Category Archives: Part 4 – Contextual studies

Contextual studies, Reflective commentary

4 June 2016

Textiles 1: Exploring ideas – Assignment 4

Reflective commentary

Now that I have completed assignment 4, I can appreciate just how much more there is to understanding a piece of art than just simply describing it and stating whether it appeals to my taste. For instance: what motivates artists/designers to work in a particular style, with certain materials, and with or against a certain narrative? Were they pioneers or followers?

In stage 1 of the first Project (researching from the set list), I initially found it difficult to know where to focus, and how to provide sufficient detail without being overwhelmed by the volume of literature. I developed a structure which helped me to achieve a balance between overview and depth, and as a consequence I feel that I have a good working knowledge of each of the artists. I also decided to annotate the information which I had collected, because it is the process of collating and summarising that allows me to formulate mental links, rationalise arguments, codify ideas and draw conclusions.

The in-depth study for stage 2 was tricky because the limit of 2000 words meant I had to be highly selective about what to include and what to omit. Necessarily, my investigation of Judy Chicago focused on her most well-known work, “The Dinner Party”. This was because of the controversy it caused, its impact on feminist art, and art made by women. In hindsight, maybe I should have focused more on the textiles element of the piece, and perhaps been more specific about collaboration and the timing and context of criticism?

In stage 3, the questions posed by the course notes stretched me to widen my thinking on works of art/design. They we’re illuminating and inspiring and will certainly form the basis of any future research or review. I was able to apply this approach to my review of a medieval retable in Thornham Parva church and Jonathan Lloyd’s “Retable in dazzle camouflage”; a woodcut print inspired by he medieval painting.

At the beginning of June I was able to visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Of special interest was a sculpture by Magdalena Abakanowicz “Ten Seated figures” (2010). Having researched her work for Project 1 it was enlightening to be able to see one of her sculptures in real life. The park also features the sculptures of some of the leading artists of the 20th century, including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Anthony Gormley, Elisabeth Frink, and many others, including major  exhibitions by KAWS and Not Vital.

For Project 2, I repeated the general research and questions on specific artworks using artists of my choice. A general observation is that many artists/designers collaborated closely with their husbands (for example Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh, Anni Albers and Lucienne Day and Sonia Delaunay). There has been a tendency for the art establishment and public to overlook the skills and achievements of all these women; a fact which is only properly being recognised now, as we move into the 21st century. 


Contextual studies, Assignment 4 questions

29 May 2016

This blog entry records my response to the following course note questions:

1. Did you find this more theoretical approach helpful, interesting, inspiring, restrictive or boring?

The research has been extremely inspiring. I have seen how artists, craftspeople and designers came to be recognised in their careers, how they used sketchbooks, where they got their inspiration and whether they collaborated or worked alone. In some instances there has been direct read across to work which I have done in the assignments (either through process or source or inspiration). Even work with no apparent association has been valuable by giving insight into use of colour, composition, application of ideas, or sheer determination of the artist/designer to succeed.


2. Were you already familiar with some of the designers and artists in the set list? Whose work was completely new to you? How did you respond to it?

I was familiar with only a few of the individuals in the list; Zandra Rhodes, Issey Miyake and Tracey Emin. Of these I had a complete misconception about the work of Zandra Rhodes, which my research has dispelled. Far from being a garish woman producing equally garish and over-the-top, much of her clothing is subtle and it is beautifully conceived. Her sketchbook work is incredible and I hope to learn from how she uses museums collections, landscapes and cultural influences to inform her work.

Because I have captured my responses to the work of each of the artists/designers within my research, it seems unnecessary to duplicate it here. At the beginning of each section I have listed how their work relates to, or how it might influence my practice. I have also made comments in response to some of the articles or images within the body of my research.


3. Did you find the questions we gave helpful as a basis for your analysis? If not, how would you have preferred to approach this task?

I found that the questions very helpful (although so of the answers were difficult to find!) I like the structure that the questions provide and I will use them in future as a basis for commenting on artwork (see my blog entry on the medieval paintings at Thornham Parva, and work of Jonathan Lloyd). 


