HSC Critique - Responding to Section 2

Writing an essay for Visual Arts is somewhat like producing your BOW, it something that comes from a great deal of effort and refinement.

The effort spent in your researching the topics, mapping and synthesising ideas and recognising and addressing what is asked within the essay question are all important tasks to ensure you construct a resolved piece of writing. Your response for Section 2 need needs to be dense with meaning and knowledge about the Visual Arts and effective application of either Practice / Conceptual Framework / Frames.

Like all essays there is a basic structure to work from you may wish to follow it or develop your own approach from it.

Step 1
Recognise what is being asked in the question and respond specifically to the demands of the question.

Fortunately in Section 2 of the examination you have three questions for each of the content areas. This being:-

3 Questions – Practice

3 Questions – Conceptual Framework

3 Questions – Frames

You only need to answer one question from these nine for Section 2.

Step 2
Contextualise your knowledge with question, make matches of what you know to what is being asked in the question. Map out ways you can use your knowledge coherently to address the demands of the question and construct a sound essay.

Very rarely can you guess exactly what the question will be prior to the examination so be prepared to mould what you know around the question. Brianstorming in the first minute and mapping out key points is an important step in constructing a well-written essay.

Step 3
Write, you have only 45 minutes in this section, its not much time to get down over a year of study. Make sure that the paragraphs are clearly formulated around key topics that address the question.

The essay should be structured something like this

a) Introduction

b) Main Body (comprising of different topics/ themes/ artists)

c) Conclusion

Introduction – account for the question and introduce the topics, themes artists and /or artworks.

Topic sentence – this may relate to a theme, an account of an artist, a critique of an artwork, discussion of a critic, theoretician or historian. The following sentence will elaborate upon the topic revealing a clear understanding of what is being discussed. The following sentences may make further connections with the use of quotes or similarities that arise in other practitioners. The final sentence in this paragraph should tie up the topic with the question in a clear manner. (remember you are being assessed not only on your knowledge but how well you respond to the demands of the question).

So each paragraph will have the basic structure that looks like this

A. topic sentence

B. a group of sentences that elaborate upon the topic

C. use of quotes or examples of art works that support the points you make

D. a sentence that connects and addresses the demands of the question

This is a basic structure that is repeated for each paragraph, each topic / theme / artists discussed should relate to your plan you made in the first few minutes of the examination.

Conclusion – this is the final part of your essay and is a valuable as the introduction, it is the summation of how you understand the question and what the key points are within the essay.

A key rule in the conclusion is not to introduce new information, this should be placed in the main body of the essay.

Remember when writing for section 2

- Recognise what is being asked and address the question

- Contextualise your knowledge with the demands of the question

- Write in a coherent and succinct manner

Sample student response

Question – Frames

Discuss how artworks construct artists’ accounts of societies.

Student’s approach and context to the question

How is the representation of the human form a ‘key signifier (object)’ for Renaissance culture, refer to both Italian and Northern Renaissance artists

Planning of the essay


Outlines response

Formulates important points & provides listing

Recognises the demands of the question

- Use the theme of the representation of the body as the basis of the response

- Differentiation between representations of human form in Italian and Northern Renaissance (representation is culturally derivative)

o Northern – natural (Durer)

o Italian – idealistic (Michelangelo & Botticelli)

- How it represented culture of the time, moving away from gothic art discovery of antiquity – symbol of affluence

- Changes in attitudes – science (perspective), religion – duality – signs (School of Athens) intellect over science human for symbolic and iconic

- Humanism, realism,

- Self portraits, artists as celebrities/intellectuals – Durer

- Rediscovery of classicism re birth of old ways

- Subject vision of the perfect – Da Vinci – Virtruvian man – Michelangelo’s David

- Man becomes centre of the universe rather than God

- Symbols – Jan Van Eyck the Arnolfini marriage

- Re conceptualises the representation of the human form

- Conclusion

Student response

For Renaissance culture the representation of the human form was a key signifier for the move away from the belief that God was the centre of the universe and towards the celebration of man. During the Renaissance the representation of the human form in art moved away from gothic to a rediscovered classicism and antiquity reflecting the changing cultural outlook of society and artists. Renaissance was popular both in Northern Europe and in Italy, though they used differing styles and techniques to achieve their own representations of the human form. In Northern art we see a celebration of the everyday and humanism with natural realist works such as the master of Flemalle’s Merode Altarpiece. Alternatively in Italian Renaissance we see a fascination with idealistic perfected forms in the works of Michelangelo and Botticelli. Whilst Northern and Italian artists represent the human form differently in both cultures we see a duality of science and religion lead to works such as northern artist Jan Van Eyck’s The Madonna and Child with Chancellor Rolin and Italian artist Raphael’s School of Athens and sees the use of semiotics in works such as Albrecht Durer’s the Arnolfini marriage and reference to mythology in Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. With the Renaissance attitudes to art and artists began to change with art becoming a highly desired commodity and sign of affluence and artists being recognised as geniuses and intellectuals in their own right. Using their unique and individual styles to depict reality and to give art a new humanism, reflecting the shift toward man as the centre of the universe rather than god.

In the Renaissance the representation of the human form moved away from the gothic style that had preceded it. Focussing on creating natural works with specific and individual style that were unlike the elongated, stylised and static gothic art. Renaissance rediscovered classicism and antiquity characteristics of ancient Greek art can be seen in Michelangelo’s monumental statue of David is true to the Greeks love of physical beauty and reflects the way Greeks saw the human form as the highest form of perfection. The work of Miron and in particular his sculpture The Discus Thrower or Praxeiteles’ Hermes with the young Dionysus may have influenced Michelangelo with their idealised form, grace and naked purity. Similarly Botticelli may have been influenced by the Ludovisi Throne, the Greek relief that depicts the birth of Venus, the same scene that became his most famous work. In referencing Greek art it can be seen that Renaissance was embracing the same freedom of form and naturalism that characterised ancient Greek art, moving away from the heavily stylised, static and ill-proportioned works of the Gothic era. The celebration of the human form rediscovered from classicism reflects the cultural shift toward man as the centre of the universe.

