Whether you are a keen and active artist, a complete novice or just a culturally-minded individual, your university years should provide a good opportunity to pursue any interest you may have in the visual arts. Yet here in Oxford it has been, in my experience at least, not so easy to locate a visual art ‘scene’ as it is to find the equivalents for the other arts; music and drama, for example, are both cultivated in the activities of a thriving community. Readers might like, therefore, to know more about some of the activity in the visual arts that occurs inside and outside the doors of the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art.
For centuries essential to an artist’s education, life drawing is today viewed with apprehension and the occasional snigger. The art of drawing the naked human form is a challenging task; but if you are an inexperienced draughtsman, attending a class with tuition is an excellent way to begin learning to draw. From my own experience, I would recommend life-drawing classes as a productive way of distracting yourself from the daily grind of student life, and as providing a space in which you may calmly achieve something that engages your creativity, as well as your powers of observation and concentration. It is encouraging to see signs of renewed interest in the traditional practices which cultivate the basic concepts of art – looking and seeing – at a time when the art world is overrun with video installations and brash objects professing deep symbolic meaning.
So where can you go for art classes within easy reach of the colleges? The Ruskin School, which can be found at 74 High Street, puts on life-drawing classes open to Oxford students every Wednesday and Thursday evening at 5.30. The classes are exceedingly good value, at £30-£35 a term, and this includes all materials except pencils/charcoal. As a regular member of the class, I can assure readers that they should not be put off if they lack experience, since there is absolutely no requirement that you have any prior drawing skills. The three-hour sessions provide a chance to explore and develop whatever artistic skills you may – or may not – have. The structure of each session encourages students to try different techniques: short 2-minute poses, during which the tutor may challenge you to attempt such experiments as drawing without looking at the paper, or using your non-dominant hand; a couple of 20-minute poses; and finally a substantially longer pose, which does demand a great deal of concentration.
If life drawing is not to your taste, and you are looking for an opportunity to explore your creativity in a sociable environment, then it would be well worthwhile to go along to the Christ Church art room on a Saturday, where Oxford Art Movement holds a session open to all. To get involved and to find out more, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The room is well equipped with paints, paper, and art books; and for a mere £2 you can make use of everything that is available. Whether you choose to follow the still life that is set up in the middle of the room, or are inspired by one of the many art books on the shelves, a couple of hours out of your weekend devoted to exploring your artistic potential should leave you feeling wonderfully refreshed.
To inspire you further, OAM will be holding an exhibition at the end of the term with the theme ‘Sublime and Grotesque’, which should give your imagination free rein. I hope that you will now feel encouraged to try out some new territory, and get involved in Oxford’s artistic life.