Student question:“It’s 2019. What is the point of looking at art that was made in 1520, five hundred years ago? How is that relevant to me?”

We were at the Royal Academy (London) and looking at Venus Rising from the Sea”, by Titian (1520)

The Renaissance Nude

I can understand the context of this question.

The student who asked it is interested in videogame art (appropriating, patching and modifying games) and street and graffiti art (including protest and political art).

Both these contemporary art forms seem a long way from the art and culture of Italy at the start of the 16th century.

But of course, there are many links, not least the fact that my student and Titian both want(ed) to make something that expresses an idea, an emotion, and/or make a statement.

They share a desire to have an audience and to somehow impact that audience.

More specifically and in relation to visual arts, there is the relevance of the course components, all of which can be informed by considering art made 500 years ago. No art is made in  a vacuum.

Satyr and Nymph, Piero di Cosimo (1495)

A visit to an exhibition can be a fantastic launching point for ideas and art. The course is taught holistically but from this visit contributions to all components can appear. For example…

Comparative Study: select an artwork that might surprise you when you start to research its context and impact. It might also impress your examiner, after he/she has seen Comparative Studies about a succession of familiar artworks (for example by Banksy, Kahlo, Warhol and Picasso). You don’t have to choose a well-known and obvious 20th century artwork by a well-known and obvious artist.

Process Portfolio: among other things, for assessment here your examiner will be looking for critical investigation of artists, artworks and artistic genres and in particular how this investigation influences and impacts your own developing art-making practices and intentions. Looking into and understanding how the human form was depicted in the 16th century could well be pivotal in terms of your art-making, particularly if the figure interests you.

The Exhibition: art 500 years ago frequently visually elaborated ideas, themes or concepts to a point of effective realization and demonstrated the subtle use of complex imagery, signs or symbols. Sound familiar? That’s broadly part of what your final artworks should be doing.

Conceptual Qualities asks for “the subtle use of complex imagery, signs or symbols” – which most Renaissance paintings have in abundance. Studying this art can give you ideas and inform your understanding of imagery.

IB Learner Profile (Break out of your bubble!)

And then there’s the Learner Profile – be a risk-taker, don’t just blindly sit in your comfortable little ‘contemporary art’ bubble.

Try to imagine the world of the 1520s and the issues that artists then had to deal with.

Life drawing is a regular part of the 1st year art-making scaffold presented to my students as they learn about art, so the Royal Academy exhibition, focusing on the Renaissance nude, was a perfect fit. But all art exhibitions can give you ideas, provoke questions, provide new directions etc.



All photos taken by the author.
“In the Shower” (student painting by Suzanne, thank you Suzanne!)
Or at the exhibition (including Piero di Cosimo’s ‘Satyr and Nymph’, 1495).