Screwed over by the OCA

This will be my last post. I’m done. This is a warning post for anyone studying or thinking about studying with the OCA. If you stop reading now take away this point: READ THE SMALL PRINT

What happened?

Here’s what happened, the history. I shall try to make this a fair review of my time with the open college of the arts.

The Art of Photography

In 2012 I signed up to do the photography degree pathway, the art of photography module. I was in a bit of a photographic funk with my underwater work and thought doing a course would give me some new ideas to think about. It was a bit basic for my skill level at the time (I’d been persuaded in the Flickr forums not to APL (skip through) this introduction course/level because then I could lean the oca way of doing things, how they like the work submitted etc. All the bits you’re expected to know by level 2). I don’t know how, because it was clearly written in all the many pages of regulations, but I’d got it in my head it was 6 years for the first level (3 modules at 2yrs each). Despite being 6yrs in total they only allow you 4yrs to do it (makes no sense). More on this in a minute.

I was really excited for my first assignment, I thought I could really make a go at interpreting the simple course text in an imaginative way. Then my amazing tutor left. The next tutor I had was alright, nice enough, but whereas my previous tutor was from a fine art photography background this new one was from a commercial photography background, not interested at all in any creative interpretation, you needed to stick to the brief from the client (ie the assignment task text) plain and simple. This wasn’t what I personally needed at this point. I lost interest a bit I admit, especially after my assignment 2 feedback where he basically said not to do any more assignments using underwater photography. Around the same time I went on a few oca study days where I got chatting with the tutors and other students about the topics covered in the later photography courses (landscape or people, etc). According to the OCA tutors I spoke to nature photography is not artistic enough to be considered in the art world. Most of the people I dealt with in the OCA were very pleasant, I cannot say the same for one tutor I spoke with on a study day, he made me feel about this small (fingers very close together) in front of another group of students for liking to make nature photography. He proclaimed ‘it’s not “art”‘ (he’d obviuosly not heard of Duchump, anway he’s wrong of course as anyone who’d been to the Natural History Museums Wildlife Photographer of the year exhibition, or ever looked at anything done by David Doublet or Alex Mustard knows). Something along the lines of “if I want to see a picture of an eagle I’ll just google it, they all look the same….. perhaps the only way you could make it interesting is with taxidermy“. What a thing to say to someone who loves nature photography! Anyway, I’ve got off topic. Suffice it to say my productivity took a dive and I concentrated on my first passion, my underwater photography over the summer. I got the course finished and assessed but it had taken basically the full two years. Now I was running behind!

Digital Film Production / Having a Baby

I signed up for the film/video module thinking I might be able to do it concurrently with the digital rights one which they offered at the time. I’d enjoyed the small amount of video that I’d done and wanted to be better (I even filmed my own wedding) and the other photography modules did not look that appealing. Digital Film Production was quite interesting and the tutor was good but oh so time consuming, what a poor choice on my part. I tried to combine it with holidays and work to some effect. I did two assignments and got part the way through part 3 when I feel pregnant in 2015. A full time job, and sitting editing video was too much for me and the baby. I let the OCA know but they said you have 12 years, we can’t give you any extra time, most other distance learning institutions give 9. OK then. Thanks. By the time I came out from my post-natal funk and started checking emails again that course had expired unfinished. My bad I suppose.

Western History of Art / mismanaged expectations and officiousness

I phoned the office to see what my options were. I should have exited at this point! The lovely lady in the office explained that I could borrow a year from the level 2 time allowance to do my two extra courses in but there could be no more extensions after that for level 1 and I would need to leave the degree. She said that even if I didn’t manage two course I could at least do one and get the Higher education credits. It’s possible I could then use those to APL should I reapply to another degree. As it turns out she was misinformed. I really should have read the student regulations more closely. READ THE SMALL PRINT. I have just busted a gut and completed this course, on time, and submitted my request to have my work assessed in the march assessment (giving me until Jan 15th to do all the rework from feedback and tidying up) but then I got this email from the OCA

Dear Suzy

I am notifying you that you have been withdrawn from your degree a you have failed to complete Level 1 within the maximum 5 year timeframe. If you have obtained credits then you will receive a transcript from UCA. If you have obtained enough credits for an exit award then this will be requested for you and the paperwork forwarded from UCA. It is your responsibility to ensure you notify us of any address changes.

