Research exercise: Question 1 – Political, economic and social factors


As this is my first note for my course I am starting this with an example of a piece of architecture as an art discipline and one I know well and saw being built so feel I have some knowledge on the factors above in the way that they will have influenced it – The Quad, Derby.

The building is that of steel and glass and very reflective of modernist architecture and design from the early 20th century onwards.

Derby is a city which has been regenerating over a number of years and this building was at the time for me an unexpected choice maybe because of the modernist nature – the actual location is right in the city centre in The Market Place and has a mixture of Victorian and more modern buildings nearby including The Guildhall (built in 1828) and The Assembly Rooms (built 1977) as well as The Cathedral Quarter and also Derby Cathedral itself very nearby.

The designs for this building were considered for their innovation and sensitivity to the area (which would have included the 2 building above) plus other factors and the choice was certainly controversial for the people of Derby.

The political situation here in Derby was that of no one main party having overall control between 2003 and 2005 (the design was chosen in 2004) and that does make me now question how much that had an effect? There was no one political party with defined views and I would argue each party would have a preference for styles of architectural design even if only voiced behind cabinet doors.

Economically but without having the public consultations to hand I am aware that the cost of the work would have been a major consideration in the design due to the fact that The Quad itself is a relatively new registered charity and and was formed when 2 well established art organisations formed a cultural partnership with the council.  Economic factors will also have been a bearing in where to site The Quad and by this I mean the charity and council will have wanted the building to be in a place that is easily accessible but also in a central location that ultimately would be financially strongly beneficial – personally I feel that it would have been better suited with the design to be near the university as that whole area is very modern in the building design but there can be no mistaking that the economic figures add up as it has been a huge success and this is without doubt down to both its location and its very striking design. What will be interesting now is whether The Quad will have any influence on if the council decide to demolish and rebuild after a fire in 2013 caused major damage to the Assembly Rooms opposite it – the original building was built in 1765-1774 and destroyed by fire in 1963 so as I write I am watching more keenly now to see how this develops because if they do rebuild how will the new and third design be influenced by the political, economic and social factors in this city .

The Quad building is one that connects business and the public because it’s sole aim is to make art and film accessible to everyone – it has been designed in such away people of all ages, cultures and disabilities have full access to it.  So Social factors were clearly a huge part of the design from its first concepts and all the factors that the council requested had to be taken into full consideration and these social factors, for me at least, have been well borne out as it is a popular meeting place and whenever you walk past there is always art displayed in the windows.  [note will add photo]

Other art forms are also effected by these factors – in the applied arts of textiles and ceramics as well as interior design or fashion are all strongly influenced in different ways:

  • in textiles I have noticed through having a keen interest in quilting that there is a move towards recycling or ‘up cycling’ fabrics and textiles into new quilt designs and used in different ways such as 3 dimensional quilted items or ‘art quilts’.  There is no question that economic factors are having a direct impact as are environmental factors caused by the current political situation and by this I mean that many quilters want to quilt but are recycled fabrics because financially they simply cannot afford to buy new expensive fabrics and this may be due to governmental legislation affecting salaries or financial cuts affecting any benefits and local businesses.  This also applies to textiles as there seems to be a move towards using more recycled fabrics, cords and also natural dyes too and if not used solely in this way then it is often in conjunction with new materials and dyes.  In textiles there is also a strong move to experiment with new techniques too and this is without question down to social factors – we are exposed to many more cultures and techniques from both the west and the east of the world and this is affecting choices of threads, fabrics, threads and even the smallest details of beads as well as influencing our designs.  Artists are much more likely to travel or to relocate and again are influenced by social and economic factors of either the place they are visiting or the area they relocate to live plus obviously any local politics which affect the nature and type of local businesses  (travel is particularly exciting here as different textiles in different areas are very much affected by these factors e.g. historically Irish shirt quilts were made out of a necessity for bed quilts but during hard economic times which meant literally using fabric left over from shirts). There is also the use of the internet socially and again this is meaning that many textile artists can research arts and textiles easily and also economically (the internet enables us to ‘go to’ other countries without the economic cost of travel if we do not have the personal finances available) as well as being able to communicate with other artists in other countries which in turn will have their countries affected by these same factors.
  • Taking ceramics as my next example – this has been a surprising interest as it seems there is a simplicity to many designs but with a traditional edge or maybe a traditional design or shape with references towards history and I do question that this is being influenced by social and economic factors i.e. in today’s world we are more likely to be able to travel and research even with some financial constraints and this enables the historical research but this is combined with social factors in the fact of migration and influence of different cultures. There is the influence of modern technology for many in both the design process and the tools available to create the work with some ceramic artists beginning to be working with the latest digital technology and this is directly influenced by economic factors which in turn will be effected directly by any politics of the government and current financial legislation or indeed the simple and age old factor of taxes and bank rates – for many this is a major factor in how a ceramic artist may work and what tools they can afford.
  • Regarding painting this is where I admit at this point I am struggling more because my primary interest is more historical art and I freely admit at this point not be so keen on contemporary art although still interested but realise this is a weakness. However my impression just through observation in the course of my life and some initial research is that many modern artists seem to be wanting to shock or surprise their audience – it is as if some are rebelling against society or against the politics of the governing party.  Many artists  seem to be trying to make a strong political statement – Banksy the graffiti artist is particularly known for this. In the 1980’s many artists work reflected the greed of society of the day and now there also seems on observation to be a trend towards either very dark and monotone paintings or very bright and vibrant – both could be taken in context with politics as both can be interpreted as reactions and reflections to said politics and society i.e. the dark monotone reflecting the hard financial and economic and indeed social times the west is having and the dangers that are currently threatening with the brighter vibrant and sometimes very simplistic paintings trying to rebel against the political and economic hard times. It does seem that economic factors are a strong influence on the painters work.

These contemporary paintings maybe looked at in the coming generations as reflective of our society in the same way the propaganda posters of World War 2. There is however still still a harking back to historical techniques and themes but bringing them up to date with new colours and influences from other cultures caused by social migration and social movement within our countries in the west.

There are other points to consider too which affect art in general:

  •  Social factors are for me probably the biggest factors and the most obvious too – there is more a mix of shapes, colours and design influences from a vast range of different countries with influences in particular in England from Europe with migration caused directly by political and economic factors in those countries as well as our own.
  • Some migration by artists from other countries may be due to political persecution – this may be down to religious factors too so this does mean effectively in the west there are artists in exile and this means that those artists bring their own cultures and pictures or photographs or just memories with them and translate them into works of art in different mediums – some maybe textiles or painters or sculptures and without question interior design and architecture too.  Many people in third world  or communist countries are politically down trodden and if they leave those countries for the west then they bring their art with them – many may be given the opportunity to develop a talent for the first time and bring into western art influences from they own area.  The east has long since been inspirational for many western artists (myself included as I love the combination of east and west art).
  • On the subject of artists in all different genres developing their talent there is issue of the fact that many people are now becoming mature students because they were simply unable to afford to study at younger ages or maybe for women they had families or simply they needed to earn a living – the costs of training artists is huge and that does prevent many adults from pursuing what they really wish to do. Tuition fees in UK are huge and the advent of distance learning with the availability of student loans for part time students is enabling more artists to train – this is a direct economic factor because the legislation is governmental legislation and therefore political legislation and there is no question these factors will have a direct bearing on an artist-in-training’s work too.
  • Politically we are living in unsettled times with the rise of the far right again in Europe and the EU fighting with the various member countries and there can be no doubt this will have be having an influence on painters in particular whose work seems to speak so much and is such a reflection on our times but these unsettled times will also be reflected in the works of ceramicists, textile artists and photographers too as well as all other disciplines.  There are also new rules on taxation for designs to be sold which the effect of this has yet to be seen – I question whether that will change the way some artists work and will indeed stop many totally because of our need to earn a living.
  • Socially although we technically have free movement that is not always that simple and I do wonder if there are pockets of exiled or persecuted artists.  On the other hand though art is becoming more accessible to everyone with the growth of graffiti artists, urban art and the beautiful and stunning chalk art you often see in town centres – this art is bringing art out of public galleries and into the streets literally and enabling more people to appreciate it.  Some the chalk art I have seen is of famous paintings so if people take the time to speak to the artist they are also being educated.
  • The last economic point is one I have already touched on in my paragraph on ceramics – it is the simple factor of the cost of art materials which are expensive which directly impacts on the work people are able to do as it depends on their personal budget as many crafters and artists will testify too and again political legislation with economic cuts or taxation has a direct effect on our personal funds.  It takes time and money to build a good portfolio and for many the costs of crafts put them off and also they may simply not have the right support or get disheartened too – the latter point comes down to a social factor because with the right support many who want to study art can.  A direct example – I have always stitched and loved textiles and crafts but felt unable to do so due to the social situation I was in both the people surrounding me and my then marriage and economics but my beloved fiance is the one who actually found the OCA course and encouraged me to do it and who has been brilliant to bounce ideas off even from this very first question as he has a massive interest in art history plus my friends I have now provide the social support that will be needed during the course of my studies.  On the OCA student site there is also social interaction with other students on your courses which is desperately important and no doubt all these factors will be reflected in my own work.  Economically it has meant the aforesaid student loans and the governmental political legislation that surround them so as a developing artist who is learning to watch around me with new eyes I am being directly affected by all social, economic and political factors that affect all art practitioners as are every one of my fellow undergraduates.

For my own note: an interesting first question to answer because you do not realise on a day to day level just how much everything around you will have a direct impact on an artists work and the style that it may take that will reflect attitudes of the time period. Whether consciously or subconsciously an artists work will be a reflection of the world around them and be influenced by all the factors – it is a decision the artist makes as to whether they make a direct statement or not but either way their style will still be in many years to come reflective of this era and the many social influences in particular with the different mix of cultures and techniques that may be the biggest and most obvious statement for many particularly I feel in textiles and interior design i.e. the applied arts but maybe the economic and political will be seen more in the fine arts or just a combination. I do feel that paintings and photography are almost the windows on the world in our current era and reflect most closely the factors of politics, economics and social  factors (paintings and fine arts including drawings are the original form of photography) whilst ceramics, textiles and other applied arts still reflect those factors but sometimes in a more abstract form – with all arts the artist interprets those factors in the way they visualise and see our world.  


Please note I am writing this after the end of the course as I review my blogs in preparation for assessment and have discovered some blogs in which I had not correctly noted my references down.  I had yet to learn how to use the Harvard Referencing system and where possible I have updated the blogs but in some cases such as this I can only refer to the blog named BIBLIOGRAPHY in my Research and Reference section for a general list of sites were used during this first part of the course

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