At graduation this year, the department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies celebrated three of its students through the award of prizes for the best dissertation and best contribution to the department.
The Emily Rastall Memorial Prize, set up this year in memory of Emily Rastall, a graduate of the department who sadly passed away in 2012, was awarded jointly to Rachel Johnston and Charlotte Bagwell. Reflecting Emily’s own love of the Barber and her passion for her degree course, the prize rewards service and commitment to the department. Rachel Johnston served as student representative throughout her time at Birmingham, putting forward the views, concerns, and ideas of her year group. Like Emily, she was involved in the Buddy System which mentors new first year undergraduates, and she also played an active part in the musical activities of the Barber. Charlotte gave generously of her time, especially during her busy final year, to represent the department at Open Days and Applicant Visit Days, talking to Year 12 and 13 students, offer holders, and their parents about her experience of studying at Birmingham, and taking them on tours of the Barber.
I was very touched to receive the prize, particularly as Emily was a close friend of mine, and also because it serves as recognition of my involvement in a very special department which I have so enjoyed being part of during my three years at Birmingham. – Rachel Johnston
I was really honoured to be chosen along with Rachel to receive the first Emily Rastall prize. It’s a great prize to award, as a number of students willingly give their time to work for the department, showing their enjoyment of the History of Art course. I’m glad that I was able to contribute to the department and that I hopefully managed to convince potential students, who might be worrying over which university to choose, the strength of the University of Birmingham’s History of Art course. – Charlotte Bagwell
The involvement of students is crucial to the running of a happy, successful department and we are really grateful to both Charlotte and Rachel and all the other students who have given of their time and showed their commitment. Rachel and Charlotte were also contributors to The Golovine and we hope to hear more from them in the future!
The Sam Beighton Prize for the best dissertation was awarded this year to Maximilian Milward for his study of Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson’s ‘Sprucers’/Dog-Tired (1916). Max gives us a glimpse of the process of writing his dissertation, which was awarded a mark of 80.
For about the first three months of working on my dissertation, I just could not see how it was going to end. And by that I do not mean that I could not envision my final argument or the overriding theme of the project. I mean that I could not imagine how I would ever pull all the strands of enquiry together and actually finish such a horribly daunting task. It is the same for every history of art essay that I have ever done. But somehow, in the end, they always get done.
The subject of my study was a painting by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson (1889-1946) called ‘Sprucers’. Nevinson’s career as an artist spanned almost four decades but his most critically acclaimed works were made during the First World War. Today he is well-known for his Futurist depictions of machine-like marching soldiers and abstract shell explosions but a number of his war paintings are more reflective and understated. It was one of these less well known works that I decided to bring into question in my dissertation.
‘Sprucers’ was exhibited for the first time in the autumn of 1916, when it was widely considered to be a condemnatory depiction of members of the British armed forces. ‘Sprucer’ was a slang term used during the First World War to refer to a soldier who was lazy or who avoided his duties. It was not my intention to consider whether this meaning was intended by the artist: more important to my dissertation was the way in which the social conditions of production and display changed the implications of the work. It was interesting, therefore, that by 1920 the name had changed from ‘Sprucers’ to the less provocative Dog Tired. The person responsible for this title alteration is unknown, and whilst this was discussed in some depth in my study, I felt that it was more important to establish the motives behind the change. Indeed I was able to argue that this was a deliberate alteration of a controversial title in order to make the painting more socially acceptable, and thus commercially viable, in the years immediately after the War.
It is going to sound a bit corny, but in the last few weeks of my working on the project I had elevated it to a status above that of mere coursework. It was a labour of love. Never before had I truly enjoyed a piece of academic work, and for this reason I am sad that it is over. All I can say now is thanks to my supervisor and the History of Art department for their support and help over the last three years. It has been a ball!
Congratulations to all three prize-winners and good luck with your future plans! This summer Charlotte has been travelling in China and is looking for a museum internship (perhaps in Hong Kong!). Rachel has been working as an intern at Apollo magazine, one of the oldest and most authoritative of magazines on the visual arts. Max is currently taking part in the British Horseracing Authority Graduate Programme with an eight-week placement at the Jockey Club Racecourses in Epsom with a view to going into horseracing journalism. Watch out Clare Balding!