As you have been withdrawn from the degree then you are no longer eligible to have any additional units assessed as assessment is only available for student enrolled on a degree programme. I have therefore removed the assessment application date you had previously submitted for History of Art 1: Western Art

You will be contacted directly from Student Finance in the future regarding any outstanding loans – if applicable.


Being kicked off the course was expected, what I’m particularly aggrieved by was not being able to get my work assessed. I rang up, and explained my history and the nice lady on the phone was sympathetic and also confused as to why I couldn’t be assessed if I’d completed the module in time. I had to ring again to speak to the Academic registrar. We had a very unpleasant conversation where she explained that it’s her job to make sure that people who didn’t complete the whole of level 1 within the 5 years were withdrawn from the degree programme. She sounded like she was reading from a well versed script. Apparently it’s not just the module they are marking but the progress to date (which I’m not sure I’m buying) there is no recourse and no way to be assessed if you’re not part of the degree. Other students have told me they have also had trouble with taking time off (for illness etc). Also interestingly, for me it was not two years per course in actuality, I started this in December, it says 400 hours. I worked out I could do 400 hours in two years but the course ended at the end of August! No wonder I was struggling for deadlines! Another student told me she did get March to March so I don’t know what went on there. My tutor for this course was lovely and patient when I didn’t manage her deadlines and in the end I got this module all done in time, crucially not the whole level 1.

Silver Linings

It sucks and I’m devastated but there are some silver linings. At least I don’t have three months of rework to do to prep for the assessment! I’m free to pursue my newly rediscovered enjoyment of art, drawing and painting (which I hadn’t done since school). If I had not done this art history course (or if I had quit when I realised it wasn’t going to be possible to do this one and another in time) then I would not have rediscovered that. Before this all kicked off I was hoping to come back in a few years when my daughter is a bit older and change to the creative arts pathway (which looks much more interesting than the photography) but they couldn’t pay me enough to reapply to the OCA again.

In Conclusion

  • The OCA isn’t a flexible option if you have many commitments in your life or your circumstances change. Thus might be true of all distance learning I don’t know.
  • If your passion is nature photography the photography pathway is NOT recommended
  • Read the fine print and note down the dates, don’t try and add up the course allowances.
  • You can start the course whenever you like but you may not get the full two years as it ends Aug 31st
  • They told me that the HD credits only last for 5 years from the point of exit (but this may be different at other institutions).

What’s next for me?

I’m going to start a new blog. I enjoyed the art history and as I mentioned rediscovered my love of drawing. After 20years absence I need to relearn my skills so a self-taught approach seems the most flexible for me. I’ve been posting my new work on Instagram @scuba_suzy. I also have an underwater photography backlog to go through. There’s always creative live and books from the library, I can start on all the things/ideas that I had to put off because I was spending my every spare family-free time doing this! I don’t think I’ll be wanting for things to do and I dont think I’ll miss it at all.

Find me here:


Parting Shot

To cheer myself up I went to Barbican to see the new Banksy (there are two under the tunnel by the cinema).



Visit a town or country house – Ightham Mote

Choose a town or country house to visit. The idea of this visit is to look for evidence of how art has been used as part of a way of life, whether aristocratic or bourgeois. Don’t choose an artist’s house (e.g. William Morris’s Red House),
A large town house will be impressive and is likely to have classical features. Reception rooms may be spacious, perhaps with murals, tapestries or sculpture. In a smaller house your interest is likely to focus on private rooms, with their more intimate detail and decoration – a drawing room or a study containing well-loved objects.

Write an illustrated account of your visit in your learning log.
If you can’t make this visit for any reason, write a report on your chosen building based on information from books and the internet. Choose a building that’s well documented, particularly online. If there’s a website dedicated to the building, you may be able to make a virtual tour of at least some of the rooms, for example. You may also be able to order audio-visual material as well as guidebooks, etc., through the website. (Course Notes p106)

originally i visited hylands house for this visit (see the comments in my Assignment 3 feedback) but that visit was more suited to the assigment 4 visit so i need to redo this one.

write up visit


Assignment 5

As with the previous assignments, I have made the assignment as a pdf document which can be downloaded here: Assignment 5 PDF submission and additionally here is the link to the 2000 word review PDF submission.

