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Zoom Art History Lectures

Autumn 2021 lecture series

4th October      Introduction and art quiz

This session will give us a chance to ensure all will run smoothly for the lectures. It is also an enjoyable introduction to some of the themes we will meet this autumn term.

The quiz is just for fun! All you need are the old-fashioned tools of a pencil and sheet of paper to jot down answers.


11th October     The 'Golden Age' of Dutch Women Artists

In 17th century Europe few women had control of their own finances; few were admitted to universities or academies, trained in a trade, or accepted as guild members. Even fewer could run their own art studio or (heaven forbid!) do 'ladder work'.

Despite the Calvinist Dutch Republic demanding equality between husband and wife, the reality was still male-dominated. A woman's place was in the domestic environment. Nevertheless, society did allow women to achieve respectable careers, proven by some trail-blazing artists.

The supremely talented Clara Peeters, Judith Leyster, Maria van Oosterwijck, and Rachel Ruysch, are celebrated in this lecture.


18th October    'Come up and see my etchings': The Art and Techniques of Etching

Etching is a form of printmaking: once used for commercial printing, now superseded by more efficient methods. The term comes from the Dutch 'etsen' meaning 'to eat'. Indeed, the process does involve the action of acid eating a metal plate.

Etching is an intaglio process. The etched lines hold the ink. This requires the use of a heavy roller type press, rather like a clothes mangle (remember those?).

All the heavy equipment and chemicals involved means etching is hardly a home hobby pursuit! I worked as an etcher for several years - then decided art history was a less dangerous career path. But come up and see some of my etchings, along with the great etchings of artists such as Rembrandt, Francisco de Goya, William Hogarth, K├Ąthe Kollwitz and Paula Rego.


25th October        Georgian Society in Satirical Print

Georgian England was a golden age of graphic satire and caricature. The great print artists of the day, James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank amongst them, took delight in lampooning kings and commoners alike. In this lecture, though, we will discover how the satirists gleefully exaggerated the follies of British society.

No-one was exempt from their biting wit: city dandies and fashionistas, dentists and quack doctors, prostitutes and parsons.

Many of the prints seem shockingly audacious to us today. The best are also skilfully crafted, hugely inventive, and extremely amusing. Join me for a satirical social history of the Georgians - along with lashings of bawdy humour!


1st November      Gazing into the Distance: The Secrets of Perspective

Perspective tricks our eyes into seeing a three-dimensional object or scene on a flat surface. The Greek philosopher Plato was appalled. He condemned it as witchcraft!

During the Renaissance, perspective was to become one of the most important pictorial devices to create the effect of 'a window onto a world'.

Could you recognize single point, box or aerial perspective? What are 'foreshortening' and 'sotto in su'? Where would you find a vanishing point or orthogonals? In which National Gallery painting is there an example of anamorphosis? Is it possible to employ perspective in abstract painting?

This lecture reveals how artists use perspective to manipulate the way we look into pictures.


8th November      Seeing the Whole Picture: The Secrets of Composition

In 1783 the president of the Royal Academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds, wrote: "Composition, which is the principle part of the invention of a Painter, is by far the greatest difficulty he has to encounter". Too true! A good composition can make, and a bad composition break, a painting.

But what makes a good composition? Is it about balance? Is it achieved by using the 'rule of thirds' or the Golden Section? Might it involve colour and tone as well as line and shape? Could it control the way our gaze is led around an image? Do we read paintings, like text, from left to right?

Could you recognise symmetrical, pyramidal, diagonal, or curvilinear compositions?

This lecture reveals how artists use composition to manipulate the way we look around paintings.


15th November      How to Look at Art

Would you like to critique Art like an expert and discuss your opinions with insight? Put away the head-phones, take your nose out of the catalogue and discover a strategy for looking at Art.

The strategy is a flexible approach to interpreting any piece of art work, giving you the skills to become an active, rather than a passive, viewer. It is a tool for life: simple and effective.

We will put it into practice by looking at a range of works in a variety of materials, styles and genres, from across the history of Western Art.

This lecture is a must for anyone who enjoys visiting galleries, exhibitions and art museums (when Covid restrictions allow!). It will, quite simply, help you to 'see' more! Find out how to trust your own eyes, and enjoy Art to the full.


22nd November     Take One Painting: 'Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando' by Edgar Degas

Those of you who, in 'normal' times attend courses in Cheltenham will know that last year's autumn course was scheduled to discuss 60 paintings from the National Gallery. I asked for suggestions and this painting by Degas was amongst those that received the most requests.

As a small recompense for the course being postponed, I would like to spend an hour in the company of Miss La La. This approach is called 'slow art' but we'll zip along at our usual jolly speed, discovering preparatory sketches and exploring related images, to help examine the work in detail.

I will be making good use of the strategy discussed in the previous lecture to demonstrate how you can enjoy Art to the full.


29th November      A Modernist Melting Pot: Abstract Expressionism

Paris fell to the Nazis on June 14th, 1940. A large number of Europe's avant-garde artists had already been forced into exile by war and revolution; many fled across the Atlantic to the USA. This should have been the end of the Modernist experiment.

However, in New York, Modernism would return for a late flourish. Young artists, such as Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Lee Krasner and Mark Rothko, grasped the opportunity to forge the first truly American Modern Art movement. Lavish funding by collectors, museums, and the state ensured that the style dominated the post-war artworld.

In this lecture we will explore the rise of Abstract Expressionism and discover the incredible diversity of this melting pot of modern styles.


6th December      But ... is it Art?

If this question gives you food for thought you have plenty in common with artists and thinkers, not just in our present time but throughout Western Art History. Plato was one of the first to agonise over the question!

We will explore the shifting meaning of the term Art across the centuries. It does, however, seem a particularly pressing issue now that anything, and everything, seems to go! We might agree that a Raphael Madonna is Art, but argue about Tracey Emin's 'My Bed'. Can they both be Art, and, if so, what do they have in common? Is 'My Bed' Conceptual Art or just a 'con'?

Can we agree on a definition of Art, or are we at the mercy of museum directors, auction houses, and wealthy collectors? Join me to shake up some preconceptions, and ask ourselves: ' it Art?'