Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Classroom test feedback. L3 popular culture. Part two (part one was a few weeks back; part three will come soon).


Classroom test feedback. L3 popular culture. Part two (part one was a few weeks back)

 Sorry about the delay.

To help you prepare for your January exam, here are some comments on your classroom test: strong points and weak points from different students.

 In this post I take examples from the afternoon group, who were asked:

 Must visual art be elitist? Discuss, giving a number of examples from the history of artists and artistic institutions and programmes in Britain.

This question is broadly similar to the question dealt with by the morning group.

 If I use a quote from your work to explain what not to do, please do not take it personally!


Today’s post is only going to talk about the first sentence! The first sentence is always important because it gives the initial impression. You may begin with a quote if you then show the link with the question. A general reformulation of the question is fine:

 J Artists, governments and other interested parties have much discussed how to make sure that art is widely accessible.

 [Note that the reformulation adds something : it announces that what artists do and what governments do will be part of the discussion]

 Or you may begin with a question, which reformulates the question.

 J Is visual art only for the highly educated élite ?

 [Note that the reformulation adds something : it reminds us that it is more an educated elite than a moneyed elite who are most in contact with visual art.]

 Your first sentence may be general, but not too general. So the following are not good.

  • Through the centuries and over the whole world, art has been constantly developing.
  • Visual art is one of the most common forms of art in today’ society.
  •  Art has questioned and developed from the moment it appeared to nowadays.
  • Over the years, culture and art have developed in Britain.


Absolutely avoid expressions such as “since the beginning of humanity”. This was five million years ago, and we do not know very much about it. Similarly, be extremely careful not to say that any social phenomenon “has always existed”. [It has not]


The first sentence should not, either, be too specific ( although too general is worse).

  • The Second World War brought a number of major changes to Western societies.


The question given, “Must visual art be elitist?” was chosen so as to allow you to show that you can evaluate and weigh up arguments and facts. You should not be surprised, then, to find that the answer is not simple. If your answer says, in essence, “Yes, all visual art is always and everywhere inevitably elitist,” then you have given an over-simple answer, which is not good. Similarly, if you answer “Art belongs to everyone and everyone”. So, do not use a first sentence which solves the problem before you have discussed it, like these do:

  • Visual art is, basically, meant to be seen and understood by everyone.
  • Visual art has always been something more or less elitist in history.


[Both of these sentences express mistaken ideas. Some artists are pleased, and think it is important, to produce work which can only be understood by an informed minority. Also, art throughout history and indeed prehistory, is extremely varied. Were cave paintings elitist? ]


Your job is to analyse and explore: what aspects of visual art in Britain might be considered elitist, what artists and institutions have done about this, whether it was successful or not, and so on. Your personal or moral opinion is very much secondary: you are to evaluate the different arguments rather than to polemicize. If you wish to give your personal opinion, you may do so *at the end* of the essay. Therefore, this first sentence is problematic:

  • Visual art should not be elitist.


Similarly, avoid words such as “unfortunately”. Your job is not really to be happy or sad here.


Do be careful, too, with the register of language. It should not be too informal. Errors of register are not as serious as errors of grammar or content, but even so, care should be taken. These first sentences are too informal, for example:

  • What an open question!
  • When it comes to art, people tend to say that it is not for them.

Two language points 


Register: should not too informal.



Do not use contractions in university work. In university work, there is one thing you should not use: contractions. Contractions are not used in university work.


The word “evolution” in English is generally used for extremely slow change.

J The evolution of mammals over the last twelve million years.

J The evolution of the British parliamentary system since the fifteenth century.

Shorter term changes are best expressed with a verb like “to develop”.

J The development of contemporary art since the Second World War.


Today I have only spoken of the first sentence, but I am sure you understand the importance of the approach.

In a few days there will be another post – probably about the structure or about the introduction. The important thing is not to follow very rigid rules about the structure, it is that that you need a structure and an introduction which allow you to discuss the question in a balanced and sufficiently sophisticated manner.

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