Reflection on World History of Art and my final reflection on the course

I have amended this reflection after feedback from my tutor and in reference to some additional questions she has suggested I answer.

I start this short review with an observation of how strange it feels to be writing this – I started 21 months ago and I have been through one of the steepest learning curves I have ever experienced but it has been one of fascination, joy and more than a few periods of frustration as I have struggled to understand a style or concept.

In comparison to other art history texts I find WHA comprehensive and complex – there is so much information it can be difficult to comprehend particularly on an initial read through.  I have found I have tried different note taking methods but ultimately it comes down to targeted reading with specific questions in mind and this is made more difficult by the sheer volume of aforesaid information – it has felt at times like I am bombarded with mathematical equations!  However it is that information that has made this text the most informative of all I have read – it is a book that gives an overall view of the time periods in each chapter which then allows you to research further in other texts and delve deeper whether about a particular artist or concept or even work of art.

One thing I have realised is the importance of the first chapters concerning Greek and Roman art and culture as it forms the basis of so many artistic periods and styles that succeeded and I have decided even after the end of this course to continue to read and study this period in order to further my knowledge and understanding which in turn benefits my continued interest in those later periods.

I have struggled to summarise my notes particularly in regard to the final 3 chapters and hence my actual assignment notes are longer than required – my previous understanding of the 3 periods has been limited at best and abstract art of all genres in particular has baffled and befuddled me totally!  However if a text can give me one sentence in which I understand the concepts behind such artists as Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko then it has done its job and even if I am still no longer a fan of their works I can at least appreciate them.

The sections I have really loved  are the 7 chapters up until the 1700’s – I have found my real interest is for the art of the Renaissance and Baroque periods and the paintings of the Rococo if not the furniture and architecture. The understanding of classical antiquity has been vital but the understanding of the great masters and their works has become a passion – my final essay is on Artemisia Gentileschi who I consider one of the masters in her own right and who no doubt will remain a heroine to me for many years to come.

It is those visits to country houses and churches within my vicinity where I have found WHA has served a practical purpose – both my fiance and I have enjoyed exploring our local estates much more through the knowledge gained and shared in some lively discussions about the particular time period I have been studying and on many occasions it is not just me who has read part of a text or looked at a particular art work in the book!

My tutor posed some questions including suggesting I consider what aspects of my work do I think were the most successful?  this is easier to answer as which aspects have been my weakest?  the dreaded notes for the chapters are without question top of the list closely followed by the analyses and in particular trying to say all I wish to say within the word limit. The lengthy note taking and the issues with word limits are something that I am going to have continuously work on throughout my studies.  The analysis sections were also problematic, although I still enjoyed them, and I understand that along with the annotations they have been part of a huge learning curve.  The strongest aspects of my work relate to research although I have not been able to use as many different sources as perhaps I would like – my town library is not always well stocked and health has played a part in not always being able to get to it and financial constraints do restrict the books you can buy.  I do enjoy research immensely as I have an inquisitive nature and have often found that one link leads to another and takes you off in unexpected avenues which can lead to interesting points that are relevant or totally irrelevant subjects that you cannot stop reading about!  I did find that when I started to write my essay that perhaps the enjoyment of research played its part in the fact I feel writing longer pieces is my strongest and most successful skill and the one I want to build on further.

A second question relates to how have my critical thinking skills evolved and how I have I used them?  As I have stated above regarding the annotations and analysis pieces it has been an acute learning curve from the very beginning of the course to the end.  As I reflect back on my early blogs and my earliest annotations I can see how my writing style has changed and how I have learnt to think critically about what I read – my opinions are distinctly stronger and more informed and this translates to the critical writing.  I am prepared to consider different arguments to form my own thoughts and ideas and am prepared to stand by my argument, although not without any flexibility as I am always reading to read or listen to a different viewpoint – perhaps that flexibility and open mindedness is one of the ways my thinking skills have evolved the most.  I have been able to use the critical thinking skills particularly in my final essay including as I have re-worked it over the last few weeks and have also noticed that throughout the course my written work, including the annotations and analysis, have changed in style and tone quite drastically.

I have become considerably more confident in using the visual language of art history including the terminology and also discussing the aesthetics and this does not just apply to what I have been writing but also to some lively debates and discussions with my fiance on pieces  of artwork or as I work through different artistic arguments.  I am now confident enough to discuss art with other people whether in museums or at exhibitions with a level of knowledge and without feeling intimidated or if the piece is not something I have come across before I willing to ask questions and learn about it. This knowledge is crossing a range of different styles and movements – obviously my favoured Renaissance or Baroque works the reading has sunk in considerably more than perhaps that of the Romantics or the Rococo but I can still talk and discuss happily.  The terminology is something that takes a considerable amount of getting used to when you first start this course and it is very daunting initially and this also goes for having the confidence to discuss those aesthetic qualities of an art work.    My fiance has stated as I have read this paragraph to him that he feels I do realise the level of my knowledge and my confidence and he has witnessed me being able to talk to volunteers at National Trust properties more than happily and importantly knowledgeably – a measure of this is the fact he is now starting his own degree in classics but this may yet become art history because of this course!!

As I have stated above I have really enjoyed the research aspect and it is one of my strengths and I am prepared to read more complex texts which just 2 years ago I simply would not have had the first idea of what the first paragraph meant and now I can read with confidence and a willingness to to think about what is written and investigate much further.  I am also finding that if I see a piece of art or an artist of any genre I have become very enquiring and want to learn about it and this includes any new techniques or styles or terminology.

My tutor asks me “how would I judge your fluency in new ways of thinking, working, reasoning and investigating?” I am not sure if I could judge myself accurately but I can reflect on the fact my fluency in these new ways is getting considerably smoother and easier – if I think of starting to learn a language a person can struggle or stumble both over the written or spoken work including pronunciation but if you continue to learn you get to a stage where you are fluent enough to be understood and if you continue further you grow in confidence until you become totally fluent and comfortable with the language.  I feel at the stage I am far from totally fluent in the new ways of reasoning, thinking and working etc but I am at the stage I can make myself understood reasonably well and I can use these skills with a level of confidence and I have really started on a journey now to become totally fluent in the future.   I am prepared to reason and investigate in different ways including any different ways which may be suggested by my current tutor of any course and also to consider new ways of working which I may not have tried before.

A final question that has been posed is “how difficult was it to use different techniques/approaches in your studies?” Initially I found it very difficult as I had not studied art history before but the different techniques are something you learn and become accustomed too.  I have clearly struggled with the different types of note taking but have learnt to skim over the suggested text and marking and highlighting the areas I want to read in more depth. The techniques or approaches have been perhaps more difficult because I have not studied for a considerable length of time but the fact I want to carry on with my art history studies shows the fact that I have found these new skills very rewarding and useful – I do not just use the research,visual language, critical thinking oor reasoning just purely for study purposes but also in my day to day life and they have become an increasing part of my personality.

As I now go forward my aim of what I hoped to achieve by taking this course is already materializing as I am using my new-found knowledge of art history and artists already in my textile course work.

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