What does an Art History degree give you?


To launch Gallery Tart Reviews I wanted to think about my motivations for writing this blog. I’ve always loved and been drawn to Art, I grew up in Malta surrounded by Baroque Art and Architecture,  churches laden with paintings, sculpture and myriad objects made in all sorts of materials, as well as engaging in festivals involving the creation of ephemeral art such as carnivals, pageantry, Christmas and Easter displays.  I didn’t see it that way, I simply partook of church ritual, but somehow, that sense of beauty, and grandeur I guess, stayed with me.

In England, I went towards a career in finance and built a good home and family life, but then, in my 40s, on a whim, I decided to follow some sort of instinct and do an Art History degree, studying in the evenings.  I was working and had a young family but something was sparked in me by the prospectus from Birkbeck University, ‘if you’ve ever wondered what a piece of art is about, or wanted to delve deeper’ it said, come and talk to us.

So I did, it started a life changing passion for Art, looking at, discussing with friends and writing about it my essays.  I suspect a degree in a more practical subject might not have had such a profound effect but learning about all aspects of Art History became part of who I am and the way I see things.

So what does an Art History degree give you? For me, the biggest question as I set off on my venture was the usual; but my 3 year old could have done that; why is a pile of bricks or an unmade bed Art? I just didn’t get it and I wanted someone to explain why.  They did, the best thing was that Art was situated into a time-line for me, from early Greek and Roman Art through to contemporary Art.  I started to understand who commissioned Art, who created Art and the motivations, influences and drivers for artists.  Reading and delving into these issues has given me an informed view from which to decide whether I do actually like, understand or agree with what an artist is trying to convey.

The thing is though, as one person said to me as we had an impassioned discussion about Tracy Emin’s famous unmade bed, which I had become converted to, why should Art have to be explained and, if it does, they surely it isn’t Art!  This led me to the constant paradox I seem to find with looking at Art, there is the contextualised view, knowing about the artist, what they were trying to achieve and various factors like the period and the pressures of patronage which gives the informed view, but then there is the sensual view, the looking and feeling some sort of connection, be it with an ancient sculpture, a painting of ‘something you can recognise’ or something more nebulous like the oil slick one artist had created at the Saatchi Gallery, it reflected the gallery’s architecture and, for some reason, had me in awe.

So I guess what an Art History degree gives you is the tools to think about the Art you’re coming into contact with but what it doesn’t give you is your response, that is yours, for your own myriad reasons.  This is what I want to take along on this blog, I’ve set myself the target of reviewing one exhibition, museum, arty thing, each week for a year.  It’s quite an ask, but if I could do a degree and get my essays in on time while working and balancing family commitments I feel I can do this. 

Follow me, discuss with me and most of all enjoy.

Rita – Gallery Tart


Leave a Comment

  1. I am looking forward to following this blog. I have definitely been guilty of feeling if art needs explaining to me then I am clearly missing the point. Perhaps this was an easy answer that I accepted to easily. I am now intrigued to read more….. so glad you are taking us in this journey Rita!


  2. This is a wonderful venture Rita, I am so looking forward to reading and participating in you’re future blogs, though I’m no where near as informed as you, the more you learn the more you can understand and enjoy.
    Diane. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a glorious ceiling!
    So happy to follow you on this wonderful journey and looking forward to your arty peregrinations…Thank you & bravo!
    Xx Françoise


    • Thanks Françoise. The ceiling is from a church in Valletta, the first one built by La Vallette who founded Valletta. It’s been recently restored and is quite glorious. Our little island is littered with Baroque glory!


  4. Over the years I have become more interested in Art, not just a paintings but all forms of Art and also the history behind the Art whatever form it takes. I found going to different places and exhibitions and being able to understand the cultures and meanings behind the Art makes it so much more than just a piece of Art.
    I am looking forward to following you with something you are so passionate about.


  5. I somehow missed this when originally circulated Rita so I’m off to find the blog now. According to my reckoning I should have a morning,s reading to catch up on. I’m sure you don’t need me to wish you good luck but it’s certainly good luck for us, your friends and followers, for what we will learn.


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