Learn How To Appreciate Art – New Shaftesbury Courses Start Soon

If you would like to learn more about the world’s great artists and understand why their works are so significant, a series of one-day courses at Shaftesbury’s Gold Hill Museum might interest you.

Professional artist and art tutor, Jane Macey, told Alfred’s Keri Jones that negative school memories sometimes prevent people from fully appreciating art.

When I think back to my ‘O’ level art lessons, I can only remember the uninspiring experience of having to draw an orange. Jane Macey regularly hears stories like this. “People who come to the classes generally say, ‘I really hated art at school, because I couldn’t draw as well as so-and-so’,” said Jane. “There’s always someone in the class who draws really well and everyone else compares himself to them and feels like a failure. In fact, everyone can learn to draw. It’s hard to do and you have to practice. You can’t turn up and expect it to just flow. It’s about looking at the world and really observing.” Jane’s Shaftesbury sessions will help attendees re-connect with their artistic abilities.

Jane Macey

Each of her one-day events follows an ‘art appreciation’ theme. If you have ever found yourself in an art gallery wondering what the browsers are seeing when they stare, totally immersed in the artworks, this course could open your eyes.

“There are a lot of symbols in painting. There are references to bible stories, to emotions, to politics. If you see a picture of the two ambassadors at the court of Henry VIII, you don’t know what’s going on. It’s all to do with the way they’re standing, what they’re wearing and their clothes. The Flemish weavers had just sent all their wool over and that’s what they’re wearing. There’s lots in that.”

Jane will talk about the major events, politics and mood of the period during which famous works were painted. That background knowledge helps us identify those subtle references which meant a lot at the time and which puts the work into context today. “For me, the role of art is not just to make people say, ‘this is beautiful, I want this on my wall’, or ‘that’s horrible and it gives me a bad vibe’. It’s not decoration. It’s about making you think about the universe, politics, culture, philosophy, whatever it is. It’s making you question. For me, that’s good art. And that’s what I try to do,” said Jane.

On the first Saturday, the theme that links all of Janes’ examples will be myths and legends. “We will be looking at Greek, Celtic, Islamic and Egyptian myths, which all inform very famous artworks. It sounds quite hard going,” Jane smiled, “But it’s interesting, because it isn’t just a separate thing. It’s intrinsically linked within our society and our history and our culture.”

Jane will cover a vast range of artistic styles, from the first cave paintings to the present day. “With myths and legends, you tend to think of Greek myths and legends – Homer and the Trojan wars and fighting the monsters. That is a great universal theme – good against bad. There’s such a massive field to choose from. I also like to bring it up to date and look at modern art of the 20th century.”

Whatever the subject or events that influenced a painting, there are some basics guidelines that help critics rate a piece of art. Jane will explain these rules, too. “Art is about composition. It doesn’t matter what your piece of art is, it is about how you’ve thought about how it’s going to look to the viewer. I will also talk about techniques,” she said.

During the day, attendees will be run through some of the broad theories of art. Then they will be encouraged to put what they have learned into practice. Each group member will have the chance to create their own art, using whatever tools they feel comfortable with. “Any media you like – pencil, charcoal, watercolour, acrylic or even mud. You can use sticks. You can use absolutely anything that you want to create whatever you have in your head.”

Jane says, ‘having a go’ and experimenting is really important. “At the end of that day, you won’t come away painting like Rubens. But you will be able to produce something that’s come from you, using this range of media with your ideas. You will go away having a bit of knowledge of the history of the time, and the techniques of the painter or the sculptor, and then a bit more confidence in what you do,” she explained.

Jane’s Art Appreciation Course on myths and legends is being held in the Gold Hill Museum Garden room on Saturday 14th September from 10.30am to 5pm. And more events on the Art Appreciation theme will be held at the same venue in 2020, focusing on Art and Madness, Decoding da Vinci, Female Pioneers and Rubens Uncovered.

Jane splits her time between teaching. She offers life drawing classes in East Stour and producing her own art works. She has exhibited several times at the monthly Friday arts showcase in the Town Hall, arranged by The Shaftesbury Group of local artists. “I am a practising artist. I do have exhibitions. I make video sculpture and do prints including digital prints as well,” she said.

Jane say she was particularly keen to host these new adult education sessions. She feels that our area has been overlooked with courses, compared to the coastal conurbation where people are offered many more learning opportunities. “Most of the classes were down towards the south. Dorset is a very big country and Adult Education really does wish to push back out into North Dorset, because there’s a lot of people here who would really appreciate the chance to go on one of their courses.”

Jane hopes that anyone with a passing interest in art will join her other students on a journey of discovery. And she promises that nobody will have to paint a bowl of fruit! “It’s fun, and it’s confidence boosting. I hate it when people say that they’ve been put off art because they were told they were no good. I think it’s very important to find that within yourself.”

The full (undiscounted) fee for this course is £39 and the concessionary rate is £20. You can enrol online at or by ringing 01202 262300.