Looking for ways of making sure analysis is in depth and relevant? This article looks at reasons why students might just write that they “like” the work and how to give them rigorous analytical skills.

Making Analysis Functional

Because there is no right and wrong, some students always revert back to saying how much they ‘like’ a piece of work or remain at a very descriptive level, which reduces the quality of analysis and the positive impact it can have on their response. The idea is to give students some basic skills and rules that they can apply to the full spectrum of art and design specialisms. Here are some ways that you can do this with your own class.


Overview of analysis:

Analysis of art and design work is central to any project that creative new media students will undertake. There is a direct relationship between the quality of the analysis and the kinds of work they produce. Learning from others’ work can be difficult for students because:

  • They don’t have the vocabulary
  • They are not sure what aspects are important or relevant
  • They find it hard to categorise work
  • They lack the higher order analytical skills necessary

Making Analysis Functional in Art and Design Teaching

What can you do?

There are few simple methods that lecturers can employ to facilitate increasingly independent students on any level:

Early: Make sure analysis of art and design is done from a very early point in the course. Get students used to it and make it central to what they do (it is possible that some of these students will go on to do MA’s in Art History!).

Organised: Organise the analysis into chunks. While some informal conversation is really helpful and can get the conversation going, breaking the analysis down and ensuring students know what parts of the work they are analysing means they will have a clearer understanding of what they are actually doing.

Rules: Clearly there are no rights and wrongs to artistic analysis. As with other creative analysis such as textual or auditory, a lot depends on interpretation, but that is why it is so important to follow a clear and simple system that allows for personal response, intuition and subjectivity. You could put the key words up on the wall, post them on the VLE or even make students write them at the start of every sketchbook so they can refer back to them.

Social: Make it a social activity that generates discussion. Different people will make connections that are surprising and innovative. Some points will need debate to show that work can be conflicting, i.e. shocking and sensitive at the same time. Group activities with creative work can be difficult to facilitate, but learners need to be aware of the importance of sharing viewpoints and engaging with peers. It is also an opportunity to build confidence, vocabulary, presentation and justification skills that are central to the new Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning initiatives. Possibly the single most important aspect for learners to develop in order for them to progress to HE are communication skills.

Transferable: Make sure that students are aware that the methods you are employing can be transferred to any kind of art and design. The wider range of work that you cover at an early stage will cement this understanding in students and also mean that they are able to make connections between a wider variety of work. The idea is to avoid a project being only related to similar work, i.e. a painting project only supported by references to other painters. It will also mean that you will have to cover less ground and can expect more independence with each and every project.


Making Analysis Functional in Art and Design Teaching

What aspects to cover?

There are many ways of interpreting art and design, each equally valuable and support learning. The TATE method (see: http://www.tate.org.uk/download/file/fid/4473 ) demonstrates a really simple method of covering all aspects of art and design analysis. I have tried and tested this with all levels of learners from Level 1 through to level 4 and found the results were extraordinarily successful in ensuring that students approach work from all angles and maximise interpretation. This covers:

Personal response – the immediate reaction to work and questions why you might feel about it in the way that you do, i.e. connections to you own past and social and economic background you have.

Object – the fundamental elements of the work and what you can see before interpretation, i.e. colour, tone, texture, form, shape, value, line etc…

Context – when and where it was made and how this might have affected the artist or designer, i.e. were they trying to break from the past or make a statement.

Subject – what is the meaning behind the work and how do the other elements enable this element.


How can I make the analysis impact on the project?

What the above 4 elements don’t cover is how to make connections between what students are analysing and the project they are undertaking. The reason students are analysing work is to make sure that they aren’t working in a bubble. So that they can see what others have done before and try and make more personal and innovative solution to a creative problem.

Many students find this part difficult. They might not mind analysing work for analysis sake, but in most levels of classes there will be some students that just want to get ahead and produce. This is specifically the case with more vocational courses.

At this stage it is important to introduce the idea of ‘response’ and how it is central to artwork. If students are aware that all their work is a response to a particular creative problem or issue, then they will appreciate that others have also attempted to solve similar problems, from how we see things to how we deal with emotional aspects of day to day life.

By actually using the answers from within the analysis students can begin to justify what they are doing. Instead of creating things because they like them, they start to transcend the personal and engage with the social sphere. Work becomes about making an impact on the audience and communicating in specific dialogues.

Making Analysis Functional in Art and Design Teaching

Considering the quality of analysis

Of course, you can help students reflect on their analysis by giving them formal feedback at the end of the project. Your feedback can cover each of the different stages of the creative cycle and articulate how they may have improved on the analytical process.

Feedback can be really valuable to students at the end of the project and will help them consider their future projects in an informed way. However, if students reflect on their quality of analysis themselves, they may take more ownership of the successes and areas for development than simply being told what was missing.

A formal way of ensuring that students do use the analysis in their work is for them to write an evaluation at the end of the project which considers the impact of the analysis. If they felt their outcomes were strong or still needed development, was it because of the level and quality of analysis? Here are some useful questions:

  • Could they have approached something in a more objective or contextualised way?
  • Did they really understand the topic they were engaged with or should they have read about it from further and different perspectives?
  • Did they overlook part of the findings that were actually really relevant?
  • Was the analysis systematic or more haphazard?
  • What was the most important part of the analysis and why?
  • What part of the analysis has the most impact on the development of the project?


Evaluating analysis during the project

Some lecturers make this process even more critical to a project and really get students to consider the quality of the analysis and its contribution. They do this by setting aside a specific amount of time of a project solely dedicated to research and analysis. At the end of this process, they require the students to write a specific evaluation of their research using similar questions to those above.

By reflecting specifically on analysis and doing this early on in a project, there is a chance that aspects of analysis can still be undertaken or built upon. It would be possible to enhance areas, even while moving on to later stages of developing work. There is no reason that a project has to follow completely linear stages of production and students should be encouraged to see the creation of an artwork in a more cyclical and holistic way.

Making Analysis Functional in Art and Design Teaching

Sharing analysis

There is no reason that the class as a whole shouldn’t benefit from each other’s analysis. Students can often be quite possessive and insular about the discoveries they have made, they can also easily overlook certain aspects. If they were to present their findings to the class in a formal and managed way, it is possible for other students to discuss what they have found and compare considerations and understanding. This will also serve to ensure they take the process as seriously as any other aspect of the creative cycle.

Daniel Freaker Daniel Freaker Educational Consultant, Editor for Pearson Portfolio. danfreaker@pearsonportfolio.co.uk