Using the Illustrations in Access to English: Literature
The goals in the curriculum for this course include the requirement that a student should be able to «beherske terminologi til å analysere skjønnlitteratur, film og andre estetiske uttrykksformer» and «analysere og vurdere en film og et utvalg av andre kunstneriske uttrykksformer innen engelskspråklig kultur». Clearly, the visual arts come within the sphere of «andre estetiske uttrykksformer» and «andre kunstneriske uttrykksformer». This is, of course, a huge topic, and it is not easy to know how much time to devote to it, since it is, as it were, an extension to the main emphasis of the curriculum. Access to English: Literature (hitherto in this article simply refered to as Access) accepts the challenge and has a series of sections which take up aspects of art – see especially pp 78-79, 104-106, 286 and 387-391. By working through these pages, students will be alerted to some of the terms used in discussing the visual arts, and gain a little practice in analysing and appreciating them. In addition, Access contains a selection of illustrations that allow students to dig deeper into this area of the curriculum. It is these illustrations, and suggestions for using them, that is the subject of this article.
1. Specialist terms
Analysis of literary texts requires the use of specific terms and skills. These are discussed at some length in Access (for example in 'Responding to Literature' pp14-19, 'Enjoying Poetry' pp 122-133, and the 'Improve your...' sections at the end of chapters 2-6). See too the 'Glossary of literary terms' pp 428-430. In the same way, analysis of art work (photographs, paintings, drawings, graphic art etc.) also demands a specialist language and specialist skills. There is no attempt here to give an extensive list of terms used in analysis of art, but there are a few that are essential.
figurative art: art which portrays what is seen in the world (but this portrayal may be in a distorted or changed form). Figurative art is representational – it represents something one can see in the «real» world.
abstract art: art which is completely non-representational, in the sense that the lines, patterns and colours in the art work do not directly represent something one can see in the real world. The artist might take something in the real world as his or her inspiration, or starting-point, but the degree of distortion is so intense that the art work cuts itself loose from this connection.
Discussion topic: Are the pictures on pp 247, 265 and 344 figurative or abstract?
composition: the arrangement or combination of elements in a painting or other work of art so that they seem satisfactory to the artist. For example, the artist probably wants to achieve balance, and to avoid empty spaces. There are «rules» of composition, but an artist can break them.
Discussion topic: Comment on the composition used by the artist in the illustrations on pp 35, 73 and 291.
perspective: the method of representing three-dimensional objects (such as your arm if you stretch it out in front of you) or a volume of space (such as the distance between you and some distant mountains) on a flat surface. There are rules of perspective, particularly of linear perspective (lines converging on a vanishing point – try drawing a street!) but the artist can break these to achieve special effects (Cézanne, for example, enjoyed painting tables with 'wrong' linear perspective).
Discussion topic: Comment on the perspective in the illustrations on p 270, 185.
motif: two meanings. (i) the subject of a painting or drawing (which is also often its title, but a title an be ironic – see the illustrations on p 62 and 257); (ii) a distinct and partly separate element in a design (such as the leaf motif in the painting on p 69).
Discussion topic: Comment on the title and motif of the illustrations on p 62 and 257.
Finally, four '-isms', all of which were part of cultural movements that also found vivid expression in literature.
Romanticism: With a capital 'R' Romanticism in art was a rejection of some of the formal rules of neo-Classical painting and at the same time a commitment to giving free rein to personal expression – a fine example is the painting by J.M.W.Turner reproduced on p 120. Romanticism's heyday was the early 19th century.
Realism: Any art that seeks to reproduce reality exactly can be called realistic, with a small 'r'. With a capital 'R', Realism was a style first developed by French artists in the middle of the 19th century that rejected the idealistic tendencies of Romanticism (for example its tendency to idealise the peacefulness and delights of the countryside, or exaggerate the turbulence of storms and waterfalls) and instead reproduce what they could actually see around them, such as ordinary social situations. Gustave Courbet was one of this movement's leaders. The emergence of photography stimulated this movement.
Naturalism: When many artists became increasingly interested in reproducing minute details of ordinary life in the middle of the 19th century, this movement was called Naturalism. (Some artists from earlier periods, such as Vermeer, can also be seen to be interested in this.) One can also use the term of any art work that takes its inspiration from nature, but here it is perhaps advisable to use the term «nature-inspired» or the phrase «inspired ny nature».
Modernism: a general name for a series of avant-garde styles in art (eg fauvism, cubism, pop art) that have dominated western art throughout the 20th century. Do not let the word frighten you. Read pp 264-265 in Access.
2. Consolidating language skills
Many of the language terms and analytical skills needed for discussing art are identical with those used when discussing literature. In section 1 of this article the terms 'style' and 'personal expression' have been used, for example, and these are terms also needed when discussing literature.The focus in this section is on the overlap of mood and situational context, for just as a text usually communicates a mood and a situational context to the reader, so can art work do the same. A literary text uses the resources of language and typography, while a picture uses the resources of line, colour and design. The situational context might be the motif of the painting, or it might simply be the framework for the painting's motif, or main subject.
Two illustrations showing natural scenes can serve as a starting-point: the reproduction of a painting by J.M.W.Turner on p 120 and the reproduction of a painting by John Constable on the page facing it, p 121. In both these paintings there is human activity and evidence of man-made impact on nature, but in both it is the natural scene that dominates – in the one the ferocity of the sea, in the other the peacefulness of the countryside.
