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Open Arts Objects

This project from the Open University explores a series of vivid objects from ancient times to the present, showing how each is not merely a seductive or beautiful artwork or artefact, but can also reveal fascinating histories and connections. In short films on selected objects, members of the department showcase their innovative research to the public. The objects explored include paintings, sculpture, prints, ceramics, architecture and design, film and video, and installation and performance art. These films shed light on some of the unsolved mysteries of material objects, exploring what is left out of standard art history textbooks and they teach viewers how to look closely—a critical tool for Art History. We have also collaborated with curators in museums across the UK in order to bring the museum into the classroom. In these select films, a curator brings to life a work from their collection within the space of the museum.

Watch this short film outlining the Open Arts Objects project

We have been working closely with A-level teachers, and many of our films are tailored to the new A-level Curriculum by Pearson, covering the themes of Identities, Nature, and War, but they can also be easily adapted to the Cambridge Pre-U, and offer resources for any teacher who incorporates art and design into their teaching. Click on the title of the film to open a dedicated page with free support material.

This project is part of the current strategy within the OU to develop a series of public facing initiatives that can help inspire wider and diverse constituencies to enjoy and understand art works and visual culture. We are now starting a new leg of the project ‘learning from local artefacts.’ These community-based projects seek to empower community groups and individuals with the skills they need to understand the visual world and its histories around them. If you would like to be part of one of these regional projects, please contact us at openartsobjects@open.ac.uk. If you have been using our films and support materials in your teaching, we would appreciate you answering a very short survey (6 questions, approx. 5 minutes).

Partake in our Facebook group and check us out on Instagram and twitter (where every Monday when we post an interesting object/work of art at the start of every week for #materialmondays).

We also have a parallel project, Travelling Objects hosted on the OU platform OpenLearn, which explores a series of objects that have travelled and/or have been used across cultures, borders and geographies, connected to the new BBC series Civilisations.

In this film Dr Clare Taylor looks at a work made by a living artist who works in London, Yinka Shonibare. The subject, materials and sites she talks about all encourage viewers to think of their own individual, British and global identity in new ways.

Dr Renate Dohmen explores the historical contexts and technical marvel of an extraordinary and infamous musical automaton commissioned by Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore in India. Learn more about the work with our teaching resources.

Dr Warren Carter discusses a self-portrait by the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in which she depicts herself straddling the border between Mexico and the United States. Learn more about the work with our teaching resources.

Susanna Brown, curator of Photographs at the V&A, discusses Beaton’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on her coronation day

Professor Gill Perry explores House - a sculptural installation made by British artist Rachel Whiteread in 1993 and commissioned by the arts charity Artangel.

Sarah Couslon, curator at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, discusses how Hanging Trees addresses issues of borders, land rights and the natural environment.

Dr. Anne Pritchard considers how Renoir used a sumptuous blue dress to bring the nineteenth-century Paris art world face to face with modernity.

Susanna Brown, curator of Photographs at the V&A, discusses striking blue nature studies by Anna Atkins, one of the world's first female photographers.

Dr Susie West explore a Victorian parterre, a 1680s sundial and a monumental altar of 1748, part of 300 years of design in the garden.

Catherine Troiano, curator at the V&A, discusses a pair of photographs of a Sycamore tree by Henry Irving, which highlight photography’s role in both science and art.

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