Category Archives: Thematic Based Enquiry

Body as site

Artists such as Helen Chadwick, Frida Kahlo and Jenny Saville have been prominent amongst those who have looked at areas of sexuality, cosmetics, notions of beauty and eating disorders in their work. Develop a series of studies that explore notions of your own identity, using clothing, appearance, body decoration, possessions, etc. From these studies produce a full figure self-portrait where the pose and the relationship of the figure to its immediate space is relevant to the concept.

Further research you might find helpful could include two BBC1 videos: Artists’
Journeys – Helen Chadwick on Frida Kahlo, and Flesh and Blood – Jenny Saville.


Some are huge, like skyscrapers, aircraft hangers, flats, offices and houses. Others are tiny by comparison, such as matchboxes and boxes for screws, nails and buttons. Some are throwaway, such as takeaway boxes; others contain precious items, such as jewellery boxes.

They come in every shape, size and kind, designed for holding every sort of object. They are sometimes plain, or they can be richly decorated, covered with jewels and delicate carving.

They come stacked or single, open or closed, their contents spilling out from half open lids or split open sides as one might see, for example, in a market or garden centre.

Often they are living spaces for people who have nowhere else to go. They also provide just the place for tiny animals to hide.

Cars are boxes on wheels which some people customize. Even your room is a kind of box, your own very special space in which there are other boxes like wardrobes, cupboards and drawers with more boxes inside. It is strange to think they may go on forever, boxes within boxes within other boxes, like a Chinese puzzle.


A bridge is both an architectural structure, spanning physical obstacles, and a metaphor for connections or relationships between people, cultures, and political groups.

Choose either a bridge, in which the architectural forms and the urban or rural
landscape combine with it or are dominated by it; or ‘bridge’ as a metaphor for human
and cultural connections.
Your studies should be from direct and personal observations and your ideas and
intentions should evolve out of your visual enquiry. The studies should be developed
into a final work.

Possible further research you might find helpful includes the ‘Die Briicke’ movement,
Monet, Whistler, Christo, Cezanne and Van Gogh.


It has been argued that after the holocaust of the Jews in Germany during the Second World War and other atrocities in other areas of conflict, ‘beauty’ is no longer a subject matter that has any currency for artists in the Twentieth Century. Both Keiffer and Beuys have attempted in their work a form of healing and regeneration of spirit; Picasso has focused on the horrors of a particular event in his major work ‘Guernica’ and Kollwitz has produced images of suffering and ethnic cleansing.

Further research which you might find helpful may be found in the work of Howson, Keene and SandIe. We are surrounded by the sounds and images of conflict today, largely from television and newspapers.

From your research into the work of these artists and your own feelings and responses
to areas of current conflict, local, national and worldwide, develop studies which
translate your own thoughts and views into a final resolved work.


The theme is chosen to give you the opportunity to make your own connections between all kinds of things and situations. The possibilities are endless and you are likely to think of many associations that could be starting points for your work. Before getting started you may wish to consider the following suggestions.

“To connect” may literally suggest a range of activities involved in the making process, for example, joining, binding, stitching, tying and assembling, but equally it could suggest associations between people, objects and situations.

Explore in two or three dimensions a group of everyday objects that have similar characteristics.
Think of the relationship of different forms that are linked together by their colour, pattern, shape
or texture.


In interpreting the theme try to be as imaginative and creative as possible. Being imaginative and creative does not just mean thinking of a brilliant and unique image or form. It is as much involved with your ability to use your medium in traditional or new ways, to use more than one medium in mixed and unexpected ways, your willingness to change dramatically the scale of images within your work, your sensitivity to the visual appearances of things and your receptiveness towards “accidents” which may occur in your work and its preparation.

Here are some ideas to think about:

Light and Dark Contrasts

  • The contrast of light and dark has been used traditionally throughout the history of art and design. In drawings and paintings light and shadow have been carefully placed and balanced. Artists such as Rembrandt and Caravaggio are usually thought of when considering the effect of light and dark in pictures.
  • The effect of light and dark is not restricted to pictures. Sculpture and architecture often depend upon the effect of this contrast for their strength and appearance.
    In the same way, the contrast is present in images other than drawings and paintings. Film, video and television images are just as dependent upon the effective use of this contrast.

Black and White Contrasts

  • Black and white have been used in contrasting way by artists and designers over the ages. Consider works such as silhouettes, lino-cuts, stencils and collages, or the deliberate black and white effect in the work of artists such as Aubrey Beardsley and Franz Kline.