By building a vocabulary resource that we can use when discussing each of these pictures, we can extend our vocabulary resources for discussing literature. Take the sky, for example - which of these adjectives might we use to express the way we see it: menacing, threatening, stormy, placid, dull, colourless, dramatic, sombre, dark, heavy? And the human figures in the paintings – which of these verbs or phrases might we employ to express what we see as their relationship to nature: work, watch, challenge, exploit, cultivate, be amazed by, be dwarfed by, belong, tame? And the overall impact of the painting: peaceful/peacefulness, unsettling, romantic, dramatic (etc)?
Having isolated one or two qualities you see in one of these paintings, it is interesting to try to find other illustrations in Access that also show these qualities. Here is a list of page references for illustrations that are particularly strong on mood:
73, 112, 236, 90, 120, 121, 123, 155, 171, 181, 247, 291, 379
Here are some words that may be useful in doing the following activities.
dark, light, threatening, menacing, sombre, heavy, light-hearted, jovial, pastoral
colourful, exotic, fulsome, imaginative, unusual, unconventional, unorthodox
stereotyped, bland, plain, homely
primitive, elegant, sophisticated
humorous, dainty, dull
erotic, racy, sexy
vulgar, indecent, coarse, obscene, pornographic
clear, unclear, distinct, indistinct, vague
(i) Find clusters of three illustrations that in your opinion generate the same sort of mood, and choose six key words to express that mood. Prepare a one-minute oral presentation of your findings.
(ii) Find clusters of two of three illustrations that in your opinion generate very different moods, and choose some words to help you explain why. Prepare a one-minute oral presentation of your findings.
(iii) Find two illustrations where the situational context is similar but the style different. Prepare a one-minute oral presentation of your findings.
Here are page references for illustrations on a common theme:
Portraits: 39, 72, 76, 80, 145, 169, 211, 335, 360, 423
Couples: 77, 141, 161, 284, 344
Relationships: 95, 189, 270, 284, 369
Moral lessons: 105, 108, 185/197
Difficult images: 129, 133, 164, 215, 217, 318, 365, 336, 406
In each case prepare and make a presentation lasting one or two minutes, or write a short article.
1. Check through the above lists of illustrations relating to «couples» and «relationships» and consider the following questions. (a) Why do you think two categories have been chosen? (b) Do you disagree with any of the allocations (for example, would you place the illustration on p 95 under «Couples» rather than «Relationships»?)
2. What do the illustrations grouped in the category «Couples» tell you of (i) changing social conventions, and (ii) changing artistic styles?
3. Discuss the relationship portrayed in each of the illustrations grouped in the category «Relationships». Imagine there were 'thinking-bubbles' above the heads of each of the people that tell us what the person is thinking. What would the texts in these bubbles be?
4. What moral lessons are being preached in the illustrations grouped in this category?
5. Choose three of the illustrations listed under «Difficult images».Why do you think these illustrations have been put in this category and what you think the pictures are about. Comment further on the pictures. (Are they figurative or abstract? What colours are used? Is there «movement» or «action» in the pictures? Are they dull or lively? etc.)
6. Find your own clusters of illustrations on a given theme.
4. Illustrations and text
Some illustrations have clearly been chosen by the authors of Access because they have a direct relevance to the text around them. Here are some suggested activities for specific illustrations.
1. Compare all the illustrations in the chapter on Hamlet. Prepare a presentation. (Comment on the different approaches to the play that these illustrations show. Can the ghost be portrayed in other ways in productions of the play, or in films, than that illustrated here? Comment on Hamlet's age as suggested by these illustrations, then use library resources or the Internet to find out how old he was – the play's text does in fact tell us.
2. Discuss extensively the illustration on p 92 (its context, its drama, its mood, the details in the foreground and background, its «special effects», why the painting it is based on was famous, etc.).
3. William Blake was both artist and poet. One of the pages that he illustrated himself can be seen on p 135. Make your own page, including illustration, of the poem «The Garden of Love». Feel free to choose your own genre (for example, you could make a montage using small newspaper cut-outs, you could use a photograph, etc.).
Henry Meynell Rheam (1859-1920): 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' (Photo: Scanpix)
4. Which stanza in «La Belle Dame Sans Merci» do you think links best with the illustration on p 138, and why?
5. Take any two of the illustrations on the following pages: 16, 29, 31,157, 200, 223, 253, 406 and discuss in writing or orally these topics:
(a) the artist's attitude (what he or she wants to 'say' or express)
(b) the text-book writers' choice (why is this picture in Access?)
(c) the style and technique used by the artist
(d) your personal respons to the illustrations
5. Social comment
Students must be encouraged to search through Access to find illustrations which, in their opinion, express strong opinions or attitudes on social conditions and/or political issues. Some of them have, of course, featured in the activities above. Students must be able to explain why they choose the pictures they do. They should also be encouraged to find images in current newspapers and magazines which are compelling comments on society, politics, successful development projects, achievements etc. (It is unnecesary to focus exclusively on tragedies and injustices.)
There are pictures of famous and/or interesting buildings in Access. (See pp 9, 37, 87, 179, 226, 263, 331, 345) How can these be exploited? Here is a suggestion.
7. Essay writing
Use a picture a starting-point for an essay.
8. Other tasks
Students can be encouraged to choose pictures themselves and explain why they have chosen them. Examples: