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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.

Dr Judith Jammers discusses how Delacroix combined political realism and Romantic fervour to create what has become the single most familiar image of Revolution.

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 Kim Woods discusses a fascinating brass sculpture from the historic African kingdom of Benin. Learn more about the work with our teaching resources.

Dr Emma Barker explores Caravaggio’s unusual and innovative approach to depicting a story from the Bible. Learn more about the work with additional resources.

Dr Leah Clark explains the role of devotional images for Renaissance viewers by exploring a well-known work by Bellini. 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.

Dr Xavier Bray discusses two portraits of Prince Baltasar Carlos of Spain.

Dr Veronica Davies examines a catalogue produced for an exhibition of war artists' work at the National Gallery in 1942. Learn more about the work with our teaching resources.

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.