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Boardroom

Arts graduates - do you have that one friend who always criticises your degree? Well, we have some good news - a new report released by the British Academy has evidence to back you up.

The Academy has published a report into the skills that the 1.25 million students who study arts, humanities and social science (AHSS) develop through their degrees.

Researchers found that the skills in demand from employers were the same as those developed by studying AHSS: namely, communication and collaboration, research and analysis, and independence and adaptability.

Oxford set the agenda for this kind of research in 2013, when it commissioned a report into the destinations of Oxford graduates of English, History, Philosophy, Classics and Modern Languages.

After tracking the employment history of 11,000 graduates, it found that 16-20% were employed in key economic growth sectors of finance, media, legal services and management by the end of the period. Over the period, the number of graduates employed in these sectors rose substantially.

The British Academy’s report takes this further and pinpoints why it is that AHSS graduates have such success in these fields. And Oxford’s Head of Humanities, Professor Karen O’Brien, is delighted.

"We warmly welcome the report's articulation of the higher level skills and competencies which arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS) bring to the national workplace,” she says.

“The report demonstrates the valuable ability of AHSS graduates to evaluate ambiguous information and to seek nuanced solutions in contexts of social and cultural complexity.

"At a time when many jobs are likely to be lost through automation, the communicative and analytical skills imparted by AHSS degrees may become more relevant than ever."

Brains

This is the latest in the Artistic Licence series.

Growing up in Germany, studying in English, speaking Russian with her parents, and learning French in Belgium: languages have always been a central part of Swetlana Schuster’s life.

And now she’s a PhD student at Oxford’s Language and Brain Lab, using scientific techniques to see how languages make our brains tick.

“I was always really interested in linguistics, even when I didn’t know much about the academic discipline," she says. "At that point, I was really interested in learning languages.

“And I wasn’t just interested in mastering a new language. I wanted to know what was going on in our brains when we speak one.”

Swetlana is a native German speaker, and grew up in Aachen, Germany. After a childhood learning French and English, and making her own connections between the languages, Swetlana sat down in a lecture theatre at Cambridge for her very first lecture on psycholinguistics.

“I was just blown away. It was incredibly interesting,” she remembers.

Three years later, she came to Oxford to complete an MPhil at the Language and Brain Lab. Now, she’s in the midst of a PhD (or DPhil, as they are known here), working with Professor Aditi Lahiri, and her own experiences have always criss-crossed with her research interests.

Swetlana’s research looks at how native German speakers process words in the brain. This work has also made Swetlana think more about how our brains respond to second (or third or fourth or fifth) languages when we learn them.

Her research has taken her from Leipzig to Chicago to California, using the sort of equipment that we’re more likely to associate with the sciences than the humanities.

“We use fMRI scanners and an EEG system for part of the experiments,” Swetlana explains.

This means that Swetlana has spent a lot of time examining fMRI scans and carefully placing electrodes onto participants’ heads. She even had the opportunity to run experiments at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig.

“The process of collecting your data can be quite challenging, especially when you’re running experiments abroad,” she says. “But Leipzig was such an exciting opportunity. I learnt so much from collaborating and sharing ideas.”

Now back in Oxford, Swetlana is writing up her research and making the most of Oxford life, both within and outside of the Lab.

“There’s something very special about the Linguistics Faculty,” Swetlana says. “It’s a really supportive environment but also intellectually stimulating.”

And outside of work, college life offers the opportunity to see what else is going on in Oxford’s labs and libraries.

“It’s really fun to be friends with people who have interests in areas completely different to you,” she says.

This is especially interesting for Swetlana, who has thought about how her brain scans and electrodes, which some might think are out of place among the manuscripts and archives of the humanities, fits in to humanities research.

“The idea in our Faculty is to see how everything is connected,” she says. “Looking at how languages change over time, for example. I love how we contribute different approaches to the big questions.”

Another big question is how Swetlana’s research relates to her own language-learning brain.

“It’s made me think about my own languages,” she says. “Bilingualism is something we’re looking into more and more, sometimes from unexpected angles.”

After her DPhil, Swetlana hopes to carry on in research. She’s also interested in language technology, and how language-learning apps could help us learn languages more effectively - so that we, too, could learn to gossip in German or flirt in French.

“I’ve really enjoyed the past six years,” Swetlana says. “And I’m excited to keep on exploring.”

SwetlanaSwetlana is studying a PhD in linguistics

Revisiting Genesis

An artist at Oxford University has won the 2017 Film London Jarman Award.

Oreet Ashery was recently appointed as Associate Professor of Contemporary Art at The Ruskin School of Art and a Fellow of Exeter College.  

She has made an immediate impact, winning the prestigious award for UK-based artists working with the moving image. Her successful entry was a 12-part, web-based video series called Revisiting Genesis.

The series looks at the modern death industry and follows an artist with cystic fibrosis and a painter who has had cancer, as well as carers, friends and curators. The films contained stories of Syrian refugees and the people trying to help them, which she recorded in Thessaloniki, Greece earlier this year.

The Guardian interviewed Oreet about her work here.

'I was interested in how people work together,' Oreet told The Guardian. 'Telling stories in a darkened room. Even if no one speaks, that is a story, too.'

Anthony Gardner, Head of the Ruskin School of Art , said: 'We're thrilled that Oreet's enormous talent has been recognised with this award, given in honour of one of the UK's great film-makers to celebrate the next generation of artists using film and moving-image.

'And like Derek Jarman himself, Oreet is not only a great artist but also a great teacher and mentor, which makes her success with the Jarman Award even more fitting.' 

