What’s it like studying Visual Arts?

Amy Nugent

Firstly, what is Visual Arts?

It’s a degree programme offered at Durham University (specifically Visual Arts and Film) and is also a subject which sits in the Modern Languages and Cultures department. However, you don’t have to be on this specific degree to study modules in Visual Arts! It is also possible to take modules in Visual Arts as long as you are picking a degree programme that allows you to take optional modules (which you can discover by looking in the ‘Course Details’ section of your chosen programme).

Why Study Visual Arts?

Studying Visual Arts at Durham will give you access to learning about an incredible range of art styles and different cultures: studying everything from film, to curation, to photography, and from antiquity to present day, and across the globe. You will find so many things to love because of the variety!

Disclaimer: I am not a full time Visual Arts student – I actually came across this subject after chatting with a friend who is, and after hearing her talk so enthusiastically about the department, I was intent on taking Visual Arts modules in my second year. Now I study it as a part of my Liberal Arts degree, and I absolutely love the module of Visual Arts I take: Objects of Desire: Making Sense of the Collections at the Oriental Museum. In this module, I have lecture-style sessions in a small group where questions are always encouraged, and have been brought out of the classroom to do practical sessions at Durham’s Oriental Museum which provides literal hands-on experience with art, where we look at everything from object handling to object photography and filming.

What are the staff like?

In my case, my lecturers and seminar leaders have been the biggest influence as to whether I have enjoyed the module I have taken… and for Visual Arts they have been absolutely brilliant! I love the one module I take so much that it has definitely inspired me to study more next year! For Objects of Desire, I have had seven main staff contact points, and to put that in perspective, there are only fifteen students taking it!

Is this overwhelming? No. Our module has been very clearly laid out for us both in person and online, with each staff member being easy to contact and their role shown clearly. The module I study focuses on art from Egypt and then across Asia, from ancient times to the present day, and looks at everything from hieroglyphic script, to pottery, to manga! Taking that scope into consideration, it is amazing that I get to hear from academics who can teach us about their specialism across these countries and time periods. The module is also closely affiliated with Durham’s Oriental Museum, and being taught by curators who can introduce us to art through objects they work with makes the subject so engaging. Staff also made the content very understandable even though I had never heard of some of the art styles or traditions before this module.

What are the assessments like?

For this particular module, I have been required to write proposal forms, create presentations and subsequent write-ups, and also to produce a podcast. I love that these varied assessment styles give me a break from the standard essay format I am often assigned in other modules. However, my favourite part about these assessments has definitely been how communicative and clear the staff have been about the briefs. They give explicit instructions about how we can achieve the best grades possible, and have provided excellent, constructive, and timely feedback. Although I have been challenged by the unfamiliarity of some of the content, it is a welcome challenge which has introduced me to matters of museum practice, new art forms, and cultural traditions I had previously been unaware of. I have been given immense flexibility for choosing the direction of my coursework, and I value this for how it has let me dig deep into new and exciting topics that I care about.

Discover more

Want to learn more about Visual Arts? Click here for insights onto the degree programme:  https://www.durham.ac.uk/study/courses/va01/

With Complete University Guide 2022 as high as 3rd for Arabic, Chinese and Japanese Studies and 5th for Italian, German and Hispanic Studies, the School of Modern Languages and Cultures offers expertise in a wide range of subjects, including language, literature, cultural history, cinema and visual culture, and translation. 

The School also hosts the BA in Visual Arts and Film and has forged a ground-breaking partnership with the BFI bringing students the unique opportunity to learn from industry experts along with University-wide access to the BFI Player. 

Feeling inspired? Visit our Modern Languages and Cultures webpages for more information on our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. 

Amy Nugent

Hi, I’m Amy and here at Durham I study Liberal Arts at Grey College. In my spare time I can be found dancing like there’s nobody watching, getting stuck into my latest art project, or writing kooky stories in one of Durham's many beautiful spots.

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