Visual Arts - Canon

The Canon – An Overview

Literacy is one of the overriding concerns in contemporary education. One of the most overwhelming issues is a lack of general knowledge and the inability to contextualise. There is a question about the role of such knowledge in a world in which we are able to access facts at the press of a button on a smart phone and much current argument within education is centred on this battleground: The importance of students being able to learn and retain a given set of facts.

Regardless of this philosophical or idealogical debate about the role of factual recall within learning there is no doubt that an inability to contextualise what one is looking at, reading about or discussing hinders a student’s ability to access and engage.

The Canon is intended to begin to address this issue, using the Visual Arts Specialism, and is, principally, an art history based course that we have introduced in year 7. The fundamental focus of the course is to enable students to develop an understanding of the chronological history of the last 1000 years, connecting it to a series of iconic images, whilst at the same time being able to link events in art to events in history and generate a contextual understanding about the way in which art might be made and why. Alongside this the course focuses on building their confidence in discussing and writing about visual imagery.

In developing the course we worked very closely with the Faculty of History. This was an opportunity to change the way that they were delivering their own curriculum. They opted to write a new one for year 7 that would operate alongside the Canon lessons.

So began an exciting period of research, with history teachers discussing what the most important events of the last 1000 years might be, and art teachers investigating visual imagery from the same period with a view to distilling this down a small number of key works. What became apparent fairly quickly was that, of course, turbulent periods of history tended to produce a far higher proportion of interesting and engaging art works and so we found many of our initial choices of art that we wanted to use were clustered around particular periods.