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Art History at Open University

Open UniversityArt, Design, Media and Music → Art History

I would first like to mention why I chose the Open University because it may be of some use to someone else. I have actually been to University and the Open University. This may sound a bit unusual but I will explain. Having spent several years at University full time, and finishing without any formal qualification, that is to say a degree, the whole experience could have been something of a waste of time.

University is not for everybody and not everybody passes etc. but that is not the point of the story. some years later I became interested in some information I had received about the Open University and thought it may be worth looking at again as it is difficult to get anywhere these days without formal qualifications.

I studied all the brochures etc and realised it could take up to six years to gain an Open University degree studying part time and it seemed like an awful long hill to climb considering I have already been through a similar experience to no avail. However on further investigation I found that if you have already undertaken some formal education ie University then you will be awarded credit points by the Open University for what amounts to up to two thirds of a degree, that is to say if you passed the first year or first two years of a degree course then the work you have done will be assessed and this will be deducted from the amount of work you will have to do to get an OU degree. It could be that a six year haul could be reduced to a couple of years of part time study in the best scenario. You do however still have to complete at least 120 points with the OU themselves out of the 360 needed for a full degree.

Most people complete a maximum of 60 points a year any more and the work load would become impractical, take it from me.

I do not think many people are aware of this opportunity because there are many people who leave college without the full qualification and feel as though they may have wasted their t ime. It is inspiring to think that you could still get your degree, even now, if you are out their sitting on half a degree, and do not want to waste the time you have spent studying, it is not too late.

My own personal experience with the OU was in the Arts and Humanities category. I took two units of History of Art to complete my degree, I was awarded the maximum of 240 points
from previous full time study.240 points is the maximum they will award you from an exterior source. I think the reputation of the Open University has gained credibility over recent years it used to be considered as a bit second rate, by ?proper? universities, but I think the balance has been redressed somewhat. Especially when there are so many distance learning courses available on the Internet and advertised in the press from other dubious sources the OU has a great deal more credibility than most, or even all of them. An OU degree these days is certainly respected and if you knew how much work goes in to them you would know why.

As an example the course I took, A316 Art and its Histories, Modern Practices and debates (no longer available, though it has been replaced with something similar, AA318) was divided into seven essay assignments each of 3000 words, you have to be within about 200 words max either way or loose marks, and a three hour written exam on the course work. The essays are marked on a continual assessment basis, send one in approximately once a month, when you receive a mark and some feedback from your personal tutor. This will tell you in what areas you need to improve, and also hopefully your good points!.there are opportunities to attend focus groups during the year, a kind of group tutorial where you meet other people on the course doing the same work, which can be useful, and with this particular course there was a summer school where I went to a London University for a week during the summer holidays where I met other students on the course etc like the half day tutorials you get during the year but for a week. this does not happen for every course but the one I did was a level 3 course which is when these summer schools are most common. It was like being at university for a week, I suppose and the week was divided up into lectures, field trips (trips to the national gallery, Tate Modern etc), and group tutorials and discussion. Most days would include and start with a group session a particular subject say expressionism and that would be the discussion for the morning. In the afternoon there would be a trip to say Tate Modern to look at some of the work that had been discussed where we were expected to make notes and answer questions in order to follow the subject up on return to the school. It was a fairly intensive week but worth it, and it put the whole years work in to perspective. Meeting other people doing the same work is very useful and interesting, especially when you spend so much time working on your own.


The part I did not look forward to or enjoy was the written exam at the end of the year. No one likes exams and this one is no different. There is a choice of about twenty essay titles, of which you need to answer three I think. The advice you are given is to be relevant stick to the point and don?t wander off the subject, and write everything you know about an artist just to impress the examiner. Basically I ignored all of this advice, it is fine talk but when you get in there and find you can not answer any of the questions what else can you do. You have to write as much as you can as fast as you can and try to make what you know sound like the answer to the question by manipulating it ant way you can. This is what I did, and I did pass in case you were wondering, I do not know if I was inspired or just lucky. My advice would be, if you cant write anything you think is relevant, just start writing, you do not know what is going to given marks in the end, and you can not pass if there is nothing on the paper. I had to go through that ordeal twice as I did two units in two consecutive years and I was glad when they were over.

I think despite all this it was enjoyable overall and it was worth it in the end as I got my degree. This review is really aimed at encouraging other people with half a degree to finish it off, though I hope it will be of some use to others as well.

For the other unit I needed to complete my degree I took A216 ?art and its histories?. This is a level 2 course and still available. If I had taken another level 3 course I could have got an honours degree which is something I did not really take into account enough at the time, something I partially regret now but at the time I took a subject I knew something about rather than undertake an area of study I knew nothing about, and risk not passing at all, I did not want to spend another year chasing this degree. Also I did not know that if you want to go on to study an MA full time at a University you will need at least an Hons degree and preferably a good one. This was not on my agenda at the time, but if it is on yours you need to be very careful as to which courses you take as they will affect what you can do in the future not just in employment terms but also in terms of study. There are many pitfalls, and you really need to speak with one of the advisors at the OU before you undertake any kind of study.