4. Do you think that an awareness of the context in which work is produced will influence the way in which you approach your own work in the future?


Yes. Before these contextual studies I had little knowledge of most of the artists/designers in the set list. Now I can approach my work knowing what has gone before, aware of some of the major movements and styles, and (if appropriate) building on political or social ideas.


5. Do you feel stimulated to do more research work of this nature in your own time?


Yes. The research which I did for this assignment has already inspired me with fresh ideas and made me think, in particular about feminist art and how the nature of the art, and materials in use has changed. The set questions have led me to areas of exploration which I have found highly stimulating. For example. In researching Jonathan Lloyds work “Altarpiece in dazzle camouflage” (inspired by the retable at Thornahm Parva, Suffolk), I have investigated the history of dazzle camouflage and the recent work of Sir Peter Blake.

Contextual Studies, Project 2, Stage 1, Research six artists or designers

3 May 2016

For this stage I had to select six artists or designers who I particularly admire to study, taken from any period from/ the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day. The task was to source information about their individual achievements. 

For this study, I followed the same format that I have outlined in Project 1, stage 1, the only difference being that I included a short explanation of why I chose each of the artists at the start of the section on the research about them.

My choice was as follows:

  1. Sheila Hicks
  2. Judith Scott
  3. Rozanne Hawksley
  4. Louise Bourgeois
  5. Sonia Delaunay
  6. Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher

In making my selection, I did consider whether I should have chosen a more diverse group. All of my choices are female, white (and with the exception of Sonia Delaunay), European or North American (Judith Scott being a different, having worked in cultural and social isolation). It is perhaps because of their gender and cultural similarity to myself, that I find their work engaging and easy to relate to? Conversely, it could be read that I am not open-minded about other cultures and social groups (the fact that I am aware, hopefully means this is not the case).


The references for my research are listed in the bibliography.

Contextual studies, Project 1, Stage 3, Review of artworks

27 April 2016

This study requires a choice of two pieces of work representative of two of the artists/designers taken from the list at the start of Project 1. I selected work by Lucienne Day and Tracey Emin. 

The course notes ask that students choose illustrations of the artwork, taking care to bear in mind that texture, colour and scale are often not well represented. I tried to select the best quality images available, preferably from the Bridgeman online library or other reputable source. 

The course notes pose a series of questions for the student to answer. Although they appeared straightforward, many of the answers were difficult to source, and/or required thought – for example whether the piece has elements of a political or propaganda nature.

In preparation for this stage, I also read the suggested text by Mary Pointon (1). It was useful, not only in helping me understand the rationale for interrogating a work of art, but also in analysing the way others write about art, and the influence of surroundings and juxtapositioning of additional artwork in the context of that which is being studied.

The section was more work than I had anticipated, but it demonstrated how much more interesting art becomes when you delve into the “who, where, how, when and why”. Not only does it inform about the work being studied, but puts the piece into into context of the rest of the artsist’s work, and wider, that of art history and the major movements and styles.


1. Pointon, M (2014) History of Art. A student handbook. 5th Edition. London and New York. Routledge.

N.B. References pertaining to answering the questions on the artwork are contained in the bibliography.

Contextual studies, Project 1, Stage 2, An in-depth study

23 April 2016

Choosing one artist/designer from the list from Stage 1, this in-depth study takes the from of an illustrated essay of not more than 2000 words, looking at their work and the issues related to it.

My choice of artist – Judy Chicago:

I selected Judy Chicago because her most notable work “the Dinner Party” was produced in the context of the emerging feminist art movement of California/L.A. in the late 1960s/early 1970s. It was a highly controversial at the time and continues to promote debate. The concept of feminist art is a subject which I find fascinating; it is dynamic, thought provoking and at times risqué. There are some issues which I am interested in exploring through my own artwork in future.

My approach:

The biggest challenge with this project was the limit of just 2000 words. I would normally consider an in-depth study to be at least 10,000 words, so I had to choose my topics carefully and keep focused on the message that I wanted to get across.

