Archive for March 11th, 2013

Understanding Art 1: Western Art

Having completed and posted off the final assignment for Textiles 1: A Creative Approach I have now enrolled in Understanding Art 1: Western Art.

This may seem a slightly strange choice, given there is another Level 1 textiles course beckoning. I don’t really know what “Art History” as an academic discipline entails. There are several reasons for doing this next, and I find it hard-to-impossible to say which is/are most important to me.

  • I enjoy going to art exhibitions and galleries and I think that pleasure will increase with increased knowledge and understanding.
  • I want to improve my own design skills, and looking carefully and mindfully at the works of Masters must surely help. At least, I hope, I will be able to recognise some of my errors and weaknesses sooner and more clearly – which must be a basic step in learning and growing.
  • I’ve spent a lot of time researching and thinking about Art and Craft. The modern debate tends to be focused on avant garde art, but that doesn’t come from nowhere and I think understanding art history should help me to understand contemporary art, and both should help me understand more what it is I want to do.
  • I miss my weaving. I’ve been very busy with all sorts of textile work in A Creative Approach. It’s challenged and extended my skills and been satisfying in many ways – but I miss doing what I love doing, and doing what I choose to please myself. I’m sure Western Art will just as demanding of time and energy, but being much more academic and text-based I think it could leave some space in my mind and hands for weaving. The weaving doesn’t have to be something complex, just the mind-freeing rhythm and the pleasure of watching the cloth form pick by pick. Hence the red warp in plain weave. Nourishment.

I’d already gathered my reasons and made my choice when I read an article in Look, the magazine of the Art Gallery Society ( [an aside – I’m having trouble figuring out how to manage referencing in the blog. Full academic formality doesn’t really fit with a chatty blog / learning log. I’ll check with my new tutor, but in the meantime I’ll use simple footnotes and leave the formal “In (Smith, 2013)” or whatever to the formal assignments.] Susannah Smith (1), who is studying for a master of art history, describes her introduction to art history as a first year student and her on-going interest and excitement. She writes of the multiple meanings, historical insights and the thrill of hunting for information and deciphering puzzles. “It is the study of cultures and histories through artefacts of beauty, decoration, and narrative; it is an unravelling of historical and cultural meanings through visual signs”. So another excellent reason!

The textbook is daunting – a solid 3.5 kg, 984 page tome (2) – and the reading list even more daunting. Living in beautiful Sydney provides another challenge given there’s not much in the way of Roman remains or Gothic churches here. I’ve been spending some time locating resources – for example the Nicholson Museum at Sydney University is “home to the largest collection of antiquities in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere” (3), and it turns out that 20 years after graduating from Macquarie University I still have library borrowing rights. Time to get moving!

(1) Smith, S. (2013) Seeing the wood for the trees: Let me lead you up the garden path… Look: Art Gallery Society of New South Wales 0313, pp. 29-30
(2) Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art (revised 7th edition). London: Laurence King.
(3) [Accessed 9 March 2013].


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March 2013

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