Assignment 5 pdf
Review pdf


The assignment includes:

  • Five pages of notes (for three chapters in WHA, 1900 onwards)
  • Two annotations of paintings & direct references
  • One 510 word analysis & direct references
  • General References for assignment 5

As per Assignment 3/4 feedback I’ve added extra references sections for the direct references used in each bit of the assignment and used a bigger font to format with. 


On the run up to creating assignment 5, again I re-read the feedback from previous assignments because that seemed to help with the other assignments. 

I have not yet attempted any more of the Assignment 4 rework as per feedback, I’m going to do that after I finish up the part 5 exercises I had deproritised to get all the A5 reading in. 

I followed the same advice as A3/4 as far as I could, in general to avoid over-reliance on websites and I tried to “Engage with more broadly ‘theoretical’ texts so as to deepen your research and expand your comments”. 

Again, for all parts of the assignment I did preparation blogposts which allowed me to get my notes out of my system so I could broadly keep within the word limits. 

Reflection on WHA reading Notes:
Again, I found the word count to be ridiculous. I’ve kept the longer version on my blog which I need to make to understand the period (these are much more useful to me this time because I actually put some pictures in it as well as the reflection) but for the submitted pages I had to remove lots of the content and use some shorthand. It seems so pointless, especially with the larger font formatting (as per Assignment 4 feedback). There is hardly room for any information. Even so I could only reduce to 5 pages.  As we get more mordern the content is getting more and more interesting. I’m looking forward to reading the most recent chapters and some of the international – non western chapters at leisure once the course finishes.

Reflection on annotations:

Whilst I was creating the actual annotations I changed the ordering to be more chronologic because it made sense to see how Braque developed even though I started to study them the other way around. I feel like my prep notes are a bit all over the place this time because I was doing them concurrently, I think this might have resulted in more interesting final pdf pages though even if the synthesis on the learning log is a bit messy. I certainly feel as though I understand Cubism and Fauvism much better after going through that exercise. 

I’ve decided that my apparent regression with my tendency to over note-take is actually a good thing because I’ve filled both my husbands and my own library cards with books, so my reading goals are about getting all I can from one and being able to swap it out. 

 Reflection on 500 words analysis:

I read up on point by point essay writing as per the feedback for assignment 4. It seems like it would be better suited to a direct compare and contrast analysis, which it wasn’t this time because I was discussing one architectural movement. Also, with so few words it seems a waste of word count to have an introduction etc but I did try to split it up as follows:

• Introduction
• Paragraph 1: Political, social and economic requirement & info on Brutalism
• Paragraph 2: Barbican specific example
• Paragraph 3: Unsuccessful example
• Conclusion

The work count was so limiting, I didn’t get to mention the Haywood, or the south bank or any of the other successful examples. I didn’t get to mention the various other famous architects, for example the Smithsons and their other unsuccessful estates in Poplar. I didn’t get to go into too much about the critics of it, for example Prince Charles is known to hate it. I was running close to the line and still needed to do my main review so the notes in this area (the barbican visit post) probably need fleshing out a little.

Reflection on review:

There were so many interesting places to go with the contrasting of these two artists, I hope I haven’t made a hash of it. The more I read the more interesting they both seemed but I did a lot of book reading and not a lot of note writing given the time constraints (a lot of my *notes* were just quick phone snaps of reference pages unsuitable for blogging due to copyright), the essay sort of formulated from my brain onto the page and only extra notes and spill over made it to the blog. I thought 2000 words would be great but I could have gone on and on. I did keep it in the word limit though for once. 

Overall reflection against the Assessment Criteria:

