10 things I wish I knew before starting my History of Art degree

Starting a degree can be a tricky business, regardless of the subject you decide on. It’s this reason that I’m writing this blog post, so that instead of reading about tutors talking about how good the course is, you can hear it from a real student (plus get all the nitty-gritty details no tutor wants to share.)

10) Readings are a BIG deal…

Ever read and understood the Marxist theory in one night? No? Well, it’s going to happen, (the reading that is, as for understanding it I’m not even sure I do yet). The department is big on reading, but thankfully the worst we get is Marx, and possibly a bit of Freud. It’s not all bad though, as at the end of the day we can dazzle our flatmates with theories of feminism and the gaze.

9) English is also pretty important…

As you’ve probably figured, along with the readings comes analysis. Thankfully though, the only texts you’ll be expected to analyse are those for the seminars rather than the lectures. While the lecture readings are interesting and helpful, it’s the seminar readings that you’ll be asked to comment on; what their argument is, how they propose this, how they analyse art, how their analysis can be applied to other artworks, etc.

8) Everyone is lovely

Like I said, starting a degree is hard, but this department will make it 100x easier. The tiny size of it helps masses, as by the end of the year you’ll know everyone. The staff themselves are the ultimate History of Art enthusiasts with each one of them having a particular interest that really shines through when they give lectures or seminars. From art and technology in the 21st century, to the Renaissance body, and to Medieval Manuscripts, you’ll find an expert on everything and anything within the department.

7) Early starts

Chances are, throughout your whole degree, you won’t have that many 9am’s. Speaking from experience, I had one 9am a week throughout first year and then one per week this year. Obviously this one depends on the timetabling, but it looks as though the department hates 9am’s as much as students do. *praises the department*

6) Everyone has a quirk…

Just as Lewis Carroll says “we’re all mad here”, I mean this as a compliment. Every student and tutor has something that makes them tick. It’s a beautiful thing really. If you come into the department with your passion as Botticelli’s Venus, you’ll leave with an amalgamation of passions, thanks to everyone else on the course. Never before this degree had I considered Yves Klein or Matthew Paris, but now I can say that I absolutely adore their work.

5) SO many opportunities…

I’m not even kidding, there’s tonnes. Want to work in a gallery? You can. Want to write reviews for exhibits? You can. Want to move to Paris? You can. The world is your oyster both while you do this degree and afterwards!

4) Attendance gets marked…

Yup. You read that right. Even in lectures. I guess that’s the bad thing about having a small department, they know when there’s a person missing. The silver lining though is attendance is only about 3% of your overall grade, thankfully.

3) The city itself!

The department really does take advantage of the city in which it is placed. For example, if you choose to study the Art of Describing module, you’ll have seminars in buildings like the Minsters Chapter House, the Yorkshire Museum and the Yorkshire Railway Museum. Even if not, a lot of the books that could help the course are in the Kings Manor Library, and the socials sometimes take place within the art gallery itself.

2) “History of Art isn’t a real degree though, is it?”

This question is inevitable and can come in varied forms, my favourite is still “so, do you just like, draw and look at pictures all day?” First things first, we do a theory degree, not a practical one, so unfortunately no drawing goes on in this course (apart from the doodles during lectures). The best answer to this is seeing if they can do 3 readings in one day and 4 essays in 2 hours, you’ll soon find they stop asking.

1) But even despite that dreaded and unavoidable question, you know that you’re doing the subject that makes you happy.

If art or architecture makes you happy, I promise you’ll ace this degree. At the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong answer, just passionate arguments.

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Just an art history student studying in the architectural capital! I love anything arty, cultural or to do with travel. Alongside art I love spending time with friends both here and back home, retail therapy and a good cuppa.