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In the first of a new series, NEC student Fleur talks about her experience studying A level History of Art during the coronavirus lockdown, and where you can access great works of art online.

What I think about when I think about art

‘Historic Photographs: To Crawl Into – Anschluss, Vienna, March 1938’

“(…) For the first time ever, images of art have become ephemeral, ubiquitous, insubstantial, available, valueless, free. They surround us in the same way as a language surrounds us. They have entered the mainstream of life over which they no longer, in themselves, have power.” – John Berger, Ways of Seeing

So here I am a couple of months into my art history course and I am going to attempt to put into words the ‘Way I am Now Seeing’ art and my thoughts on studying A level History of Art through distance learning. However, due to the current ‘insert preferred adjective’ times, the way I am now seeing art is an even more solitary pursuit than I could have ever imagined.

The Ambassadors – Hans Holbein the Younger

I am in the early stages of learning this new language and like any budding new linguist the advice is to get out there. You to feel your tongue embrace the new succession of vowels and hear the alien syllables echo around a room of bemused native speakers. I want to smell the polish of the floorboards and hear them creak. I want to stand next to a stranger so we can tilt our heads together while we take advantage of a temporary ray of dust-filled light that illuminates the texture of one of Holbein’s ambassadors’ coats.

But the doors to my local art galleries remain closed.

However one of the joys of distance learning (and aren’t we all distance learners now?) is the ability to zoom into the works of art in a way that I would never be permitted to do in real life for fear of unleashing the wrath of a gallery assistant. You can see each individual brush stroke. Often art galleries are so busy that there simply isn’t enough time to see the whole work of art as it was meant to be seen; I know my visits are always tinged with the anxiety of being in the way of the focal point of the scene and the exhibitions are sometimes so gargantuan that, I am ashamed to say, I sometimes end up treating the whole afternoon like a mad dash artistic assault course in my attempt to ‘see everything’.

(There is a tiny hare in that Turner painting about to meet it’s doom by the way…something that you would only be able to zoom into on a digital version.)

Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway, J. M. W. Turner

Spending hours with one paintings is a meditative simple pleasure, and the act of studying art history has equipped me with a plethora of questions I can ask of one work. By asking these questions I get closer to the emotion of the work and I am able to better understand my ‘gut feeling’ and, in turn, the human condition.

I think that’s something we all need a little bit of right now.

Written by Fleur, one of our A level History of Art students.

Where can you access art online?

Looking at Collections: A How to Guide for Researchers

This project is being put together by the University of Cambridge Museums. As our office is based in Cambridge, the Fitzwilliam museum is our local gallery and one that everyone enjoys visiting. This resource shows you how to plan and execute a research project and could be a good source of advice: https://www.museums.cam.ac.uk/lookingatcollections/

The Courtauld Virtual Tour

Technology and the arts are often seen to be in opposition. However, this virtual tour proves that you can have a gallery experience from your own home. With high definition imagery and the ability to “walk” from room to room, settle down with a notebook and a cup of tea and take in these artworks: https://courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/about/3d-gallery-virtual-tour

V21 Art Space

This site offers 3D virtual exhibitions from around the UK and Europe. With interactive features such as a measurement function, allowing you to understand the true scale of a piece, this innovative resource means that you can travel to dozens of smaller galleries and museums without the travel: https://v21artspace.com/

Museums in Quarantine

This series explores national museum collections at a time of forced enclosure, including the British Museum and Tate Modern: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000hqmn

Further resources

This is just a handful of the hundreds of resources available online  that will help enhance your studies. For more innovative answers, explore this post by MCN: http://mcn.edu/a-guide-to-virtual-museum-resources/. Paintings in Hospitals has also written this brilliantly motivating post about why the arts matter at times like this, and is well worth the read.

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