  • Demonstration of subject-based knowledge and understanding – again there was a lot of reading in this section, and I tried to mostly concentrate on using books as source material for the assignment/review research (as per feedback from assignment 1 – 4). I think I have demonstrated my understanding of the area in this assignment according to the research I have done (see above).
  • Demonstration of research skills – Where possible I tried to go and see the work I was researching in person, but also evaluated the sources I was looking at in books and on the internet for their scholarly worth. Unfortunately I was not able to see any of the images I’d chosen for the review but I was able to view one of the annotations, Brutalist architecture (which I now notice seemingly everywhere) and some others of Magrittes work at the Tate. Mostly I felt like a pack horse with all the heavy books back and forth to work. 
  • Demonstration of critical and evaluation skills – I tried to engage with the concepts throughout part five. I knew I would have no time for deadline extensions so although I read through all the exercises I skipped ahead to the assignment and review. I’m getting better at sticking to the word count in the assignment analysis, as my tutor has suggested filing research into ancillary blogposts on my learning log. Also, I found the OU format that my tutor recommended for comparing works allowed me to review the works in my own words before diving into the research parts. I tried to gather more critical sources and viewpoints from which to synthesise. 
  • Communication – I think my ideas and points are written clearly. I try to reflect on bits as I go along since the assessor cannot be inside my head. I suspect the they won’t have the time to wade through every blogpost though as I pointed out in my reflection above I think some are a bit more stream of thought this time too,written more for my own reference, the pdfs are clear and the blog is supposed to be a learning log.

Research Notes: Frida Kahlo

Rough notes in preparation for this  final review pdf.

Notes from Thames and Hudson book. (Burrus, C, 2008)


Born in Mexico to a Mexican depressed tyrannical mother and German photographer father. Received her maternal nurturing from her sisters and half-sisters.

Enjoyed helping her dad with his work. She was his favourite.

Had an illness around 6 (polio?) which left her with a limp/wasted leg which she was self-conscious of.

Went to study at medical school but had an accident where a bus hit a tram when she was 19 which was nearly fatal. She broke many parts (back, pelvis, etc) and her health was never the same again. She had health issues for the rest of her life. Parts of the wreckage even took her virginity (unless you believe the film with Selma Hayek) .

Her parents and most of her family were too busy mourning the accident to actually go and see her for the first 3 weeks!! Only her sister came. Her first love was with her so was recovering from his own much lesser injuries so also didn’t visit but she wrote him many letters during her stay in hospital. Her father brought her a mirror and paints.

Her oerdeve was made of self-portraits mainly from that first moment.

Diego was already an established painter (muralist ) at that time and already married and in his forties. They fascinated each other from the first moment she demanded him to stop work and see her pictures. He divorced his wife and married Freda against her family’s wishes (even though he came from a better off family). Only her father was there to witness the marriage of an ‘elephant and a dove’.

They loved and supported each other. Her famous mode of traditional Mexican dress she wore because he liked it. Eventually he was unfaithful but even that didn’t completely destroy them until later, when he had a long affair with her favourite sister. She had affairs too, (many of whom she remained friends with). They got divorced and remarried a year later, Freda’s conditions for that were financial independence and no sex. They remained together until she died aged 47.

During their life together, Diego’s fame took them to NYC. Where he was well received at first. She didn’t like America and was homesick but it features in many of her paintings of that time. There she met Dr Eloesser whom she confided in for the rest of her life.

Andre Breton, the founder of the surrealist movement in Paris discovered her in Mexico and tried to persuade her she was a surrealist. She didn’t think so but exhibited with them on numerous occasions. She went to Paris and was disappointed in their lack of professionalism and practicality. Only Marchel Duchamp  helped her arrange the gallery and exhibition. She was disappointed with the number of pictures of hers the the group show too. She said she detested the whole lot of them for being too into the theory. She said ‘I paint my reality’

In his introduction to Frida in the ‘Mexique’ catalogue, Pierre Colle gallery, 1939, Breton said ‘The art of Frida Kahlo is a ribbon around a bomb’ (Burrus, C, 2008)

Both her and Diego were communists, often protesting and going on marches together. When Trotsky feed Europe he came to stay with them in Mexico. Politics entered both Frida and Diego’s art. Even in her last days she was out protesting.

She was very prolific during the year due and Diego split. She poured her emotions into paint as she always had.

Her one and only solo show was arranged at the very end if her life and she was too sick to attend so they brought her and the whole bed, with sirens blazing, to the gallery opening.

In her work, she is very connected to place and what is going on with her medically. She had a kind of visual short hand.

For a while she was a teacher of Art at the Mexican college and she was take everyone out onto the streets and into the markets for inspiration.

