Using the illustrations in the textbook
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 accepts the challenge and has a series of sections called “Across the Arts” which take up aspects of architecture, painting, music and design: see pages 86-90, 126-130, 191-194, 264-268, 332-336 and 422-425. 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 large number 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.
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” on pp. 14–19 and “Enjoying Poetry” on pp. 138–149. The “Glossary of literary terms” on pp. 426–429 is a useful reference section. In the same way, analysis of art work (photographs, paintings, drawings, graphic art, architecture, etc.) also demands specialist terminology and specialist skills. There is no attempt here to give an extensive list of terms used in the analysis of art, but below 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 pages 177, 235 and 269 figurative or abstract?
composition: the arrangement or combination of elements in a painting or other work of art that seems 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 pages 156, 252 and 337.
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 pages 95, 161 and 237.
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 – fine examples are the paintings by John Constable on page 131 and J.M.W. Turner on page 133. 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 the movement.
Naturalism: Naturalism arose when many artists became increasingly interested in reproducing minute details of ordinary life in the middle of the 19th century. (Some artists from earlier periods, such as Vermeer, can also be called Naturalists.) 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 by nature”.
Modernism: a general name for a series of avant-garde styles in art (e.g. Fauvism, Cubism, Pop Art) that dominated western art throughout the 20th century. Do not let the word frighten you, but read pages 270-276 in Access.
Consolidating language skills
Many of the language terms and analytical skills needed for discussing art are identical with those used 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 those 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 page 133 and that of a painting by John Constable on page 131. 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, 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 are some page references for illustrations that are particularly strong on mood:
68, 97, 101, 135, 156, 166, 185, 235, 239 and 241.
- Find clusters of three illustrations that in your opinion generate the same sort of mood, and then find a few key words to express that mood. Prepare a one-minute oral presentation of your findings.
- Find clusters of two of three illustrations that in your opinion generate very different moods, and find some words to help you explain why. Prepare a one-minute oral presentation of your findings.
- 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:
47, 50, 51, 53, 57, 62, 66, 74, 79, 87, 88, 90, 163, 170, 173, 193, 202, 299, 335
Couples, groups and relationships:
37, 58, 82, 91, 93, 103, 110, 112, 117, 118, 120, 124, 127, 159, 161, 195, 198, 305, 208, 223, 225, 337, 376
68, 97, 101, 106, 133, 156, 165, 166, 169, 184/185, 235, 239, 240
Buildings and urban scenes:
126, 154, 177, 197, 226, 266, 288, 352
19, 25, 95, 128, 150/151, 203, 231, 291
- Choose two portraits from two different ages. What do they have in common, and what makes them different from each other?
- Choose a portrait and give it an original caption. Feel free to be humorous.
- Find two contrasting pictures of couples and state in what ways they are different.
- Choose a picture of a couple and draw a speech bubble for one or both people.
- Do tasks 2 and 3 for two pictures of groups from different eras and places.
- Choose a dramatic scene and use it as a starting point for a short story.
- Compare and contrast any two buildings or urban scenes.
- Choose a place (a building or an urban or rural setting) and say why would like to live there (or why you wouldn’t).
- Take an illustration which makes a social comment, and talk or write about the problem it highlights.
- Find your own clusters of illustrations on a theme of your choice.
Illustrations and literary texts
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.
- Use an illustration to predict when and where a given text is set, what type of text it is, and what happened before the scene portrayed in the picture. The picture of Gulliver on page 106 is ideal for this activity, and if a teacher decides to use it, he or she should show it as a slide unaccompanied by text. Learners can modify their initial conclusions when they have listened to some text.
- Take a portrait such as that of Henry VIII on page 47, or of Jane Eyre on page 180, and use the subject’s clothing to date it. What type of literature do you associate with the period you have decided on? Name three or four works written during the period.
- Compare all the illustrations in the section 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.
- Which stanza in “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” do you think links best with the illustration on p. 156, and why?
- Take an illustration which relates directly to a literary text which you enjoyed, and discuss, either in writing or orally, these topics:
(a) the artist's attitude (what he or she wants to express)
(b) the textbook writers' choice (why is this picture in Access?)
(c) the style and technique used by the artist
(d) your personal response to the illustration, why or why not you found it appropriate, whether it enhanced your appreciation of the text, and anything else which struck you about it.
- Essay writing: Use a picture as a starting point for an essay on a literary text.
- Use pictures for revision. The illustration on page 208, for example, should generate a number of comments on Oliver Twist which could be incorporated in a mind map.
- Use illustrations to test learners’ knowledge of a text they have studied. Who are these people? Where are they? What are they doing? Why are they doing it?
Students can be encouraged to choose pictures themselves and explain why they have chosen them. Examples:
- Find a picture which expresses a strong mood (happiness, worry, anger, determination, etc.).
- Find a dramatic picture. Why have you chosen it? What is going on? What special techniques has the artist or photographer used?
- Which is your favourite picture? Explain to your classmates why you like it more than the other illustrations.
- Find a picture which you think would make a good CD or DVD cover. What sort of music or movie could it be used for?
- Choose a picture of a person and put yourself in his or her shoes. Think, talk or write about the following:
- Who am I and why am I here?
- What have I just done?
- What am I doing now?
- Choose one or more persons in a picture. What do you think of him / her / them?
Would you like to be like him / her / them? Why (not)?