If you have some kind of grounding in Art education then you can choose which level of study you want to go in at. I had already completed two years on a degree level arts course and so had spent some considerable time studying the subject, what with O levels, A levels, foundation course and finally degree, so I started with what is equivalent to the third year of a degree course. Not to be advised if you are new to the subject. I had already formed a lot of opinions and ideas before I took up the OU courses and basically just used them to fit with the essay questions which I was presented with. I did not read a lot of the course material, I did not read any of the advice on answering the questions and I did not really read the text books provided. I think I had spent so long studying the subject already, I really could not be bothered to read one more opinion from one more person at the time and basically improvised the whole thing. The books at level three are very demanding and if you are not in the right frame of mind there is no point even undertaking it, unless of course you are a self opinionated know all who does not need to read any books.

There were four books with A316 Modern Art Practices and Debates, Book 1 Modernity and Modernism, Book 2 ;Primitivism, Cubism Abstraction, Book3 ;Realism, Rationalism, Surrealism, Book4 ; Modernism in dispute, packed with Pictures and fairly heavy reading, all of which needs to be inwardly digested, considered and used to form your opinions. There were several books of colour plates which I myself took to pieces and stuck to the walls, hundreds of them in order to memorise their content for the exam. Also with the course came a couple of videos and several audio tapes. The audio tapes were basically discussions between the authors of the books to be studied, in which they discussed and elaborated the major themes. Quite useful to hear people actually talking about the work as you miss out on lectures with the OU. Also you will need to buy or borrow a video recorder to tape the accompanying television broadcasts, shown on BBC at some unearthly hour unless you want to get up at 3.30 in the morning to watch them. There is not really enough time to take in all of the information on watching so it is advisable to record them for later viewing anyway. There is a service where you can borrow any programmes you missed.

The replacement for A316 is AA318, this is basically an updated version of the course I did. If you want to take the new course you will have four books to study Frameworks for Modern Art, Art of the Avant-Gardes, Varieties of Modernism, Themes in Contemporary Art, I can not comment too much on this course as I have not done it only that it the replacement for the course I did, there is the same summer school, same points awarded (60), same level of study(3) etc. The cost is 805 and the next start date is January 2005.

If you are on benefits the cost of the course need not be a barrier. These courses are expensive, A316 was around 700, for a years home study, group tutorials, and with that course a weeks summer school in London. Accommodation food and field trips were all included in the price. If you were on benefits when I was doing it you could apply for financial aid from the OU which covered virtually all this cost. I do not know if this scheme is still in operation, I seem to think that it was undergoing review just as I was finishing, if you were interested in this you would need to look into this, it would be worth it. Also if you were on benefits when you started the course but in employment part way through you were not expected to pay the money back, again these things change and you would need to look into this if this is your situation. The OU have a scheme were if you find yourself in better circumstances some years on and you want to pay something back, you can make a donation of whatever you like, in order to maintain the OU and help other people who come in the future. This entirely voluntary, but something to bear in mind if you do not like the idea of taking what to some people might seem like charity. I would certainly not have any reservations about taking whatever help you can get from the OU financial or otherwise, it is after all what they are there for.


There is also an OU students association were you can keep in contact with other students, wether they are doing your course or another, they have several services to offer, I do not know quite wha t they are as I did not bother with them much. When it is all over there is no need to feel excluded as there is an Alumni association you can join for free.

When the study is over and hopefully you will have passed, there is the awards ceremony which is every bit as grand as the regular universities, you get to wear the robe etc, though peculiar to the OU they do not have the traditional mortar board (hat), it is not part of their ceremonial costume, though the robes are the same, a different colour for each subject. I believe you can take your own mortar board if you want for the photographs but I do not think you can wear them in the ceremony. There is a choice of venue for the ceremony, generally these are town halls all over the country the idea being that you can choose one near you so you can invite friends and family. If you prefer something a bit grander there is also an awards ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall, you do not have to be from London or the south anyone can go, but if you want this make sure you put your request in early as you can guess this is the most popular venue. At my ceremony there were about 300 people I suppose, any way it was the main hall and it was packed full with students and relatives. It is a fairly short ceremony. There was an organist playing everyone in, playing like a church organ, I think its part of the building, the acoustics were very overpowering, very dramatic. The senior members of the OU eventually filed in, and the head of the OU was there who made a short speech, and the there was what seemed like an endless procession of students who went up on to the stage one at a time to receive their award. It seemed to take forever, there must have been at least 300 people getting awards, and there were two ceremonies that day. What I am saying is that if you spend all those years getting the degree you might as well go out with a bang, go for the Royal Festival Hall as a Venue, if you can make it down to London, a nd not some tatty local town hall.

I think there are a lot of personal recommendations and experiences you can make, and I have tried to relate some, however if you intend to take up this kind of study you really need to talk to a professional advisor at the OU which is only a phone call away and it may prevent you from a lot of unseen pitfalls, and help you make the right choices. I would recommend this type of study to any one who finds themselves unable to go to a regular university, and would rate this above any of the other distance learning courses, not that I have much experience with others but this one is tried and tested, and at the end of the day an OU qualification is respected which is of the upmost importance. Some of these online degree courses you can get in a year or so advertised on the web basically will not be worth the paper they are printed on.

If you need any further information you will find your local OU centre in the phone book.

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Written by Anonymous on 16th Oct 2007


Open UniversityArt, Design, Media and Music → Art History

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