Women artists and the Surrealist movement book by Whitney Chadwick, Thames and Hudson , 1991 (written 1985)

Carrington remembers finding the theoretical and judgemental side of Surrealism extremely distasteful ; in a recent biography of Frida Kahlo, Hayden Herrera makes clear the Mexican artist’s scorn for Breton’s position. (Chadwick, W, 1991) p12

Note: (Herrera, frida, p263 and passim)

P88: todo write up notes

P90/1: todo write up notes

‘Kahlo used painting as a means of exploring the reality of her own body and her consciousness of that reality; in many cases the reality dissolves into a duality, exterior reality versus interior perception of that reality, or two selves, one loved, the other not.’ (Chadwick, W, 1991) p92

eg the two fridas, 1939 when frida was getting divorced from Rivera.

As Chadwick points out, many of the Surrealist women use luxurious flowing hair as a metaphor for sexual/creative energy and femininity. Vegetation or its deficit as a metaphor for psychic reality. ‘In Kahlo’s The Broken Column (1944), the bleak, forbidding landscape becomes a potent metaphor for inner desolation.’ (Chadwick, W, 1991) P95

‘I paint myself because I am so often alone…  because I am the subject I know best’. She said… ‘Surrealism provided a supportive environment for women artists’ exploration of inner reality; it did not furnish them with a shared set of artistic goals. As a result, most of them did not see themselves as true Surrealists; at the core of their art lay only individual reality.’ (Chadwick, W, 1991)  p95

P98 todo write up notes

Berger portraits book (Berger, J, 2015)

when commenting on her decision to paint on metal, or Masonite,  Berger in his book on portraits, sees more than just to incorporation of traditional Mexican retablo, he posits that it actually affects her vision not to paint on a surface that is as smooth as skin, something that can only be noticed when viewing the original works.

‘The sensitivity of her own mutilated body made her aware of the skin of everything alive – trees, fruit, water, birds, and naturally other women and men. And so, in painting her own image, as if on her own skin, she speaks of the whole sentient world.’ (Berger, J, 2015) p337

He points to Diego and I, 1949 as a sort of confession to this.

‘Her art talks to pain, mouth pressed to the skin of pain, and it talks about sentience and its desire and its cruelty and its intimate nicknames.’ (Berger, J, 2015) p337/8


she remembered what she had touched, what was there when the pain wasn’t. She painted, for example, the feel of polished wood on a parquet floor, the texture of rubber on the tyre of her wheelchair, the fluff of a chicks feathers, or the crystalline surface of stone, like nobody else. And this discreet capacity – for it was very discreet – came from what I have called the sense of double touch: the consequence of imagining she was painting her own skin.’ (Berger, J, 2015) p339

About the self-portrait 1943, where she’s laying on a rocky landscape where plants grow from her body, her veins giving way to leaf veins, he comments that the flat rocks that extend to the horizon are ‘like waves of a petrified sea’ (Berger, J, 2015) p339 Yet what the rocks are exactly like is what she would have felt on the skin of her back and legs if she had been lying on those rocks. Frida Kahlo lay cheek to cheek with everything she depicted’. (Berger, J, 2015) P339/40

Frida Kahlo – Roots, 1943, oil on metal, 12″x19.5″
Frida Kahlo – El suicidio de Dorothy Hale (The Suicide of Dorothy Hale), 1939, Oil on Masonite with painted frame,
Collection Phoenix Art Museum, Gift of an anonymous donor



Alexandrian, S. (1970) Surrealist art. Thames and Hudson Ltd

Bauer, C. (2007) Frida Kahlo. Prestel

Berger, J. (2015) Portraits: John Berger on Artists. Verso Books

Burrus, C. (2008) Frida Kahlo : ‘I paint my reality’. Thames and Hudson Ltd

Castro-Sethness, M. (2004-2005) ‘Frida Kahlo’s Spiritual World: The Influence of Mexican Retablo and Ex-voto Paintings on Her Art‘In: Woman’s Art Journal Vol. 25, No. 2 (Autumn, 2004 – Winter, 2005), pp. 21-24 [online] At:
(Accessed on 19 Aug 17)

Chadwick, W. (1991) Women artists and the surrealist movement. Thames & Hudson

Encyclopedia Britannica, (2016), Huitzilopochtli: AZTEC God, [online] (Accessed 19th Aug 2017).

