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April 8, 2022


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What is art? What is visual culture? How have they changed through history? This free course, Art and visual culture: Medieval to modern, explores the fundamental issues raised by the study of western art and visual culture over the last millennium. It moves from discussing the role of the artist and the functions of art during the medieval and Renaissance periods to considering the concept and practice of art in the era of the academies, before finally addressing the question of modern art and the impact of globalization.


This introduction to the history of art and visual culture provides a broad overview of the major developments in western art between c.1100 and the present day. It is divided into three parts, each of which explores the concept and practice of art in a distinct historical period. The first part, ‘Medieval to Renaissance’, explores the diverse forms of art and the varied functions it fulfilled before 1600. The second part, ‘Academy to avant-garde’, explores a period in which the theory and practice of art were dominated by painting, sculpture, and architecture. The final part, ‘Modernity to globalization’, explores the period since 1850, showing how art has diversified into a wide range of forms and media.

Learning outcomes

After studying this course, you should be able to:
  • Understand the changing perceptions and definitions of art across history
  • Understand the relationship between ‘art’ and visual culture
  • Understand the global dimension of art and how it has changed over time
  • Understand the significance of notions of ‘function’ and ‘autonomy’ for art history
  • Understand the role of patronage, institutions and the wider historical context in shaping art.

Course Curriculum

    • Medieval to Renaissance 02:00:00
    • Artists, Patrons and Workshops 02:00:00
    • Academy to avant-garde 01:00:00
    • From the Baroque to Romanticism 00:45:00
    • From Patronage to the Public Sphere 00:55:00
    • Modernity to globalisation 01:30:00
    • National, international, cosmopolitan 01:30:00
    • Conclusion 00:20:00

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Open University UK