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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

History of Art - Alice Law

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Photo of Alice Law
History of Art student - Alice Law

About Me

I grew up in a small town in Bedfordshire. An only child, I've always enjoyed learning and making art, although I'd never considered combining them in History of Art until I'd left school. I've always gone to state schools, although my upper school had reasonable Oxbridge success with about a handful of students getting in each year. After I finished school, I decided to take a gap year because although I wanted go to university, I knew at that time that I wasn't ready. I ended up taking two years before coming to uni, spending the first year volunteering at a local lower school and the second doing a Foundation Course in Art. I really enjoyed my year at college and I was surprised how much I'd missed being in education. When I did apply to Cambridge, I placed an open application (because in my indecisiveness I couldn't choose a college!) and was placed at Murray Edwards. Although initially apprehensive of the college - its white brick and concrete not part of my 'Cambridge' image - as well as the fact that hardly anyone had actually heard of the place! - I've come to love Medwards and truly believe that I couldn't have been placed anywhere better. I wouldn't trade it!

Enjoying my subject

The main thing which drew me to Cambridge was the course. As someone who had never studied Art History before university, aside from the odd contextual project at school, the fact the first year has given me a broad overview of Art's history from Giotto to Alexander Calder has been a really good introduction to the subject. As well as this I have been introduced to methods of making and major issues of meaning in works of art and architecture. This has been especially useful as for second year we've chosen more specialised subjects – and this last year has been spent learning how to look at a wide variety of works of art and getting used to talking about them.

As a broad learner I have enjoyed the variety of things we have studied this year, with one week looking at Impressionist painting and the next could be as different as welded constructivist sculpture! Through all of this variety however, there have been a few areas which have been particularly memorable. Our twice weekly seminars in and around Cambridge, known affectionately as 'Objects' have been really interesting, especially as they allow you to see objects in situ, and in some cases handle them. Their subjects also vary far more than lectures – seminars we've had this year include: classical sculpture, renaissance textiles, Russian religious icons, the architecture of various colleges and Pacific art. Along with these, we've had several site seminars over the year, visiting workshops to learn more about certain practices, as well as having a significant number of seminars in the Fitzwilliam Museum, handily located almost next door to the History of Art department, and in exam term having a revision day at the National Gallery.

Life at Murray Edwards

Like most people, starting university was the first time I'd lived away from home, so obviously I was apprehensive before I came to Cambridge, especially as I've always been quite shy. It didn't take long to settle in however, as Medwards has such a relaxed environment that it's easy to feel comfortable and part of a community – I've even been told by someone from another college that she genuinely believes that Medwards is the friendliest of all the colleges! I think that's something we should be very proud of!

Dome's definitely a highlight, it's a place to relax and catch up with friends - especially during exam term. There are also those days you look forward to: Burger Monday, Sunday Roast, and of course, the famous Brunch – by Week 6 I swear that it's one thing that gets you through the week!

The gardens are also lovely – it's such a novelty to be able to walk on the grass and revise or just sit with friends in the summer. The riots of colour that sit in the middle of the lawn are also quite something, it's nice to see the crocuses in the spring and we even had an Easter Egg Hunt back in April.

I'm also been a member of the JCR, our college's student committee as Arts Officer. This role includes being involved with the college's Art Collection – the largest collection of female art in Europe.. As well as this I ran Arts and Crafts sessions for students, and in the summer I was responsible for the making of many of the decorations at the Murray Edwards Garden Party. As far as I know, the role is unique to Murray Edwards..

A snapshot of my week

On average I have about seven hours of contact time a week, which includes lectures, seminars, some of which are in the Fitzwilliam Museum, and one supervision. It may not sound much compared to science subjects but a lot of the work done in a week is independent research towards the weekly essay. This example week was taken from Lent Term, when we were studying The Making of Art.

THURSDAY:  This is the busiest day of the week, with a 10 o'clock lecture, a 2 o'clock seminar in the Fitzwilliam and a 5 o'clock supervision. I normally get up about quarter past 8 and leave for the department at half 9 – because of the short amounts of time between each session) I tend to spend the day in the department library gathering books and reading for my new essay, the question for which I had chosen the evening before. I usually get back to college about half 6 and allow myself the evening to relax after my 9 hour day.

FRIDAY: We have a site seminar on Friday where we visit a working studio and look at artistic or conservation methods and techniques – the lengths have varied from a couple of hours to the whole day. I normally spend whatever free time I have that day reading. On Friday evening I usually spent read or relax with friends.

SATURDAY:  My designated lie in day, I try and do some reading before brunch which starts about half 11. After brunch, I'll often spend the rest of the afternoon reading for my essay and Monday seminar. Again, I usually spend Saturday evening out with friends.

SUNDAY:  I tend to spend Sunday reading for my essay, meeting friends for Sunday Lunch. I would sometimes spend the afternoon or evening socially, using any spare time to read some more.

MONDAY: An 11 o'clock lecture, I spend the extra hour in the morning  and those when I get back in the afternoon finishing up my essay reading and anything else needed to be prepared for the 1 o'clock seminar, which alternates between a discussion of the set reading and a pre-planned group presentation based on the sources. Monday afternoon is quite busy normally as I have two choir rehearsals with an hour for dinner in between, so I can't do any work until I get back at 9. I then spend the rest of the evening planning my essay – devising my thesis claim, doing my own visual analysis and integrating all of the points I think relevant to the question and how I want to answer it.

TUESDAY:  This is the day we affectionately refer to as 'Essay Day', where I effectively shut myself in my room and write my 2000 word essay. I have a 10 o'clock lecture and a 2 o'clock seminar in the Fitzwilliam so I took to spending a couple of hours between these sessions starting my essay. When I get back, I spend the rest of the day writing and usually finish editing, referencing and adding pictures in the late evening.

WEDNESDAY: After emailing my finished essay to my supervisor in the morning, I allow myself most of Wednesday off, using the time to catch up with various errands such as washing up and laundry, as well as relaxing before the week starts again.