Harrison, C & Wood, P (Ed.). (2003) Art in theory 1900-2000, an anthology of changing ideas. Blackwell publishing

Honour, H & Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art. (7th Ed), London, Laurence King Publishing

Kahlo, F. (2006) The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait (essay and commentary by S. Lowe & introduction by C. Fuentes). New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc

Pankl, L & Blake, K. (2012) ‘Made in Her Image: Frida Kahlo as Material Culture‘In: Material Culture Fall 2012, Vol. 44 Issue 2, p1 [online] At:,%20Frida%20Kahlo%20as%20Material%20Cutlure.pdf
(Accessed on 19 Aug 17)

Research Notes: Rene Magritte

Magritte notes in preparation for review comparing Rene Magritte and Frida Kahlo:

Rene Magritte and Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) could be thought of as Surrealist yin and yang. While she was causing a stir with her revolutionary husband and exotic traditional Mexican dress in the streets of 1930s New York, he was blending in with all the other bourgeois bowler-hatted, besuited men in Brussel and Paris. Both in their own way might not be wholly Surrealist in the Andre Breton definition. Neither were interested in the automatic, stream of consciousness techniques and theories, and neither really painted dreams. Breton patronisingly ‘discovered’ Frida, who insisted she ‘painted her own reality’ and Rene aways painted reality – with a twist. Magritte’s work was outward looking, external, from his days making wallpaper, to his advertising work, to his paintings all his work was intended for an audience. To interact with that audience he enjoyed creating puzzles, mysteries and witty visual puns with his work. His aim as he, (and Berger) pointed out, was to paint the impossible. Conversely, Frida Kahlo’s work was introspective. She made her work for herself, true to her own vision and first and foremost about exploring her own identity. It is interesting then to contrast the two Surrealist-outsiders for similarities as well as differences. As there are so many forms this could take, this review will be limited to looking at self-portraits of the two artists (an important aspect of Kahlo’s work) and their different approaches to use of text (and important aspect to Magritte’s work).

Self Portraits:

One obvious difference that jumps out in the respective oeuvres of Magritte and Kahlo is that Magritte is known for doing almost anything to avoid showing faces, he employed apples, birds, flowers, cloth, to cover faces, and more often than not the male figures in his works are turned away. In contrast, Kahlo takes a long hard look in the mirror, faces her pain and bares all to us, with over a third of her paintings as self-portraits. Freud posited that repetition was a sign of trauma, some art historians link Magritte’s tenancy to obscure faces back to 13 year old Magritte’s mother’s suicide, in which her face was allegedly covered with her nightgown when she was pulled from the river, maybe this true, or maybe it is nonsense as he always insisted, perhaps individual faces would only distract the viewer from the real subject of the works? Or perhaps Magritte liked the unsettled affect that not seeing the faces produced.

Magritte on Son of Man:

He explained the apple covering the face in The Son of Man, 1964, as follows:

“At least it hides the face partly. Well, so you have the apparent face, the apple, hiding the visible but hidden, the face of the person. It’s something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.” (Torczyner, H, 1979)

In this painting the man stands in front of a low wall by the sea (or a large body of water), a recurrent theme despite his hometown being landlocked, water is often associated with the subconscious but perhaps for Rene it would be deeper than that. There are dark clouds gathering. He is directly facing the viewer but with a big floating green apple blocking the view of his face. His eyes are just visible peering around the side of the apple. Another strange detail is the left arm, it appears to be on backwards, i.e. that arm is from a man facing the sea. Perhaps he is showing us a duality. Some critics have speculated that he is comparing himself to Jesus, with the title, Son of Man, and the biblical association of the apple. He is known for hating symbols and rejecting organised religion so I suspect that is not the case, both the apple and bowler hatted men are recurrent motifs in Magritte work, it’s more likely that son of man refers to the generic nature of his figure. He revisits the imagery in several paintings that year that do not have the religious title with the series La Grande Guerre and The Taste of the Invisible.

