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Exploring art and visual culture

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What is art and how has it changed through history? What is visual culture? These and many other issues are explored through case studies focused on artworks, buildings and other visual artefacts from 1100 to present day. Topics addressed range from Gothic churches to modern design, Renaissance altarpieces to Dutch seventeenth-century painting, eighteenth-century landscape parks to recent installations and videos. You will also gain an understanding of the art-historical debates that have shaped approaches to this exciting subject. The module is taught using lavishly illustrated module books, alongside extensive audio, video and interactive material.

Modules at Level 2 assume that you are suitably prepared for study at this level. If you want to take a single module to satisfy your career development needs or pursue particular interests, you don’t need to start at Level 1 but you do need to have adequately prepared yourself for OU study in some other way. Check with our Student Registration & Enquiry Service to make sure that you are sufficiently prepared.

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04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£775.00
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Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2023.
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04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£1625.00
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Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2023.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£775.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2023.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£775.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2023.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£1465.00
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Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2023.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£775.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2023.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£2632.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2023.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£775.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2023.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£2632.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2023.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£2632.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

See below for information about part time tuition fee loans available for study towards a qualification.

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2023.

*Fees may vary by country.

What you will study

The module is organised chronologically, beginning around 1100 and extending over the period up to the present day. This long time span is broken down into three sections, each of which corresponds to one of the module books:

  • the first covers the period from around 1100 to about 1600
  • the second looks at the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
  • the final one examines the period from the middle of the nineteenth century to the present.

Each of the books is arranged in two parts, which deal with prominent themes in the study of art and visual culture during the period in question. These books are supported by a variety of online materials, audio and video resources, and a module reader containing important primary and secondary sources.

Beginning with the early medieval period, the module starts in a time before the category of art existed in the way we understand it today. At this point there was no clear line between artworks and other forms of visual culture. Rather, images were produced for use, usually in religious rituals. The module sets out from these images before ‘art’ to explore defining moments in the emergence of a modern art world, in which art and visual culture are distinct categories. This involves consideration of the Renaissance, the emergence of institutions of art in the eighteenth century, and modern ideas of ‘autonomy’ in art. At each point the module reflects on the shifting definitions and practices of art and visual culture. In the process, we hope to illuminate modern categories and how they came into being.

Book One focuses on the visual culture of the medieval period and the Renaissance. Rather than attempting a survey of art from around 1100 to roughly 1600, this long period is explored through carefully selected topics and themes. It asks fundamental questions such as: what do sacred representations signify? How might the study of architecture be approached? When did the idea of art develop and what should we make of images in an era before this category came into use? How did the consumption and uses of art change through time? Engaging with these questions, you will consider judgements about art and visual culture in a society very different from our own. The first part concentrates on the visual culture of medieval Christendom, exploring not only what we now think of as the ‘high arts’ of painting, sculpture and architecture, but also the wider visual representations that played a significant role in the cultures of the time. Material covered includes: the relation between the visual arts and religious culture; art and architecture of Great Churches, with a case study of Westminster Abbey; the work of the prominent Italian painter Simone Martini; and the distinctive visual culture that developed in the ‘Holy Land’ during the Crusades. The second part looks at art and other visual artefacts that were important in the period broadly designated ‘the Renaissance’, from approximately 1400 to 1600. The Renaissance is traditionally seen as one of the high points of European culture and important themes from this cultural moment are considered. Material investigated includes the art of aristocratic Courts; Sandro Botticelli’s memorable paintings; the role of gender in patronage; and the travels of El Greco.

Book Two investigates the art and visual culture of the period from roughly 1600 to 1850. This was the period in which a distinctly modern art world began to appear, with its own institutions and associated ideas about art and artists. The book assesses the significance and value of the labels traditionally used to define the art of this period, notably Baroque, Neo-classical and Romantic. In addition, it explores the ways in which art and visual culture were shaped by the ruling elites of different European countries, as well as considering the impact of socio-economic change and growing engagement with the world beyond Europe. The first part addresses the period from around 1600 to about 1760. Rather than attempting a broad survey of artistic developments, this part of the book highlights the way in which the relationship between the country and the city helped to shape different cultures of visual representation in different national contexts. Material covered includes: the embodiment of religious power in the restructuring of Rome by Bernini; seventeenth-century Dutch painting and the thorny problem of realism; the development of urban London; and the new culture of British landscape parks. The second part is concerned with the period from around 1760 to 1850. It explores some of the ways in which art and other visual forms responded to changing societies and contributed to the emergence of a recognisably modern world. It covers: the emergence of public exhibitions in Britain and France and the codification of genres and types of art; the representation of the body in Canova’s sculpture; the meeting of western travellers with Pacific islanders, as reflected in images; and the emergence of the Romantic ‘genius’.

