Is art history only for poshos? (ctd.)

January 20 2013

Image of Is art history only for poshos? (ctd.)

Picture: British Museum

Reader Dr Ben Thomas from the University of Kent's art history department writes with news of an interesting example of pioneering spirit from the art historical front line:

There have been some very interesting responses to your question ‘is history of art only for poshos?’. Your readers may be interested in some developments in the university department where I work since 2006.

Widening participation in art history has long been a concern for us at the University of Kent, where the majority of students come from state schools. It is clearly more difficult for students from less well-off backgrounds to support themselves through unpaid internships, and this does tend to mean that opportunities to get valuable work experience fall to those who can afford them. This is one of the reasons why at Kent we have been devising ways in which students can acquire the skills and experience that would make them more employable in the art world while they are studying for their degree. We have an internship module that at least allows students to earn credit for their degree while working voluntarily for an arts organisation or business, and this can be extended to a ‘year in industry’.  We also have ‘practice-based’ modules where students learn through engaging in projects that have a vocational focus. For example, my ‘print collecting and curating’ module involves students devising an exhibition based on the Kent Print Collection – a collection where only undergraduates can acquire works of art - and then realising it through making purchases or negotiating loans, and then curating the show and writing the catalogue. As well as learning how to contextualize the works they haveselected art historically, the students also learn how to manage a budget, work with partners and to deadlines, and to organise and promote an event. The catalogue for the last exhibition from this module can be found online here.

The four catalogues produced by students taking this course have been reviewed favourably by Print Quarterly and were recently described by Art in Print as ‘exemplary’. Another module of this type is ‘visual arts writing’ where the focus is on critical writing, and where students who have graduated from this module maintain a blog.

These courses are practical examples of ways in which students from all backgrounds can acquire relevant skills and experience, and hopefully start to challenge the perception that art history is a subject only for posh people.

Excellent - clearly, more art history departments should follow Kent's lead.

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