Early October, and I am at last starting on the course.
A quick snap of Gordon Square to establish the location, actually most of the course will take place in uncomfortably warm lecture rooms deep in the basements of houses once occupied by the likes of Virginia Woolf and J M Keynes.
Already I sense doubts and hesitations – will I really manage this? Will I cope with the relentlessly academic approach, dense theoretical writings and so on? Will I really have some (any?) original thoughts on the history of photography?
The first evening is not much help, yet more introductory stuff about how the place works, how to access books in the library, I do my best not to yawn. Afterwards we meet in an impossibly noisy underground room for inconsequential and barely audible conversation. I leave fairly early (not the first) partly to avoid drinking too much of the inconsequential red wine. There are a lot of people doing MA Art History (80-100 I believe), and it seems rather a crowd. It feels like a long time until the small number of us doing the “photography pathway” (about 12) will get together as a group, and get started on the real business of the course.
Over the first week I try to get started, reading up the categorisation of Renaissance Art, which highlights the relative lack of common terminology and methodology in the art history world. Best bit – chance to look at lots of images – this is one of my favourites:
The first lecture on this topic is good, recognises this lack, strongly emphasises the need to think about methodology, and avoids getting stuck in the details of Renaissance painting. Some very useful stuff about the business of classification and categorisation. The essential lesson here is – define your terms.
Reading for the second week is a lot harder, abstract theorising on the production of space by Henri Lefebvre, made me painfully aware of my poor knowledge of modern philosophy and cultural ideas, and a rather tedious piece on Claes Oldenburg. Actually, I’m glad I got the Lefebvre book out of the library rather than relying on pages selected for the course, as the book made more sense when read from the beginning. I might even read it all. Also, a very interesting piece on the depiction of space in Dutch painting to raise questions of religion and history. Still not sure whether the next lecture will provide useful material for the photography, but the idea of an artwork producing space is very interesting.