A Good Read: the Visual Arts Extended Essay
Friday 27 March 2015
Turning the pages
A stack of extended essays is piled high on my desk..this is my reading this month. I try to pace myself, reading only a few each day so that my approach remains fresh and curious.
Although there are inevitably some essays that disappoint, there are many more delightful surprises this year. Some essays astound with their clear lucid writing, others with the sheer dedication and passion for the chosen topic. I have read engaging essays on topics as diverse as handmade artist books, cult performance art, site specific architectural decoration, Picasso's muses and many more.
The best essays have a very focused research question or topic and thus a real incentive to research; having a clear focus also helps to build up a convincing argument or thesis.
Essays driven by strong personal interest and meaningful contact with an artist, or work of art are often very successful, especially if guided in the early stages by a wise teacher who can help the student to formulate an angle or research question. Supervisors can help to point the student in the direction of appropriate resources and research methods and a good supervisor can make a big difference.
As would be expected, the weakest essays are those without a clear focused topic. Essays with topics that are too broad and general such as “the role of women in art”, or even “the role of women in abstract art” are difficult to build up a convincing argument or point of view. Much better to take a narrow approach such as “Joan Mitchell and Agnes Martin; different approaches to abstract painting in the late 20th century”.
I find It is always beneficial when essays refer to examples of specific artworks, which in turn allow for detailed visual analysis. An essay without these specific examples misses the opportunity for analysis and for using art terminology.
On the whole, it seems that students from schools all over the world are producing mostly high quality essays that show a genuine interest and sensitivity to the visual arts in a broader context.
The Extended Essay teaches so many important skills: not least how to research, structure, and write an essay. If students can succeed at this in high school they will be well prepared for higher education, and for any occasions in their lives when they encounter the need for formal writing skills.