The Son of Man, 1946 by Rene Magritte

Looking at Magritte’s earlier self-portraits (where he has paint his face), they are not really about him at all either, but yet another a setting for exploring the problems with visual perception or generic commentary on mankind. For example, in Attempting the Impossible, 1928. Magritte uses his banal deadpan style to depict a man (himself) painting a female nude (his wife), set in a typical bourgeois interior. However, instead of painting onto a canvas, he is painting her life size, into existence. She even has a shadow. He is playing with several things here, the bourgeois (which the Surrealists mocked at every turn) art-school practice of painting nude females, by painting his beloved wife, Georgette, he is calling on the tale of Pygmalion from Greek mythology (another dig at bourgeois art-school and classical painting traditions) and of course, as the title helpfully points out, attempting the impossible. A reminiscent paradox is presented in M.C. Escher’s Drawing Hands, 1948. 

Attempting the Impossible, 1928 by Rene Magritte

Another, self-portrait, The Clairvoyance 1936, depicts him again in the act of painting. He is painting a bird, but looking at an egg for reference. Here again he is using the title to make you really examine what you are seeing. This is a very uplifting painting, here Magritte is showing man’s capacity to the visualise potential in things. He is painting the future. In this painting the background would add nothing to the motif so has been blended out as unimportant. The colours in this work are much more saturated than the narrow palette of Attempting the Impossible, with contrasting red and blues. The red of the tablecloth highlights the white egg as the source of his gaze, and the coolness of the grey/blue bird and background area make them recede in the picture. Perhaps influenced by his time in advertising, his illustrative style clearly articulates the content of his paintings, avoiding stylistic distractions. The way in which he is painted reminds me rather of the non-nonsense look of the models in advertisements of the time. Again, the concept is not really personal to him although he did like to think of himself as a magician who pulled back the curtain of illusion with his art, to which a much later portrait (Magician, self portrait with four arms, 1952) attests.

The background in Frida’s paintings is always of relevance.

  • Cracked earth
  • Lush vegetation


René Magritte. La Clairvoyance (Clairvoyance). Brussels, 1936
Oil on canvas
Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur Ross Size: 54.5 x 65.5 cm. Location: Private collection.

The impossible:

Magritte and the impossible by John Berger, in selected essays. P345

Berger points out that Magritte uses the language of painting of Van Eyck, and the last 500 years of artists since. Tangible illusions which assume continuous space & time in which material things can be represented by appearances. It is what most Europeans still expect from visual art, a realistic likeness of objects and events in a certain setting. However, by using it, he destroys it with what he has to say, ‘destroyed the raison-d’etre of the language he used; the point of most of his paintings depends on what is not shown, upon the event that is not taking place, upon what can disappear’ (Berger, J, 2001) p345.

Berger takes as examples an early work, L’Assassin menace, 1927.

Here a naked woman lies dead, the murderer (assassin) stands rather composed listening to the gramophone. Two men (Berger thinks plainclothes police) wait to capture him with a net and a club. Three men stare through the window at the scene.

we are shown everything and nothing. We see a particular event in its concrete setting, yet everything remains mysterious – the committed murder, the future arrest, the appearance of the three staring men in the window. What fills the depicted moment is the sound of the record, and this, by the very nature of painting, we cannot hear’ (Berger, J, 2001) p345/6


Magritte frequently uses the idea of sound to comment upon the limitation of the visual. (Berger, J, 2001) P346

 Another example, La Femme Introuvable, 1928.

‘it shows a number of irregular stones embedded in cement. These stones frame a nude woman and four large hands searching for her. The painting stresses the quality of tangibility. Yet although the hands can feel their way over the stones, the woman eludes them.’ (Berger, J, 2001) p346.

Berger third early example is Le Musée d’une nuit.

In The Treachery of Images, 1929, Magritte painted a picture of a pipe with the words, ‘ceci n’est pas une pipe’, this is not a pipe underneath. Here ‘he made two languages (the visual and the verbal) cancel one another out.‘ (Berger, J, 2001)  p346

Rene Magritte – La Trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) (The treachery of images (This is not a pipe)), 1948, Oil on Canvas, Private Collection

Berger quotes Magritte, saying he thought his pictures should be thought of ‘as material signs of the freedom of thought […] Life, the universe, the void, have no value for thought when it is truly free. The only thing that has value for it is Meaning, that is the moral concept of the Impossible’. (Berger, J, 2001) P346

Magritte explains that our experiences encroach on the ability for our thoughts to be truly free. He tries with each painting to shake off the coincidental and contingent which restrict the impossible, which is slightly confusing since one of the aims of the Surrealists was to tap into just that which floats on the surface of unconscious thought.