The Ruskin School of Art has punched above its weight in the art prize categories in recent years. In the last three years alone, its tutors and alumni have won two Turner prizes (Elizabeth Price and Helen Marten), one Hepworth prize (Helen Marten) and now a Jarman Award.

The Film London Jarman Award recognises and supports the most innovative UK-based artists working with moving image, and celebrates the spirit of experimentation, imagination and innovation in the work of emerging artist filmmakers.

Launched in 2008 and inspired by visionary filmmaker Derek Jarman, the Jarman Award is unique within the industry in offering both financial assistance and the rare opportunity to produce a new moving image work.

There is an interview with Oreet Ashery in The Guardian here. You can watch Revisiting Genesis here.

Oreet AsheryOreet Ashery

Christina Holka

Jade

This is the latest in the Artistic Licence series.

Art is part of all our lives. But if you’ve ever tried putting paintbrush to paper, or slipped on a pair of ballet shoes, you’ll know that it’s not easy to make it.

Because most of us can draw a face, or shuffle awkwardly and call it dancing, but few of us will paint sunflowers as well as Van Gogh or tap dance like Fred Astaire. But why not? What makes good art good?

Dr James Grant, philosophy tutor at Exeter College, is using the tools of philosophy to explore that very question.

Looking at artworks across the spectrum - from performance to sculpture to oil painting - he’s exploring what differentiates the doodles from the Dali.

“I want to see if there is an overarching theory of what features make an artwork good,” he says.

And, taking inspiration from Aristotle, he’s come up with a novel argument.

Dr Grant argues that good art exhibits “excellences”.

“Excellences” are attributes that demonstrate high levels of thought, character, and perception. Two key excellences are imaginativeness and good craftsmanship.

So if your artwork is highly creative, and includes a high level of skill, chances are it’ll be a good one.

This might all sound obvious—but Dr Grant’s theory contributes to big debates in philosophy.

He hopes to show that art is not just instrumentally valuable - valuable because it serves a purpose, like making us feel good - but intrinsically valuable - good in its own right.

“I think this provides a new argument for the intrinsic value of art,” he says.

So what is an example of a good artwork that has these excellences?

“I find Chinese jade sculptures very interesting,” Dr Grant says. “Jade is extremely hard to work with, so there’s incredible skill behind these pieces.

“Another example would be Gaudí’s architecture. Not everybody likes it, but it’s imaginative. The Sagrada Familia cathedral is a pretty dramatic manifestation of imaginative thinking.”

Dr Grant hopes that, by thinking about art in this way, we might start to appreciate beauty, and art, differently.

“Many people talk about art as if it’s valuable only because we get pleasure from it. I’m arguing that, when you appreciate and enjoy a good work of art, it’s also true that you get pleasure from it because it’s valuable,” he says.

So that’s all there is to it. If you hone your skills, and think creatively, you too could make art to rival Rembrandt. Better get practising.

Apollo

This is the latest in the Artistic Licence series.

Everyone knows a Dave. But how many of us know an Apollonios?

Apollonios, Ἀπολλώνιος in its original Greek, is derived from the name of the God Apollo, and was a popular name in the Ancient World.

And a long-running project in the Classics Faculty has spent the past 45 years collecting and recording thousands and thousands of similar names—to create a dictionary all of the personal names that men and women went by in Ancient Greece. These names can give fresh insights into Ancient Greek society.

The Lexicon of Greek Personal Names (LGPN) was established in 1972. Its aim is to scour Ancient Greek literature, inscriptions, graffiti, coins, vases, and other artefacts, and create a dictionary of all of the names found in them.

By collecting these names, researchers hope to shed light on the social history of the Ancient Greek world. Names can help us to understand how religion shaped society, how naming patterns changed, and even how some Ancient Greek names have survived to this day.

Take Apollonios (Ἀπολλώνιος). Because it derives from the God Apollo, is it known as a ‘theophoric’ name—a name that comes from the Gods. This sort of name was common in Ancient Greece, and give us an insight into which Gods were important at different times.

“The names reflect various levels of religion and piety,” says Dr Michael Zellmann-Rohrer, a researcher for the LGPN project. “It’s a much richer record than literary texts or even temples.”

This is because, while it may be normal to find tributes to Gods in temples, naming your beloved child after a God shows a much stronger sense of devotion. “Parents are expressing their relations to the Gods in the naming of their children,” Dr Zellmann-Rohrer says.

These days, theophoric names like Apollonios or Demetria—after the goddess Demeter—are not so common in English. But some traditions have stayed around.

“I was named after my father,” says Dr Zellmann-Rohrer. “Naming a child after a parent or grandparent is quite common—and people did it in Ancient Greece too.”

So chances are that Zosimos (Ζώσιμος) might well decide to call his baby daughter Zosime (Ζωσίμη), just as Dave might decide on Davina.

And some names have even lasted to the present day.

“For various reasons, Greek names do continue, some of them via Christianity,” Dr Zellmann-Rohrer says. One example is Theodore, which comes from Theodōros, and means “God’s gift.”

In the volumes, which are organised by region, researchers record all the names they find, where they found them, and note any well-known individuals who bore the name.

It’s a huge task, but has benefited from being collaborative from the beginning. A small group of researchers work on the project full-time from their Oxford office, but are supported by an international community of scholars.

“It’s one of the good traditions of the project,” says Dr Zellmann-Rohrer. The volumes are also available online, so that everybody can access and learn from them.

Currently, Dr Zellmann-Rohrer is working on the Near East, combing sources for names from that area. He works alongside Professor Robert Parker and Dr Jean- Baptiste Yon, the co-Principal Investigators, and Mr Richard Catling and Dr Jean-Sébastien Balzat, who are co-editors.

To explore the world of Ancient Greek names, or see if you might have Greek roots yourself, visit the LGPN website.