Whilst the human form is an important signifier in both Northern and Italian art the representations differ. In Northern art and in particular the work Merode Altarpiece by the Master of Flemalle there is a vivid realism and angularity of form with special attention paid to detail and use of vibrant colours. In the Merode Altarpiece a celebration of the everyday and of humanism can be seen in the figure of St Joseph with special care and attention paid to his expression, there is also the use of vibrant jewel like colours used for his turban and red sleeves. This celebration of humanism can be seen in the detailed works of Jan Van Eyck who used oil paints to achieve a rich intense glow, which can be seen in the vibrant colour used for Man in a Red Turban. Northern Renaissance focused on achieving detailed realistic works, which strived to make things appear as they would in the real world utilised the science of perspective. The use of the human for in Northern art signified the cultural shift towards the importance of man and the beauty that exists naturally and everyday.

Alternatively in the Italian Renaissance artists focussed on ideal form, which was based on classical proportions. The work of Michelangelo was fascinated with the ideal human form from his early sculptures of the Virgin Mary mourning Christ and of David to his painting of the Sistine ceiling and The Last Judgement. Michelangelo’s sculpture of David represents the Italian Renaissances belief of beauty as both physical and spiritual and reflects the Vitruvius quote that “Man in his ideal proportion is the measure of all things.” David signifies the way in which attitudes were changing about the social structure and how man is moving toward becoming the centre of the universe rather than God. The use of idealism can also be seen in the work of Sandro Botticelli. In Primavera a mythological work Venus and handmaidens appear as images of perfection and seem to be floating. His fluid decorative designs and elegant figures deal with aesthetics and morphology, which were important themes in Italian Renaissance.

Renaissance saw a amalgamation between science and religion as can be seen in the portrait The Madonna and Child with Chancellor Rolin by Northern artist Jan van Eyck, which features biblical figures in a situation that follows the science of perspective, the use of the two together also identifies the changing attitudes towards religion and the church and the union of the two with science. Chancellor Rolin prays before Madonna and Child, a situation one would normally never experience, it would normally have been a sign of blasphemy, but is accepted within of the changing attitudes of humanistic Northern Europe. Raphael’s School of Athens shows an assembly of ancient philosophers. It celebrates scholarly disciplines, which according to Renaissance thought led to a revelation in spiritual truths (methods of bringing man closer to god). The work shows how science and religion were working together. In the work there is the use of the perspective for depth and his incredible detail and complex compositions helped to create a more expressive and dramatised style of painting that embraced philosophy and science along with religion. The painting encapsulates the humanistic spirit and the pervasive sign of change within visual conventions within Italian Renaissance and its stylistic successor the Baroque. In these works, School of Athens, David and Primavera, it can be seen that art reflected the new attitudes in society towards religion and art and the ability of the two to co-exist.

The Renaissance saw the progression of iconography in art. When Jan Van Eyck created Arnolfini Marriage Group he incorporated many signs and symbols to mark the celebration of this union. He places a dog at the bottom of the portrait to as it represents fidelity and faithfulness, as well he paints the wife with an enlarged waist as if to emphasise her fecundity as well she wears green as a symbol of new births. Finally a single candle is lit above the groom to represent Gods’ presence. In The Birth of Venus Botticelli has used only spring flowers in the dress and robe of the Nymph appropriate to the theme of birth as well he has detailed the trees and blooms in gold accentuating its role as a precious object and echoing the divine status of Venus. Renaissance saw the introduction of iconography to convey further ideas and thoughts through signs and symbols, many of which are still not fully understood to this day but do testify to their social signficance.

Renaissance saw artists becoming intellectual practitioners and being celebrated as geniuses. Artists also began to see their own importance and started to paint self-portraits. Durer was the first artist to create a series of self-portraits, which documented his changes throughout life. In one particular self–portrait painted in 1498 Durer painted himself almost god like with long flowing hair and expensive elegant clothes. This typified the attitude of artists as important and how art had come to be a sign of status, wealth and prosperity. Dramatically this approach to religious iconography would never be considered in the practice of Italian painters of this time, as it would be consider sacrilegious.

In comparing the works of Northern Renaissance to the works of the Italians of this period it can be seen that representation is culturally derivative, whilst physical appearances do not differ their perception certainly do. The Renaissance reflected the changing attitudes in society and the shift forward in scientific and philosophical thought. Whilst Northern European and Italian artists may reflect the human form differently it can be seen that this representation of the ‘body’ characteristically became a key signifier for the culture of the time. Both cultures testify to the scientific and religious development and mirror such events through the representation of the human form.


This is a solid piece of writing, which is supported by a depth of knowledge in terms of the representation of the human body in a historical context. The candidate had provided a number of topics dealing with the question. The essay is well planned and address and adapts learnt knowledge to the demands of the question. It reflects upon the Cultural and Structural frame in a effective manner. Perhaps its account of the Subjective frame is not as well resolved but this is supplemented in terms of it knowledge of artists and artworks in terms of address the question about social difference between Northern and Italian Renaissance. The use of the paintings as examples are employed to elaborated upon the ideas of representation and how different societies influence the artist’s perception.

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