Berger Splits Magritte’s paintings into two categories, one in which we only have the ‘sensation of the impossible’, for example La Chambre d’ecoute, and the 1950s images where everything is made of stone. And the other where ‘the impossible has been grasped, measured and inserted as an absence in a statement made in a language originally and specially developed for depicting particular events in particular settings’. (Berger, J, 2001), p347 examples of these are Au Seuil de la liberte, Le modele rouge and Le voyageur.

Au Seuil de la liberte, on the threshold of liberty.

Le modele rouge , the red model, 1935

Plain boots would suggest that someone had simply left their shoes behind, cut off feet would point to murder or violence but shoes turning into feet makes you stop and ponder. Perhaps, as Berger thinks, this points to ‘a self that has left its own skin. The painting is about what is absent, about a freedom that is absence’. (Berger, J, 2001) p348

Le voyageur, 1937

‘if a painting by Magritte confirms one’s lived experience to date, it has by his standards, failed; if it temporarily destroys experience, it has succeeded’. (Berger, J, 2001) p347

Paradoxically, he used a familiar language to destroy the familiar.

Our idea of freedom extends, our experience of it diminishes. It is from this that the moral concept of the impossible arises’. (Berger, J, 2001) p347



Alexandrian, S. (1970) Surrealist art. Thames and Hudson Ltd

Calvocoressi , R. (1992) Magritte. (2nd Ed) Phaidon Press

Berger, J. (2001) Selected Essays. New York: Vintage

Harrison, C & Wood, P (Ed.). (2003) Art in theory 1900-2000, an anthology of changing ideas. Blackwell publishing

Honour, H & Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art. (7th Ed), London, Laurence King Publishing

Torczyner, H. (1979) Magritte: Ideas and Images. Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

Brutalism – A Visit to the Barbican Estate

The 500 words task for Assignment 5 reads as follows:

A 500-word analysis of a maximum of four works in any media other than painting or sculpture which demonstrate the influence of the political, social and economic changes that have taken place since 1945.  (course notes)

Does Architecture count as a media? The WHA has included it all along so I’m assuming yes. Also, the second visit task is as follows:

Look at some twentieth-century buildings If you live in a big city you’ll be spoilt for choice but most towns will have something of interest. Go for something different from your earlier visits. This could be a tube station, a block of flats or a shopping mall. Don’t just think about the way it looks or the materials and building methods used. Try to imagine how easy it might be to maintain and clean, how efficient it might be in terms of its use of energy, how secure it might feel for someone on their own at night, etc. Make notes in your learning log. (course notes)

I thought I’d try and combine the two but depending on time constraints this might not develop enough to cover the visit task, I primarily visited this area to discover for myself what the big deal with Brutalist architecture was so that I could develop my 500 words from more than just reading research.


As a post war evolution of Modernism, the lofty, utopian ideals of Brutalist architecture have been lost to the mists of time and what we are left with today are big, blocky public buildings (whose exterior concrete facades have not aged well), with various social problems such as graffiti and antisocial behaviour. Some people subscribe to the ‘so ugly it is beautiful’ school of thought and many existing Brutalist buildings, such as the Barbican Complex, are now Grade II listed. The style was popular in the postwar era many people needed rehousing after the blitz, the economy was in tatters so new developments needed to be cheap, with easily sourced building materials such as concrete. The name is actually a wry English twist on Le Corbusier’s French term béton brut (raw concrete) popularised by British architectural critic Reyner Banham.

Barbican Estate Visit

The Barbican Estate is huge. Its infamous amongst visitors to the barbican arts centre as being impossible to navigate, a fact to which I can attest having got lost trying to find my way out once I’d finished with my visit!


I loved this fantastic short film about the barbican from 1969:

References: (2017). Introduction to Brutalism. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Aug. 2017].

City Of London. (2017) Barbican Estate history At:
(Accessed on 15 Aug 17)

Clement, A. (2011) Brutalism: Post-war British Architecture. The Crowood Press

Financial Times (2013). Brutalist architecture: a concept made concrete. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Aug. 2017].

Hyett, P. (1999) ‘Trellick Tower – a giant among high rises ‘In: The Architects’ Journal 1999, May 6, p.20. [online] At:
(Accessed on 15 Aug 17)