Home Open Arts Objects

Open Arts Objects

Open Arts Objects (OAO) is 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 BBC series Civilisations. In 2017-18 members of the Open Arts Objects team served as academic consultants for the 9-part BBC series Civilisations produced in partnership with the OU, reaching over 13.7 million viewers. In 2019 OAO was nominated for the Times Higher Education Awards in the category of Knowledge Exchange/Transfer Initiative of the Year.

Warren Carter and Paul Wood discuss the complex relationship between modernism and contemporary art.

Emma Barker and Kathleen Christian discuss the term Classicism. 


Leah Clark and Kathleen Christian discuss the term hybridity.

Colin Harrison, Senior Curator of Western Art at the Ashmolean discusses Constable’s painting of Willie Lott’s House and the changes to the English landscape during an age of Industrialisation. Learn more about the work with additional resources.

Clare Pollard, Curator of Japanese Art at the Ashmolean discusses a print by Hiroshige, revealing how the artist’s use of colour and composition provides a striking depiction of figures being caught in a rainstorm. Learn more about the work with additional resources.

Clare Pollard, Curator of Japanese Art at the Ashmolean brings to life a Japanese scroll, and what it reveals about the lives of courtesans in nineteenth-century Japan. Learn more about the work with additional resources.

Catherine Whistler (Keeper of Western Art) discusses a curious work likely by Michelangelo Buonarroti of The Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist from the sixteenth century and now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Learn more about the work with additional resources.

Emily Hannam brings the Mughal court to life in her discussion of paintings from the Padshahnama (‘Book of Emperors’) housed in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle. Learn more about the work with additional resources.

Susanna Brown, curator of Photographs at the V&A, discusses Beaton’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on her coronation day. Learn more about the work with additional resources.

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