UA1-WA:P1 Learning to read

One of the important tasks at this level of study is “the acquisition of skills and good working habits” to quote from the OCA assessment criteria. Now I’m a few weeks into the course I thought it time to review how I’m going with one of the most important components of the course: reading. This may sound frivolous – I have been reading on a daily basis for a good many years – but I’m finding this a different sort of reading. There’s reading for pleasure, to get information grabs for a report, to cram for an exam… but this is different, and in a way without a specific outcome. Which I find a little uncomfortable, but having identified it (only now as I write and edit this post) I’ll note it, put it to one side for now, and go on now trying to read mindfully, taking in visual information as well as text, trying to be efficient about it but also effective, finding the balance between getting through the course and learning as much as I can on the way.

Above is the current basic setup. There’s a ceiling light above the table, but I have a few “daylight” table lamps for task lighting. One of the lamps has an attached magnifying glass, which is very handy for seeing the detail of illustrations.

Another key element is the mug of tea, however the focus of everything is the text book, the enormous A World History of Art. I’m taking notes, just points that interest me, to keep track of the structure of the information and how everything connects. In a way it helps me to slow down and take in what I’m reading.

wa-reading_02The notes help on the reading side, and I also occasionally try to sketch parts of illustrations. The point isn’t the drawings themselves, it’s just part of trying to take time to really look at the details. In this case, on the left is some of the patterning on a 8th century BC Attic Geometric amphora including some very static, schematic human figures. On the right is an attempt at a c. 480 BC statue where a slight turn and shift of balance gives a more dynamic, animated effect.

Also on the reading desk is a collection of reference material – course notes, The Hamlyn Historical Atlas (my geography is pretty weak), Art History: The key concepts (still learning the language) and the Oxford dictionary of architecture and landscape architecture. Part of this is of course to get extra information, but part is … again, I feel the need to slow myself down, to make sure I’m really concentrating and taking in what I’m reading not just ticking off pages.

wa-reading_03Not on the table but just a roll of the chair away is the computer. I only recently read (on another student’s blog that I think has since disappeared or been made private) that classic Greek statues were actually brightly coloured. An internet search brought up heaps of images and articles, most of which seem to be based on the work of Vinzenz Brickmann at the Glypotothek museum in Munich. The central coloured sketch on the left is based on an image of the cloak worn in a statue of Athena, seen in Tracing the colors of ancient sculpture from J. Paul Getty Museum ( (If you want to take a more informal approach, the website of the Acropolis Museum has a page where you can colour your own statue – – the internet can swallow as much time as you give to it).

What’s the point of this post? Well, this is my learning log and in my mind it seems to right place to reflect on my learning. I’m not sure I’ve found the best way to do a very basic and very important thing.

… more pause for thought … hmm, now I think I’ve got it. I’m nervous about this course. I want to show myself and anyone who has read this far that I’m trying. And now I’ve realised this I know I’ve written about it before – when I was starting my first OCA course (posted 25-Aug-2011). That time I mentioned a newspaper article, Courage can get pupils through academic blues by Kim Arlington, about work by Professor Andrew Martin, who has found that courageous students, who persevere despite difficulties, doubts or anxieties, can do as well as confident students. A slightly different approach was taken by a father who encouraged his children to fail – if you’re not failing you’re not trying enough (see

Well this isn’t the ending I expected when I wrote the first 80% of this post. I think now I’ve sorted out the underlying issue I can deal with it – but if you have any good tips on how to read, please leave a comment 🙂

Arlington, K. (2011) Courage can get pupils through academic blues The Sydney Morning Herald [on line] 19 August 2011. Available from [Accessed 29 March 2013].
Berry, S. (2013) Perfect failures The Sydney Morning Herald [on line] 25 March 2013. Available from [Accessed 29 March 2013].
Curl, J.S. (2006) Oxford dictionary of architecture and landscape architecture (2nd edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Harris, J. (2006) Art History: The Key Concepts. Abingdon: Routledge
Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art (revised 7th edition). London: Laurence King.
J. Paul Getty Museum (uploaded 2012) Tracing the colors of ancient sculpture [Accessed 29 March 2013]
Moore, R.I., (ed.) (1981) The Hamlyn Historical Atlas. London: The Hamlyn Publishing Group.
Open College of the Arts [n.d.] Assessment criteria for Theoretical Studies modules at OCA. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts. [Accessed 29 March 2013]

Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part one. Classical and religious art.
Topic: Reading for Art History

2 Responses to “UA1-WA:P1 Learning to read”

  1. 1 Nola March 29, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    Not so much a tip as a wry nod. I have always found this kind of reading challenging, and there was a lot of it in my archaeology days, lots of excavation reports with that particular blend of big picture and fine detail to be absorbed. One thing I learned was not to feel foolish about revisiting something several times over, because there were always things that I hadn’t taken in the first time. I think the brain takes in just what it needs or is capable of connecting with at any given time, which may not be all there is to understand.

    • 2 fibresofbeing March 29, 2013 at 9:41 pm

      A good point. If nothing else just a different frame of mind or slightly different context can mean you pick up something new.
      Thanks Nola.

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