Contrasts of Color

  • Most artists use color in their work. Some use the “theory of color” in deliberate ways to create effects.
  • The theory surrounding “complementary colors” is an obvious example. This depends upon the
    observation that the three “primary colors”, red, yellow and blue, each has a completely opposite color which is formed by mixing the other two primaries together. Thus red is considered opposite to green, yellow to purple and blue to orange. In paintings by Pissarro, for example, the effect of green foliage is often enhanced by small dashes of red amongst the brush strokes use to draw a bush or a tree. Cezanne used the opposite colour of an object in the shadow it cast. As a consequence it is possible to see lines of blue in the shadow under an orange where the fruit stands on a table or plate in some of his still-lifes.
  • Other color contrasts include cold and warm colours (see the work of an artist such as Nicholas de Stael), as well as the simple fact that red is different to blue and blue to black or brown, and so on. Study of the work of artists such as Matisse, Gauguin and Mondrian will make this clear to you.

Contrasts of Appearance

  • Different shapes are important in art and design. It is possible to use a family of shapes, such as the roundness of plates, cups and saucers, and the rectangles of walls and roofs. In such a family, the planned introduction of a contrasting shape, such as a square.
  • It is possible to use a family of shapes, such as the roundness of plates, cups and saucers,
    and the rectangles of walls and roofs. In such a family, the planned introduction of a
    different sort of shape creates a contrast.

Environmental Contrasts

  • Most towns and rural areas abound in the unexpected juxtaposition of things in the
    environment. The visual lines of a facade of a Peranakan terrace of houses confused by
    parked motor vehicles, the old and the new buildings viewed from Boat Quay, or the
    HDB’s built next to the jungle provide examples of sharp environmental contrasts.

Contrasts of Art and design Materials

  • Each medium used in Art and Design has its own unique appearance.
    The contrast of these media can be the basis of your work.
  • You could experiment doing the same scene in a different medium each time, to see what
    influences the medium has on the visual effect of your subject. Study the pastel work of
    Degas, the watercolours of Egon Schiele, the oils ofSickert, the collages of Kurt Schwitters and the sculptures of Giacometti to see the distinctiveness of the different materials in the hands of experienced artists.
  • Some media in art and design contrast in a different way, in that they will not mix
    physically with each other. You could do work which combines materials, which do not
    easily mix, such as wax and watercolor

Make drawings, take photographs, collect reference material and so on, so that your ideas can be clearly seen and understood by your art teacher.

You may work from any of these ideas but try to add other ideas which are your own and work from these if you prefer them.

It is not only the shapes of things which are different and intrigue artists, sculptors and designers. Apart from the differences between the colors of things there are the differences caused by the materials things are made from. Thus metal looks different to wood, and wood to fabric, and so on.

Johannes Itten used to get his students in the Bauhaus to do exercises experimenting with media to show the differences between the different materials. Your teacher can explain this to you, but it is a fascinating exercise to try to show the difference between a hairy surface, a wizened or wrinkled surface and a smooth shiny surface, as well as many others.

Sometimes the unexpected contrasts with the customary coziness of our level of acceptance and disturbs us.

Consider the fur lined cup and saucer sculpture by Meret Oppenheim.

Contrasts of Events, Time and Place

It can be interesting to research how similar events, such as weddings or funerals, are carried out in different parts of the world or amongst different religions. Their contrasts are likely to make powerful images for artwork.

In the same way, you could study how the appearance of something such as coal mining or “wash day” has changed over the years, with the ever increasing development of technology.


Many artists show in their work the contrast between:














Coverings often protect, shield or provide shelter. They may disguise and modify the appearance of things. A curtained window may partially cover a view, wrappings may conceal a present, makeup may change a face.

Think of coverings that might be hard and protective, like roofs, helmets and armour or the shells of crustaceans. Some coverings are soft, like sheets, blankets and duvets, others are smooth like glass or textured, pitted and rough like bark. Some are plain; others richly patterned or reflecting or transparent.

Coverings, like those made of fabric, can be taut and stretched or loose and flowing. You may decide to explore hats, hoods, footwear and other kinds of clothing as part of your enquiry, or investigate the coverings that convey information and images, such as labels, packaging, posters and the display of advertisements found on billboards and hoardings.

Think too of the metaphorical sense of the theme. We call a covering of snow a “mantle”, or talk of a field “covered” in wild flowers or of streets “paved with gold”, even though they are more likely to be “covered” with pools of water and the debris of daily life.

Develop either theme or its ideas in any way you think suitable, for example through drawing, painting, prints, photographs, photomontages, graphics, textiles, hard and soft sculptures, ceramics, constructions, installations, video and films.