Book review: Collins Cambridge International AS & A Level Art & Design: Student’s Book by Alan Parsons, Liz Macfarlane and Louise Arnould

Collins Cambridge International AS & A Level Art & Design: Student’s Book provides comprehensive coverage of the Cambridge International syllabus and has been developed by subject experts. It offers creative and engaging material that will enable students to develop skills, knowledge and understanding, whilst also promoting confidence and independence.

Promoting the six key concepts identified within the specification, this book makes intrinsic reference to international contexts across a full range of art and design disciplines. Structured predominantly by module and making explicit links to the assessment objectives, the useful colour coded system supports ease of use for student and teacher alike. This system of theoretical and practical support and guidance is a real strength of the text and punctuates content with regular frequency. These features are intended to help students get the most out of this course but go further to encourage independence, critical reflection and engagement with further research.

Ahead of the modular-based content, the getting started section offers a succinct overview of the formal elements and basic components of art where keywords are emboldened and link to a comprehensive glossary of terms. It is worth noting that from the outset, this text contains high-quality illustrative examples that demonstrate the work of practitioners across a broad range of disciplines. Examples included are of European and Non-European artists as well as those from traditional, modern and contemporary contexts. Although a student focussed text, the framework for analysing artworks is a particularly valuable section for teachers, outlining useful tips and activities that not only encourage student ownership but also make poignant links to cross curricular content and contextual research.

Gathering visual information and recording through direct observation are given significance throughout. There is a strong focus on drawing, the purpose of drawing and associated materials and techniques that is well documented through a concise section that reflects a range of examples. Moreover, this section goes further to outline other forms of gathering source material including photography and sound and includes a wonderful activity around the idea of developing a visual library, that not only promotes visual literacy but student ownership and engagement.

Throughout the different areas of specialism broad learning objectives are outlined, these serve to give an overview of content. With development, these could be applied to staff planning thereby making consistent links to the independent work students would complete outside of the classroom with the support of this guide.

There is a strong sense of the teacher voice that echoes with regularity throughout the book. These direct but gentle addresses are laden with advice and guidance gleaned from a wealth of experience; sometimes technical, sometimes instructive and sometimes the daily reminders we all hear ourselves repeating. There is a strong synergy between critical thinking tasks, practical production and student self-reflection.

The module 3 section on development and refinement offers a particularly useful introductory passage that illustrates, through a range of examples, the various ways in which students could consider developing and refining their ideas. This section makes explicit links to the personal investigation as well as research methodologies. This focus is revisited through the later section of practical guidance where further texts are identified, supporting challenge and independent learning.

Concluding sections of the text incorporate practical guidance that covers general study skills such as annotation, self-reflection and time management. This guidance is brought to life by good practice examples of student’s projects.

This publication is routed in the traditional teachings of visual arts whilst simultaneously maintaining a broad embrace of ongoing developments within our subject area. It is a well-researched, well organised text, written to accompany the Cambridge International AS & A Level Art and Design syllabus and has broad appeal for students and academic staff alike.

By Ruth Robinson, NSEAD
Leader of Learning: Arts, English and Business, Durham Sixth Form Centre

Paperback, full colour illustrations. Published by Collins 2018
ISBN: 978-0-00-825099-7

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