Book Three examines the history of art and visual culture from roughly 1850 to the present day. It considers the development of modern art in Europe and North America and the impact made by an increasingly globalised art world. The book provides a good guide to changing ideas and forms of art that will be unfamiliar to some. Some artists in this period responded to the commercialisation of society by trying to demarcate art from visual culture, while others immersed themselves in popular imagery. Focusing on a series of key points, the book tracks these transformations. As well as considering painting and sculpture, it contains material on photography, print culture, architecture, design, installation and video. The first part covers the period from the middle of the nineteenth century to the end of the 1930s. It investigates the relationship between the processes of social and industrial modernisation that took place in western Europe and its colonies and the emergence of a variety of self-consciously ‘modern’ art forms. Material studied includes: Manet and the Impressionists; visual culture in nineteenth-century Britain, including William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites; Cubism and Abstract art; and modern Architecture. The second part considers the period from the 1940s up to the present day, including the consolidation and dominance of modernism in the New York art world and the subsequent opening up of a globalised art market. It includes material on: figurative painting and sculpture; Abstract Expressionism and Conceptual art; installations and site specific art; and artistic responses to the recent economic and political conditions of globalisation.

Associated Residential School Module

You may also be interested in The art history residential school (AXR272). This module develops the Open University art history curriculum, providing a balanced mix of classroom-based learning and first-hand experience of artworks. A key strength of the residential school is the emphasis on looking at actual works of art; and the excellent opportunity to take part in guided visits to prominent London galleries and museums: the National Gallery; Tate Modern; and the British Museum.

The module covers topics ranging from the art of the Renaissance to contemporary art and ‘non-western’ art and artefacts. The themes of the residential school complement and support existing art history modules without repeating their content.

You will learn

You will gain a grounding in Renaissance, eighteenth-century and modern art. However, you will also be introduced to the art of other periods and places. Further, you will develop an understanding of how art has been defined and its relation to other types of visual culture. The module provides an insight into the diversity of art history’s subjects and approaches and looks at a wide range of media, including painting, prints, photography, installation, architecture, sculpture and landscape. This broad introduction to art and visual culture ensures that you can make the transition to the two Level 3 modules, Renaissance art reconsidered (AA315) and Art of the twentieth century (AA318).

Entry

This is a Level 2 module and builds on the Level 1 modules The arts past and present (AA100), Voices and texts (A150) and Making sense of things: an introduction to material culture (A151). These Level 1 modules develop skills such as logical thinking, clear expression, essay writing and the ability to select and interpret relevant materials. They also offer an introduction to the range of subjects in the arts and humanities.

Your regional or national centre will be able to tell you where you can see reference copies of the Level 1 study materials, or you can buy selected materials from Open University Worldwide Ltd.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

Preparatory work

No preparatory work is necessary but, if you would like to do some reading in advance, you might like to look at A World History of Art by Hugh Honour and John Fleming (Laurence King Publishing). Despite its formidable size, this is a very accessible book, and you will find reading some of it provides interesting background for the module. The book is relevant from Part 3 onwards.

Regulations

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

If you have a disability

Written transcripts of any audio-visual components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader. Other alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future. Our Services for disabled students website has the latest information about availability.

One of the aims of the module is to enable you to make critical comparisons between the works of art and texts related to them. One of the learning outcomes for this module is for students to develop their ability to exercise powers of visual discrimination by direct engagement with works of art. Blind and severely partially-sighted students will experience difficulty in achieving this learning outcome. However, students who have a background in art history gained whilst usefully sighted will be able to draw upon this experience. No textual descriptions or alternative formats of reproductions will be available and the use of a sighted assistant to interpret the works of art would conflict with the required learning outcome. Blind and partially-sighted students are encouraged to contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service for advice before registering for this module.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Services for disabled students website for more information, including:

  • help to determine your study requirements and how to request the support that you need  
  • Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs)
  • using a computer for OU study
  • equipment and other support services that we offer
  • examination arrangements
  • how to contact us for advice and support both before you register and while you are studying.

Study materials

What's included

Three module books, three DVDs and a website containing a study calendar, online study guide with exercises and interactive materials, image gallery, audio recordings, video material and electronic versions of all the printed study materials.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this course as it includes online activities, which you can access using a web browser.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer since 2007 you should have no problems completing the online activities.
  • If you’ve got a netbook, tablet or other mobile computing device check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you use an Apple Mac you will need OS X 10.6 or later.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information including the details of the support we provide.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Lymberopolou, A Bracewell-Homer, P & Robinson, J (eds) Art & Visual Culture A Reader, Tate Publishing £18.99 - ISBN 9781849760485

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and who will mark and comment on your written work. Your tutor will use a blend of methods that will include face-to-face tutorials, some online tutorials and moderated online discussion forums. This blend of methods is designed to help you benefit from tuition whatever your circumstances.

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.

Assessment

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

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2014. We expect it to be available once a year.

How to register

To register a place on this course return to the top of the page and use the Click to register button.

Distance learning

The Open University is the world’s leading provider of flexible, high quality distance learning. Unlike other universities we are not campus based. You will study in a flexible way that works for you whether you’re at home, at work or on the move. As an OU student you’ll be supported throughout your studies – your tutor or study adviser will guide and advise you, offer detailed feedback on your assignments, and help with any study issues. Tuition might be in face-to-face groups, via online tutorials, or by phone.

For more information read Distance learning explained.

Are you already an OU student ? Go to StudentHome for information on choosing your next module.
Course facts
About this course:
Course code A226
Credits 60
OU Level 2
SCQF level 8
FHEQ level 5
Course work includes:
6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
2 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
Examination
No residential school

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