I’ve had several History of Art field trips in my first term, and I have enjoyed them so much.
In fact, one of my modules, The Art of Describing, was structured around field trips. First, we would visit the sites, and the following week, we would discuss what we had seen in relation to relevant literature together in workshops.
We started from the University Campus, and proceeded to visit several museums and historic sites across York, including one of my favourites, York Art Gallery.
University of York, Campus West
Our first field trip was to Campus West, where the Department and all my lectures are based. At first, my friends and I didn’t really understand why we would look at the campus through the lens of art-history, but it turned out to be very interesting, and personally, one of my favourite visits.
Our tutor showed us around the modern sculptures on campus. I had no idea there were so many of them hiding in plain sight, perfectly blending in with the landscape. We learned that the architects were commissioned to build a university that could make it easy for students, professors, and researchers alike to socialise, and for knowledge to be produced across different departments. The contrast between the brutalist architecture of the colleges, built using the CLASP system, and Heslington Hall was very striking. I remember feeling so lucky to be in such a wonderful place, one that was built with so much care for its community.
There are several modern sculptures on campus, mostly abstract and open to interpretation. One of my favourites is ‘Tears of St Lawrence’ (1977) by Austin Wright, at St Lawrence Court. My friends and I all had different ideas of what it reminded us of. In the end, we settled on it looking like a feminine figure, a siren, or a leaf. The use of the material was very clever as it made the metal look light, airy, and organic.
York Art Gallery
The following week, we visited York Art Gallery. As a painter myself, and having always had a soft spot for the form, I went into the museum thinking I would enjoy paintings above all. In the end, I especially appreciated the Gallery’s ‘Ceramic Rainbow Wall display’. The display shelves are filled with ceramic objects of all sizes, colours, and periods, bordering between art and craft. There are no written explanations about when they were made, or their meaning and utility. This forced us to focus on the objects themselves. It raises the question of how we interact with art objects, and how we perceive them. The trip was very interesting, and we had briefs and questions to answer to make it more challenging.
Leeds Alternative Art Spaces
The last trip of term was to Leeds. We spent the whole day in the city to visit several Alternative Art Spaces. Some of them are both art studios, exhibitions, and events spaces.
We visited quirky places like Screw Gallery, FIIK, Serf, and the Tetley. We gained insights on the challenges that these can face, but also about their great potential.
The artists who ran these art organisations met us and gave tours of their studios. While we were there, we were free to ask them any question that popped into our minds, with some of us making art too. It was very interesting to see how art-making, curation, and management collided there. Also, we met a sculptor who was sculpting a life-size figure. It was a good opportunity to discuss his process with him. It was so interesting!
History of Art field trips were the perfect occasion to bond with the places and people around me.
After these, my classmates and I used to go for food in the centre of York, and some of them became my closest friends.
The field trips challenged me to analyse local art from an historical point of view, including the lesser-known architecture; who’d have thought the campus itself could offer so many objects to analyse?
I attended field trips every two weeks during my first term. At first, I didn’t think I was going to enjoy them all, because of my bias towards certain artistic and architectural movements. I was so surprised, for example, when I found myself obsessing over brutalist architecture. The trips gave me a better understanding of conservation, heritage, curatorial practices, and the way that art shapes the places we live in.
From now on, I will pay much more attention to the things that surround me; they can be a perfect starting point for any art historian.