The popularity of A level History of Art at A Level attracts large numbers and generates an exciting mix of talents, both from Lady Margaret students and students new to the Sixth Form. The subject of History of Art is only available as an A-level, and it is particularly rare to find a state school Sixth Form that offers A-level History of Art, and this course has a history of students who have achieved excellent results. As well as its immense intrinsic interest, History of Art encourages students to develop sophisticated analytical skills as well as the ability to structure and present their ideas in an effective manner. Employers and universities are impressed with History of Art A-level for these reasons, and it is as much an academic A-level as English or History.
We have a dedicated Art History teacher who has an incredible wealth of knowledge and experience. This is an exciting course to study, and several students find they wish to pursue their studies further to read a History of Art degree.
Year 12-13 A Level
Exam board: Edexcel
Students will be studying the visual world of painting, sculpture and architecture. They will develop a toolbox of analytical skills that will give them the ability to analyse and interpret a variety of works of painting, sculpture and architecture. Alongside this, students will gain an understanding of some of the major themes of art history, such as patronage, the status of the artist, historical and cultural contexts of art, and issues of gender, nationality and ethnicity. There are five parts to the course, as follows:
- Visual Analysis and Interpretation
Students gain extensive analytical skills to enable them to discuss and interpret key aspects of examples of painting, sculpture and architecture, whether they have seen them before or not. Among many other things, students are able to explain how artists and sculptors use materials and techniques, compose images, use light and tone and colour, and create illusions of depth and space. They are also able to discuss the characteristics and architectural features of buildings and explain why and how buildings look and function as they do.
- Theme 1: Identities in Art and Architecture
Art and architecture have long been used to express identity, whether that of the artist or architect, the patron commissioning the work or the location that it was intended for. In this fascinating topic we look at issues of the representation of the Divine, portraiture, gender identity, ethnicity, hybridity and nationality in relation to a number of key examples including the Benin Bronzes, portraits by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and Frida Kahlo, and works for the Fourth Plinth by Marc Quinn and Yinka Shonibare, Süleymanie Mosque in Istanbul and buildings by contemporary architect Richard Rogers, among many others.
- Theme 2: War, Conflict and Revolution in Art and Architecture
War and conflict have been widely represented in art since early times, usually (but not always) by the victors. In this topic we examine how and why such events were recorded, and how architecture was used defensively in war and to commemorate such events afterwards. Key paintings that we examine include examples of Indian miniatures and Russian socialist realism along with representations of war by Goya, Delacroix, Picasso and Kirchner. We also study sculptures from ancient China and Rome, and by Rodin and Rachel Whiteread, as well as installations and performances by Jeremy Deller. Architectural examples include Samurai castles from Japan, and museums by Daniel Libeskind.
- Historical Study 1: Power and Persuasion: the Baroque in Catholic Europe (1587-1685)
This lively and dynamic topic permits us to examine works by some of the greatest artists of all time, including Caravaggio, Rubens, Velázquez and Zurbarán, as well as the remarkable sculptures of Bernini and the architecture of Borromini. We consider how historical events of the 16th century Counter-Reformation had an impact on the art and architecture of the 17th century, and how the Baroque style was used by the Catholic Church to win back the hearts and minds of defectors.
- Historical Study 2: Brave New World: Modernism in Europe (1900-39)
This stimulating topic examines what Modernism and Modernity mean and why there was such a profusion of avant-garde movements at the beginning of the 20th century. We look at examples of Cubism, Dada, Fauvism, Expressionism and Surrealism, with reference to key works by artists including Picasso, Braque, Duchamp, Matisse, Brancusi and Dalí, as well as iconic architecture by Le Corbusier, Perret, Rietveld and others.
How will I be assessed?
Visual analysis and interpretation are fundamental, and students will be assessed on their ability to apply these skills to a wide variety of paintings, sculptures and works of architecture. They will also be assessed on their knowledge of the artists and periods covered, as well as an ability to discuss a range of relevant themes and topics. There are two exam papers at the end of the second year, each taking 3 hours. Paper 1 covers Visual Analysis and the two Themes. Paper 2 covers the two Historical Periods.
We have many students who successfully apply to study History of Art at degree level, including at Oxford University and the prestigious Courtauld Institute. This is an excellent subject for those interested in culture or history in the broadest sense. Depending on combinations of A-level subjects, History of Art can lead to a variety of degree courses including architecture, history of art, visual culture and museum/gallery studies. Careers include publishing, the heritage industry, working for auction houses, journalism, curator and other museum/gallery work.
History of Art combines with almost any other A-level subject, such as Chemistry (art restoration), English and/or History (art critic, historian, publishing, advertising), Mathematics (architects, graphic designers), Modern Languages and Religious Studies. It combines particularly well with Art and Design, Textiles and related visual subjects.
What are the entry requirements?
There is no specialist requirement beyond the standard for entry to Lady Margaret’s Sixth Form. However, a grade 5/6 or above in English Language is preferred, and to pursue this subject at a more advanced level a modern language is highly desirable. Above all, an enquiring mind and enjoyment in looking and analysing are essential.