H.S.C – Have.Some.Care

You know those blog posts that you dream about… you are going to nail it… all those thoughts that have been washing through your head and are now in writing…! YES! That is this one! A long awaited post that is well overdue…!

After marking the HSC Visual Arts Written Exams, I had many frustrations running through my head.

Piles and piles of exam papers regurgitated pre-learned essays/artists/ideas. Our Syllabus requires us to teach case studies.

investigation of content through at least 5 case studies in art criticism and art history

The content is driven by the teachers strengths and interests, and most teachers try to cover an array of artists. Some case studies are also student research based, so that they can have autonomy over their learning and find artists that interest them and support their art making.

Well, this is the goal anyway….

It was evident that deep learning and understanding was lacking in some responses. It seems that some students think that HSC Art is only about the art making and not about the written component… Now, this is not a criticism on any teachers – more on the role of the HSC exam in their learning.


But feel there is a disconnect in the content that I have to teach and the end exam. How can learning and understanding from 5 case studies… which should be approximately 15 different artists…  be represented in a 1 ½ hour exam? The questions ask the students to make sophisticated links between artists and ideas. They must understand not only the aesthetic qualities of the work, but the conceptual practice of the artist and the world influences on their work.

I know that no matter what happens, we are controlled by the Syllabus and there will probably be some sort of quantitative tool used to evaluate a students learning as the endpoint… But I also want my kids to have a visual language and understanding of the art world that goes beyond an exam.

After seeing the Picasso exhibition yesterday, my teaching values are even firmer in my mind. I don’t want all my students responding to the exam with the same wrote learned artists. I want them to be involved in the work of the artists that they know – so much so that any question thrown at them they will be able to make links and develop an argument.

Don’t you just love my holiday romanticized view of Teaching!?

But what does this have to do with Picasso???

Well… just as the HSC exam questions required the students to make links, develop arguments, draw conclusions, recognise the impact the world has on art and do all this in a short space of time.. when seeing the audience viewing the Picasso exhibition, I am sure many were confused, didn’t know how to react, but thought cause he is famous and the work was in a gallery it was art. But were they all able to EVALUATE his artistic practice and realise the importance of all his processes. I want my students to be able to engage in a meaningful dialogue about art beyond the HSC exam.

Portrait of Olga in an armchair, 1918

Not all his works were good and not all works were ‘typical’ Picasso. His body of worked developed and changed in response to the world around him. Picasso experimented with different approaches to the picture plane and was confident in his own aesthetic. He was a talented artist, but was also smart enough to be able to challenge the traditional artistic conventions. Picasso’s oeuvre ebbed and changed as he tried new things and figured out what worked for him. He did not let anyone sway him and continued the Cubist style throughout his lifetime. It was evident when looking at Picasso’s work that he has awareness of the art world around him. His work did not exist in a vacuum. The aim of studying HSC art is to develop creative thinking and problem solving skills that help you to respond to the visual world around you.


Visual Arts at Stage 6 is designed to enable students to:

•      gain increasing intellectual autonomy in their abilities to aesthetically and persuasively represent ideas in the visual arts; and

•      understand and value how the field of the visual arts is subject to different interpretations.

Picasso’s work shows an awareness of the world around him, and his response was to turn it on it’s head.

Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe, Manet

‘The déjeuner sur l’herbe’ after Manet, 1961, Picasso


When a student sits the HSC exam, it is like a Picasso –

Portrait of Dora Maar, 1937

you have to look at the question for a while, consider everything you know, turn it upside down and inside out… extrapolate what they are really asking of you, minus the number you first started with, use evidence to support your findings and write an essay that actually means something to you.

After the HSC, you are not going to have to write an essay, but you will probably go into an art gallery and engage in a dialogue about the art you are viewing. I hope that my students can do that meaningfully and with passion when they leave my classroom!


image retrieved from http://everything-underthe-sun.blogspot.com/2011/05/exams-at-iit-described-in-funny-style.html#.Tw4gv96z6Qo
image retrieved from http://www.robinchung.com/top-5-sources-of-daily-frustration/ 
image reference http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/exhibitions/picasso/room-by-room/return-to-classicism/
image reference http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/exhibitions/picasso/room-by-room/anxieties-love-war/
image reference http://www.ululating-undulating-ungulate.com/category/art-appreciation/aesthetics/
image reference http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Manet,_Edouard_-_Le_D%C3%A9jeuner_sur_l'Herbe_(The_Picnic)_(1).jpg
image reference http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2008/aug/27/art.france

About missjessm

Art. Teaching. Design. Life. View all posts by missjessm

6 responses to “H.S.C – Have.Some.Care

  • Malyn Mawby (@malynmawby)

    I’m not much of a Picasso fan yet went to the exhibit anyway. What I didn’t know before going in and what really struck me was that this was Picasso’s own collection – stuff he kept for himself, through the years! This affected me in a big way because it was an expression of who he was and his processes – experimental and evolving. In the end, it was this process that “spoke” to me, rather than the art.

    Interestingly, I was both intrigued and somewhat repulsed by the ‘learned’ who spoke articulately about Picasso. Is this what you mean about those who ‘rote’ learned?

    As you may know, this exhibit has inspired some of my sketchbook project entries. That Picasso can inspire me so is a tribute to who he was as an artist, rather than his art per se.

    All the best with your future students. I hope that even as they learn what they have to learn to engage with art in an intellectual manner, they never forget that art is the work of human hands – that indeed there are real people behind the work. Evoking. Provoking. Engaging.

    • missjessm

      I too was enthralled by the exhibit because many of those works were never meant to be seen…. They were his sketches and processes!!! I love that you have been inspired by this- what was on show was like the backstage workings of his final masterpieces….! The fact that you have been inspired by this is what I want the HSC to mean to my students- to be able to see something, evaluate it… And walk away with a new idea….. We don’t all love all art…. But the value of the experience and the responses we have is what is important.
      This response is my aim- the is in opposition to the ‘rote’ learnt responses of the HSC. Meaning that some students pre-learn an essay and just re-write it. It does not evoke their engagement with the work, it is just a response to the requirements of the HSC. It raises the question- do we want amazing results or learning that goes beyond the classroom? (both would be ideal!!!! Haha)

      Ps. Love your sketch project…. Ode to Picasso! 🙂

  • Bianca Hewes (@BiancaH80)

    Don’t take the pre-prepared essays to heart. It is not a reflection of the students’ failure to love art or the artists … it simply reflects the flawed assessment system. Keep teaching how you love.

    • missjessm

      Haha! I know! One thing that I have also learnt/reflected upon recently…. Is that you can’t change teaching or the way all teachers deliver their lessons. I can only share all my positive experiences and help people to find a new path….
      So, with that in mind…. Some essays are always going to taught to be wrote learned…
      You are right- as long as students love art!!! Then I am happy!!!

  • thepomoslso

    I am a completely practical thinker and ex-agent. (Beci Orpin, Chris Searl of Monster Children, Jonathan Zawada etc).

    I represented a fine artist commercially for a while and what struck me was the commercial aspect. If you don’t know the theory behind your artmaking, that is, if your artmaking has no basis in the existing artworld, and no depth, you can’t talk about your work, and hence you can’t sell it. Artists who sell well speak well.

    I did a great studio practice subject through curtin. message me if you want the notes, but it basically combines studio and theory so that they will be intertwined forevermore in students minds. It has to be presented as essential, not optional or secondary.

    • missjessm

      YES PLEASE! I would love some notes on different approaches to intertwine art making and theory. Realistically, this is what I do in my classroom… and my qualms are not with my students (as they know my expectations…!) It is just with the end point of the HSC exam… Sadly, it can’t capture everything that I hope my students have learnt…. I guess it is the implicit and innate learning that occurs that is important. And like Picasso, no matter which way you look at it – some people like it and some people hate it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: