Art History A Level (1)

I have been catching up on the discussion surrounding the decision to axe A level art history from 2018.   I am a product of A level art history and really appreciated the opportunity to learn in depth the canon of quattrocento art and sculpture, which made a deep impression on me at the time (it was very well taught) and led me to study the subject at university.   People were sniffy about it as a subject even then, part of the British belief that people could perfectly well know about the subject without having to study it.   But this wasn’t true.   Most people didn’t know much about art and didn’t have the language, critical apparatus or familiarity to be able to study it effectively.   So, it has been a huge public benefit that there has been a much wider knowledge and appreciation, particularly of contemporary art, of which A level art history is certainly not the sole cause, but a symptom of a more widely diffused understanding of, and interest in, the study of visual histories.  

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6 thoughts on “Art History A Level (1)

  1. Katrin Henkel says:

    I wonder where the next generation of art historians is going to come form if they don’t want foreigners and give the subject so little importance in this country.

  2. Christopher Nevile says:

    I totally agree with Mark and you about the invaluable role of A level Art history. My experience was however, in itself, less satisfactory. Aged 16 and keen to avoid Cross country running on a Monday I was redirected to the Art room and there handed a copy of The History of European Architecture and told I would be entirely capable of passing the A level in the summer if I learned it. Surprisingly I did neither.

    • Yes, I suspect it may have been treated as a soft option in the 1970s, but there is no reason why it should be. They could have had a photo test which is a standard way of examining university art history and a very good mental discipline. Charles

  3. Joan says:

    As a parent of children at an age when A level choices dominate I have to say that provision is incredibly confusing. We live in a borough in which a couple of decades ago schools were encouraged to educate only up to age 16 and local children largely expected to go to the borough wide sixth form college. This, being huge, could offer a wide range of subjects. Now with academisation schools are being allowed to open up their own sixth forms which, inevitably, are much smaller and offer a narrower range of subjects. Alongside this elite free school sixth forms are opening which only offer the highly regarded facilitating subjects recognised by Russell Group universities. My eldest son, for example, attended a sixth form at which only maths, further maths, physics, computer science and economics are offered. (It served him well he has just gone off to Warwick University to study Computer Science). Other free school sixth forms while offering a wider choice still only offer a dozen or so subjects. Some of these will be offering Art History but that depends, of course, on availability of teachers for it and being able to get enough students who want to do it. Small schools are expensive to run and can’t run a subject that only a few youngsters want to do. Parents of children in Yr 11 (GCSE year) are inundated with brochures from schools trying to recruit youngsters to their institution – each student brings their own pot of money. It is in this climate that it is understandable that only 839 students took history of art A Level this year (the BBC says that 43,000 took them in art and design). Nobody is suggesting it isn’t a worthwhile A Level but maintaining the infrastructure necessary to run such a subject properly is clearly not economically easy with such low numbers.

    • Yes, it clearly is a tricky subject to offer if there aren’t enough people wanting to do it. The implication of the statement of the examining board was that it was hard to find examiners to cover such a wide remit. But when I did it back in 1971 under AEB, we just did a general paper and a special subject, which was Art in Italy 1400-1500. Charles

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