What is History of Art?
Anything designed by human beings exhibits visual qualities that are specific to the place and period in which it originates. History of Art concentrates on objects generally described as ‘art’, though in Oxford this definition is framed broadly to embrace items beyond ‘Fine art’ or ‘Western art’. History of Art aims to arrive at an historical understanding of the origins of artefacts within specific world cultures, asking about the circumstances of their making, their makers, the media used, the functions of the images and objects, their critical reception and – not least – their subsequent history. As well as educating students in the historical interpretation of artefacts in their cultural contexts, a degree in History of Art provides skills in the critical analysis of objects through the cultivation of ‘visual literacy’. The acquired skills have broad applicability in a wide range of professional settings, as well as serving the needs of enduring personal enlightenment.
History of Art at Oxford
Oxford possesses unsurpassed resources for the study of visual cultures on a global basis. The University collections, including the world-famous Ashmolean Museum, provide subjects for first hand study under the supervision of those entrusted with their care. The historic architecture of the city and its environs supplies a rich source of study in its own right. The Oxford degree is designed to provide innovative insights into a wider range of world art than is available elsewhere in Britain in a single course, drawing its expertise from various faculties and the staff of University collections, as well as from the department itself. There is a strong emphasis upon how the primary visual and written sources from various periods and places can be analysed in different ways, as well as encouraging students to enquire about the nature of reactions to what we call ‘art’.
The cultural industries are one of the biggest employers in the world. In addition to museums and galleries, there are many governmental and non-governmental agencies that work to conserve, research and promote cultural heritage and to further the production
of art. Furthermore, History of Art graduates will be especially competitive for posts in any area that requires combinations of visual and verbal skills, such as publishing, advertising and marketing, as well as entering the wide range of professions available to all humanities graduates.