As a History of Art graduate I have always had an interest in art’s relationship with social history.
It is easy to mistake the History of Art as a discipline which favours the academic study of painting above and beyond other modes of artistic output, but this is simply not the case.
The knick-knacks in the loft or collectables in the cupboard can be equally fascinating examples of our aesthetic history that play an important role in the narrative of the history of art. As an auctioneer at Biddle & Webb, I am lucky enough to see a fantastic array of weird and wonderful items every sale day; from Australasian tribal clubs to Lalique vases, Victorian corner cupboards to Black Forest bears. Antiques and collectibles can expand our understanding of social heritage, combining decorative art with historical significance.
It is this interest in how the History of Art can contribute to the study of our social history which continues to fuel my passion for academic writing. After graduating in 2016 with a First Class BA in History of Art, I have continued to expand upon research themes explored in my undergraduate dissertation. My thesis – ‘The Political, Visual and Symbolic Ambiguities of Thou Shalt Not Kill!’ explored the conflicting elements of commemoration and condemnation in the work of Johannes Matthaeus Koelz. The paper achieved a high mark of 85 and was awarded the Sam Beighton prize for the top scoring third year dissertation – it is currently set to be published in an academic journal later this year. After my success as an undergraduate, I have chosen to accept a Master of Research Scholarship at The University of Birmingham in order to develop my academic, as well as professional career.
My MRes thesis will explore issues of displacement, acculturation and identity trauma in the works of Austrian born artist, Hans Schwarz: a Kindertransport refugee exiled to Bournville, Birmingham in 1939. By exploring such topics, in addition to expanding the boundaries of art-historical scholarship, my MRes thesis will usefully contribute to studies of the present migrant crisis – whereby, like Schwarz, émigrés and refugees experience the duality of negotiating self-identify under the context of enforced migration.
Although I am very much looking forward to heading back to university, I shall continue to be a part of the team at Biddle & Webb whilst I complete my degree. I would like to thank my colleagues for their continued support as I develop my personal and professional career.
So to answer the question – do we need the History of Art?
My answer is a resounding Y E S!
Our heritage can be found in the smallest of masterpieces – not just on the walls of a museum or art gallery.
By Ellie Hill.