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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.

Professor Gill Perry explores an installation by the British artist Cornelia Parker, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View 1991, which involved blowing up a garden shed and suspending its charred and broken fragments from the ceiling of an art gallery. Learn more about the work with our teaching resources.

Dr Leah Clark discusses the global dimensions of a painting by the Renaissance court artist Andrea Mantegna. Learn more about the work with our teaching resources.

Dr Emma Barker discusses an eighteenth-century painting of a lady having a cup of a drink newly fashionable at the time – tea.

Dr Angeliki Lymberopoulou examines a Cretan panel painting (icon), produced on the island during the period it was under Venetian domination, that copies the work of a famous Cretan master, Michael Damaskinos.

Dr Amy Charlesworth explores the form and content of American artist Martha Rosler's postcard novels from the late 1970s through the lens of what has become known as 'feminist art histories'. Learn more about the work with our teaching resources.

Professor Elizabeth McKellar explores Walton Hall, a classical country house, that now forms the centre of The Open University campus at Milton Keynes.

Dr Renate Dohmen explores a nineteenth-century scrap album, the equivalent of today’s Facebook, created by a young British woman who travelled to British India.

Dr Susie West takes a look at the small medieval church of St Michael and its new life on a university campus.

Dr Kathleen Christian discusses the history of the ancient statue ‘the Laocoön group' and its excavation in the Renaissance.

Dr Clare Taylor explores the design and purpose of this wallpaper whose pattern and colours were inspired by the new movements of the 1960s.