I had quite a lot of choice in terms of deciding which History of Art module to take this semester. In previous years I haven’t had much choice at all, so I was pleasantly surprised. As a joint honours students, I could pick between Classical Aesthetics and its Legacy, From Drawing to Painting in the Italian Renaissance, and Conceptual Art and its Aftermath in Britain.
I ruled out the Italian art module, just because I did a similar class in my second year and, after having spent a year in Italy, I fancied something a bit different. I almost went for Classical Aesthetics – a module that focuses on the aesthetics of Plato and Aristotle and the different theories that proliferated in the history of art in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I realised that philosophy doesn’t really interest me that much, and I wasn’t sure I was cut out for it. My decision was basically made for me when I saw on my timetable that it clashed with one of my other classes. Conceptual Art it is then! Still disappointed that Japanese art modules aren’t a thing here (you can read that blog post here).
I’d never studied conceptual art before, so I was looking forward to something new. The one thing that daunted me a little bit was the fact that each seminar is led by us, the students. Every week, three students present one presentation each on a specific artist or theme. I’m not the most confident person when it comes to giving presentations. But actually it’s not as bad as I thought it would be! There’s only nine of us taking the class, so it’s not like I have to present in front of a whole lecture theatre or something.
A few weeks in and I’m really enjoying Conceptual Art and its Aftermath in Britain. I’ve always preferred modern art actually. In second year I did a module about European art between the years 1890 and 1940 – a module that is one of my personal favourites so far. Up to now we’ve focused on performance art, installation art, feminist art, politically engaged art, photography etc. and a few artists including Victor Burgin, Helen Chadwick, Stuart Brisley, Damien Hirst, Marc Quinn, Tim Head, Gustav Metzger etc.
Obviously the thing about conceptual art is that the concept or idea behind the art takes precedence over its beauty or appearance. A lot of conceptual art is quite politically-orientated and encourages audience participation. This makes analysing the conceptual art so much more difficult. Simply looking at a piece of conceptual artwork isn’t enough. You have to interpret it and figure out what the idea behind it might be, taking into account the social, cultural, and political context in which it was created. But that’s what makes it more interesting for me. The motives behind the creation of a conceptual artwork make it so much more powerful and effective.
Although I didn’t exactly choose to take this conceptual art module, I’m glad that I ended up doing it. Yeah, it’s a bit hard work, but basically all of my classes this year require a lot of work. Doing this module has made me realise that I know so little about the art of this generation, so I’m looking forward to learning more over the next few weeks.