communication and design arts (for example, film, television, graphics and product design), architecture and environmental arts (for example, interior and landscape design) and non-traditional art made from materials such as ceramics, wood, glass and everyday objects.

In the following film, John Butcher introduces the study of visual art:

Download this video clip.Video player: he1s_1_wk3_640x360.mp4
Skip transcript


John Butcher – author
Hi again, it’s Week 3 and it’s art history, and here at the Open University campus we have a great deal of public art on display, and also regular exhibitions of contemporary art in the academic library. It’s the sort of thing you might see in your local town or city. Here in Milton Keynes, our new gallery opened in 1999. It opened with a large exhibition by Gilbert & George, who as you'll find out just a little later in the course won the Turner prize in 1986 for their large scale paintings. But I think we do have to recognise that for many people contemporary art and going into a contemporary gallery can be a somewhat intimidating experience, and one of the things we hope we’ll be doing on this course is providing you with some approaches to help you make meaning of some contemporary art.
But I really want to emphasise that visual imagery is all around us really, we don’t have to go in to contemporary art galleries.
One of my colleagues was going through her cupboards the other day and kindly passed this onto me, and what we've got here is a fascinating example to illustrate really some of the approaches we might take when seeking to understand contemporary art. So we’re looking here at the kind of meaning we can ascribe to this. We think about the effects that are being used, perhaps we consider some of the contextual factors. This image for example was first used in 1924, since then there’s been a little shortening of the kilt and a lengthening of the hair, but that’s been about it, and of course we might end up thinking what exactly is the connection we’re asked to make between a Highland shot putter and porridge? But of course, this is one of the things we’ll be doing in our journey through contemporary art.
End transcript
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

In introducing you to the study of visual art this week, rather than trying to squeeze a chronological overview of centuries of art history into three hours, your studies will involve the guided step-by-step analysis of works of art and build on the skills that you have already gained from studying the use of the study diamond. I will focus on the analysis of contemporary art from the 1980s onwards, from the perspective of the academic discipline of art history. You will apply the study diamond to the analysis of contemporary artworks while continuing to develop your study skills.

This week you will:

  • extend your application of the study diamond to cover the visual arts
  • develop your ability to identify the effects of artworks
  • discover a range of artistic techniques, such as the use of colour and medium
  • give you the opportunity to explore the relationship between effects and techniques in a small selection of contemporary artworks
  • explore some of the factors involved in interpreting meaning
  • explore some reactions to artworks shortlisted for the Turner Prize
  • further develop your study skills.
Skip Your course resources

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371