I hadn’t studied Art History before university so I chose the subject based on my A Levels of English, French, and Art as it combined both the written and visual study I enjoyed. I also love visiting galleries so it seemed like the perfect combo of challenging work and something I would be passionate about beyond lectures. I love how closely the course is linked with Oxford’s amazing collections, especially in first year with tutorials in front of objects in the Ashmolean Museum. The mini department size means you get to know your whole year group too.
What has my best memory of studying History of Art been? The first year 'object essay' is fantastic - you get to work alongside an expert tutor or curator to research a single object in Oxford… but I won’t lie that our special department trip to Sicily was perhaps the best experience!
I have enjoyed the course even more than I thought I would. It’s so great getting to learn from, and share your ideas with, people who are world experts in their field. The tutorial system is great, getting to read and write essays so often means that you really consolidate your knowledge, and then getting a chance to go over it in person with a tutor is really helpful. Getting to have tutorials in the Ashmolean Museum has also been great, really interesting, and keeps the focus on the art itself, which is what we all came here for!
Writing and researching my object essay was absolutely fascinating. I chose a thirteenth century apocalypse manuscript, but you can choose almost anything in Oxford. My supervisor was really lovely, and I got to handle this amazing object for myself – they let me look at it whenever I wanted!
Your first year will generally be spent getting to know the subject, with modules such as "Introduction to European Art" which help you get to grips with writing and thinking about art. In your second and third years, you get more opportunity to specialise, and there is a good number of modules to choose from. Courses range from "Ancient Egyptian Art" to the "Experience of Modernity" in nineteenth- and twentieth-century France! Exams are at the end of first- and third-year, and your "Object Essay" will be in first-year – it’s a great chance to choose an artefact of your own and research it. You will generally get about one essay a week, each of which you’ll have a tutorial for, which is great as you get feedback from world-experts on both your style and content, helping you keep track of your progress.
The Oxford tutorials are a fantastic way of improving your writing, getting your ideas heard, and having a chance to discuss art with both your tutors and fellow students. There are also loads of opportunities to explore artistic interests and organise events within student societies, colleges, and at museums. Finally, the small intake gives the course a really friendly feeling – you get to know people really well and there’s a lot of arty socialising!
Read articles written by the Association of Art Historians that interest you, there are a myriad of different art periods raging from the Byzantine period to contemporary art. Also, go to as many exhibitions as you can, or gallery websites if you don't have direct access to exhibitions, just to soak up as much art as you can.
I was firstly presented with images of art of two different periods that I had never seen before. I was asked about what one could learn about the period and context in which the work was created. In going about it, I began to dissect the image, assessing the medium (paint or sculpture), subject (religious or secular), and size, to come to an informed estimation on date of its creation. It was quite intimidating, speaking about art that I knew nothing about, but at the same time exciting; I got to interrogate and scrutinise what was in front of me without fear of being wrong - provided that I substantiate my points. Moreover, the tutors encouraged you to have an opinion. I didn't particularly like a work of art, but was then pushed further to explain how the subjectivity of art is so pivotal in its reception!
Applicants that might be offered a place are invited for interview in December.
Make sure you read the official prospectus entry for the course which contains entry requirements, full course structure, additional interesting resources and full details of the application process.
If you're going to apply, you'll want to check which Oxford colleges offer this course.