Tuesday, December 28, 2021

L3 British popular culture since 1945 Classroom test feedback (Part three)

Because you have an exam in January, which will also consist of an essay on quite a wide question, I am giving you feedback about particular aspects of essay writing which always cause problems.

Today’s post is about the structure of your  essay, and to some extent about the introduction.

I will be using examples both from answers to the morning group question,

[How have British artists and artistic institutions tried to make sure that visual art speaks to a wider section of the population ?

Answer the question giving a number of examples of approaches by British artists or artistic programmes or institutions.]

And from answers to the  afternoon group question

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


As you know, French university practice is to make sure you have a clear structure, which you announce at the end of the introduction. 

“Firstly I will explore X [...] Then I will examine Y  [...] Finally, I will look at Z and try to answer the question why [...] 

In Britain and other anglophone countries practice is a little more flexible. The structure is not generally announced at the beginning in this way. But there is always a structure. 

Having a tight structure should help to avoid the following errors:

  1. Including information which is not linked to the question

For example, we looked in class at definitions of culture by different thinkers going back to the 19th century, but you may only include one of these quotations in your essay if you show the link to elitism and attempts to overcome elitism. Winston Churchill lost the 1945 elections, which were won by those who promised a strong welfare state, but there is no obvious link  between this fact and the accessibility of visual art. It is off topic.

  1. Simply listing information, rather than showing the links between different facts or different opinions.

Your structure must not announce that it will be answering another question instead. There are different structures possible for the present essay: speaking first of artists, then of institutions, is one possibility. Speaking first of tendencies towards elitism and then of attempts to limit elitism is another possibility. Since attitudes to elitism have changed over time (today, elitism is generally considered to be in some way a problem: this was not th3 case a hundred years ago), it is also possible to write this essay with a chronological structure.

The following is a fairly good idea (although we must hope that the student does not only speak of artists but also of institutions).

First, we will look at the types of visual art which may still be elitist, and secondly, about the types which might not be.

However, the following examples are problematic:

First we would like to analyze why visual art is a major part of our culture.

Firstly, we will define popular and high culture.

I will first deal with Shakespeare’s work

Here I have been warning against going off topic and speaking too widely about Art or British history in general. There is also a danger of being too narrow. If the theme is elitism, attempts by artists and institutions to avoid elitism ( by painting ordinary people’s lives or by painting in the streets or by making museums free etc) are very much part of the question. And, towards the end of your essay, you may widen the perspective. Elitism we generally see as a negative phenomenon, but one might think it can be necessary in order to encourage virtuosity and a high level of artistic quality. It is very difficult indeed to obtain a place to study at the Royal Academy of Art ( I think they accept less than twenty students a year : https://www.royalacademy.org.uk ). However, if the Royal Academy announced that they were now accepting everyone who wanted to come, even if they have no training, as long as they enjoy painting, this would be very controversial: a lot of people might think that some elitism is necessary.

Language point:

Do not use contractions (don’t, shouldn’t, won’t etc.) in written university work. Do you know what written form you do not use in university work? It is contractions! Contractions are very useful, but not in written university work.

No comments: