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Department of History of Art


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Winnie says: "Studying history of art at Cambridge has been an enriching experience. The department is receptive to demands for increasingly globalising art histories, as well as offering perspectives to reassess canons. In addition, I appreciated the lectures by inspiring visiting professors such as Maria Balshaw and Clementine Deliss. I felt lots of amicable relationships have been developed with peers and staff during my time here".

Sophia says: "Sometimes, we Art Historians get a little bit misunderstood. A majority of the public don’t know what we do or think that art is not an important platform for sharing ideas. Others feel like they are not ‘educated’ enough to understand what they should be looking at. This is completely not the case, and I want to use my findings from this degree to prove that through studying art, we become more empathetic of cultures. We don’t just look at the history of paintings, we look at the meaning behind why art was created in the first place, the philosophy of aesthetics and the technical aspects and developments in visual culture – which extends to buildings, pots, telephone boxes and even the FedEx logo!

‘Art’ is a very debated and vague term – but we can use this to our advantage. Its many broad definitions just go to show how much art surrounds us, and how much meaning is hidden beneath what is just on the surface – I am in the process of setting up an Art History Zine to try and share these ideas with the public.

I’m from a school in Croydon which didn’t offer Art History. I discovered it through wanting to find something which encapsulated many disciplines. Honestly, I was terrified of applying to Cambridge, but at my interview I realised that the scary lecturers were just a myth and tried to relax and enjoy myself. Cambridge wants to encourage your unconventional thinking and most departments are open to you coming to their lectures and learning something new – something which I think is essential to a topic which is so broad.

I like to fancy myself as a novice graphic designer – I took a year out before coming to Cambridge to really explore making and did an Art Foundation at Kingston University. These skills have really taught me to appreciate craftsmanship whilst studying on the course.

When I’m not thinking about all these things I am a publicist for the theatre, do bouldering (badly) and try and grow turnips with my college gardening society."

Alice says: "I went to school in Oxford, and have always had an interest in art and the arts – either through drawing/painting in my own time or at school, or through dance (I did ballet for 14 years). I also really enjoyed sport at school, and did a bit of music. I wanted to study History of Art at uni because I enjoyed practical art, but also really enjoyed the more academic side of school (in particular history). I saw History of Art as a really good way to combine the more analytical side of practical art making with academia, and having a look at various prospectuses for the subject very much confirmed that HoA was the thing I wanted to study.

I’d never even considered studying at Cambridge until about the Spring term of my AS year: my GCSE results had been good, and I was on track to get good AS results, so I thought I might as well go and have a look round, just to see. Going to the open day in the summer was when I first really wanted to come here – Cambridge was just so nice.

It’s really hard to pick one aspect of Art History as the one that interests me the most – I find everything I study fascinating. Having said that, my special subject last term was on Islamic art and architecture, its relation to the West, and the West’s relation to it. Having never studied anything about Islamic art before, this completely opened my eyes to a whole new area and changed my perceptions about how we see art from different regions a lot – as well as making me very aware of how we see other cultures outside the academic context. Studying History of Art definitely develops your analytical skills – both visual and literary, as you have to read sources really carefully, as well as looking and making visual judgements and comparisons. It also gives you a really good grounding in history (you will learn lots about more general history of the period/region you study), as well as developing your argumentative skills and writing – having to write and then discuss your weekly essay is hard, but you can see huge improvement in the way you do so.

There are so many good things about History of Art at Cambridge – obviously the quality of teaching that you get is incredible, but there is a lot of contact with the people who teach you, due to supervisions and the Director of Studies system. The learning resources are amazing – access to books, online journals etc is something that you take for granted here, but I know from speaking to friends at other unis that it isn’t the case elsewhere. The opportunities outside of the course are also huge – the Slade Lectures, Medieval Art seminars, CRASSH lectures etc are all given by world-leaders in the field, so to get the chance to hear them speak and ask questions is very special.

After I graduate I would like to train and work in the conservation and restoration of art. This has been my long-term aim for almost as long as I’ve wanted to do History of Art, but I feel it is really important to study and understand the historical context of a work of art before you conserve it, as obviously that affects how you will treat it.

To anyone thinking about applying to Cambridge to study History of Art I would say that the thought of applying is often quite intimidating, but don’t be put off by the reputation – give it a go, you might surprise yourself: I definitely did."