Learning to Look at the Visual Arts (Online)
Have you ever looked at a picture in a museum or gallery and been able to see and feel its characteristics but not had the vocabulary to put your thoughts into words? This course offers you the opportunity to learn how to study and analyse paintings, drawings and prints and learn the 'language of looking' to communicate your appreciation of art.
In this course you will learn about the qualities that make up a picture including composition, space, form, tone and colour, why each element is important, and how they relate to each other to create the aesthetic appearance of the image. You will also learn to understand the importance of subject matter, original function and setting of a picture in appreciating its visual meaning.
Teaching and learning will be through guided reading and by interaction and question and answer sessions to promote visual understanding through appreciation of a series of paintings from the fifteenth century to the present day. A key element of the course is art criticism where you will take part in guided viewings of paintings and then have the opportunity to put your new visual vocabulary into practice working on tasks with your fellow students.
For information on how the courses work, and a link to our course demonstration site, please click here.
Unit 1 - Introduction to learning Look at the Visual Arts
- Introduction to the course
Unit 2 - Composition
- Horizontals and verticals
- Harmony and balance
- Curves and diagonals
- Colour and composition
- Apparently random composition
Unit 3 - Space
- Linear perspective
- Geometrical space
- Imaginative space and illusionism
- Aerial perspective and space to walk about in
- Spatial distortion ignoring the middle distance
- Multiple viewpoint perspective
- Space in front of the picture
- Spatial disorientation
Unit 4 and Unit 5 - Form
- Sculptural form in the human figure
- Form achieved by chiaroscuro and sfumato
- Form made tangible
- The disintegration and rebuilding of form
- Form created with colour
- The closing of the gap between painting and sculpture in the twentieth century
Unit 6 - Tone
- The use of tone for imaginative expression
- Tone used to create drama
- Tone and the expression of emotion
- Tone and the realisation of form and space
- Tone used to create atmosphere
- Tone and the reconstruction of form
Unit 7 - Colour
- Primary and complementary contrast and the afterimage
- The vocabulary of colour
- Using the vocabulary of colour
- The use of colour to express emotion
- The power of colour to express emotion without a figurative subject and the effect of colour and scale
- Colour and the expression of texture
- The use of coloured light for expression
Unit 8 - Subject-matter
- Religious subjects
- Historical subjects
- Scenes of everyday life with a moral
- Subject matter and image making: clarity and ambiguity in communicating a message
- The idea of ambiguity in a visual image
- Subject matter and the idea of abstraction
- Poetical subjects and the idea of painting as poetry
Unit 9 - Drawing and its purposes
- Drawing used to try out ideas
- Drawing and sculptural expression
- Landscape drawings and watercolours
- Line drawing
- Individual drawing techniques in the twentieth century
Unit 10. Looking at print
- The exploitation of detail: line engraving, woodcut and wood engraving
- The etching: the creation of mystery and ambivalence by means of tone
- The development of a print from its original drawing: etching and aquatint
- The coloured lithograph and the silk screen print
We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.
To participate in the course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following paperback book:
- Acton, Mary, Learning to Look at Paintings (Routledge, London and New York, 2nd edition, 2008) ISBN 0415435188
To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.
For more information on CATS point please click on the link below: http://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/studentsupport/faq/cats.php
Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.
Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.
All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting both course assignments and actively participating in the course forums. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.
This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.
Home/EU fee: £280.00
Non-EU Fee: £300.00
Take this course for CATS points: £10.00
- Teach students to look at painting from a more visual and analytical point of view.
- Teach the necessary visual vocabulary or language of looking.
- Provide a method for looking at paintings, drawings and prints which is both flexible and clear.
- Generate understanding of pictorial qualities and their integration for the aesthetic appearance.
- Create a feeling for the integration of the aesthetic appearance with the subject matter and period of the picture.
- Learn how to look in a more objective and analytical way.
- Learn the visual vocabulary and glossary of terms.
- Understand pictoral qualities and what they mean, that is Composition, Space, Form, Tone, Colour, Subject Matter.
- Think critically.
Assessment for this course is based on two written assignments - one short assignment of 500 words due half way through the course and one longer assignment of 1500 words due at the end of the course.
Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.
Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please contact us to obtain an application form.
Level and demands
FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.
Terms and conditions
Terms and conditions for applicants and students on this course
Sources of funding
Information on financial support