I started by printing out by the Wikipedia entry for Judy Chicago. Although I would never reference this source directly, it provided a useful starting point, highlighting main events in the artist’s life, and helping me navigate around the volume of information on the web and in print. 

I then sourced and printed off selected articles from the Internet, focusing on the areas of Chicago’s work which interested me most – particularly “The Dinner Party” and work leading up to it, life influences and political context. I borrowed several books from Norwich University library, including Judy Chicago’s autobiography, and reviews of her career and artworks by other authors.

I produced several pages of my own typed notes – shorthand of the text I had read, designed to help me extract the salient points and to know where to go back and find references. Once this was complete, I used it to draft an outline plan. I then began to write the essay. The plan helped me remember all the points I wanted to express and put them in and an order which was logical and made sense. I re-examined my work as it progressed (particularly in view of the balance and emphasis), and I adjusted the plan accordingly. I have written my essay slightly different from how I would normally, making explicit reference to my own opinion (as I understand this is what the assessors would like to see).


What I have learnt from this exercise:

The task highlighted the complexity of unraveling the comments of art critics, who may have underlying alternative motives for their remarks. Like politics, it is always possible to argue a point! The act of writing the essay has been most thought provoking. I have had to consider how I feel about “The Dinner Party”, in the context of both the era in which it was first exhibited, and how it would be received today. I hope I have correctly identified the content and presented well balanced and concise arguments.

I was only able to obtain Pointon’s book (1) after my essay had been written, and there were some points which I would probably have brought out more strongly, had I read the text first. Specifically, to have been more precise about collaboration, about who made criticisms about Chicago’s work, in what capacity, and when.

The importance of “where and how” the work is shown, is a point which is also made clearly by in Pointon’s book (1). Originally shown in 1979, “The Dinner Party” was later included in the exhibition “Sexual politics: Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party in Feminist art history” curated by Amelia Jones in 1996. In this exhibition,  “The Dinner Party” was shown together with other feminist artworks which had been produced in the intervening years. (2) The context was completely different from the original exhibition, which undoubtedly affected the way the work was viewed and how it was critiqued. Jones drew criticism for the prominence she gave to Chicago’s work, as the centrepiece of the exhibition, and the that fact five prominent female artists (including Miriam Schapiro, a former collaborator of Chicago’s) refused to exhibit their work. (3) Again, this would have been an interesting point to draw out in my essay.



1. Pointon, M (2014) History of Art. A student handbook. 5th Edition. London and New York. Routledge.

2. Brooklyn museum [n.d.] “The Dinner Party”: Tour and home. [online]. Available from: [Accessed 30 May 2016]

3. Jones, A. (2006) Aesthetics and sexual politics: Arts sexual politics. In: Mobile fidelities. Pachmanova, M. n.paradoxa online issue no. 19 pp.53 [online]. Available from: [Accessed 30 May 2016]

The references for my essay are copied directly into the bibliography and are not reproduced here.. 




Contextual studies, Project 1, Stage 1, Research

23 April 2016

Assignment 4, Project 1, Stage 1

This first stage of the project is focused on researching ten key artists and designers listed in the course notes. The focus is on information gathering and collating, and not writing about each one. 

The brief is very general and it would have been all to easy to print off several folders full of information for each artist. I decided this approach was both impractical and counter-productive; a large body of information is useless, unless it has been deciphered and understood.

My dilemma was where to focus. I felt that to keep my research too general would have resulted in a cursory investigation of limited value, whilst delving into too much detail could have produced an overwhelming volume of material. 


I decided to take a balanced approach – I applied the following format to my research for each artist:

  1. Seek out biographies and articles which provide a summaries, so as to understand the status of the artists, their background, influences and interests.
  2. Seek out two more detailed articles, maybe exhibition reviews, journal publications, a book chapter. Of particular interest is if they present a controversial view, new slant or opinion.
  3. Look for interviews or video clips (ideally with the artist to gain first hand information). 
  4. Obtain images as examples of work, particularly if they illustrate major work, different phases of the artst’s career or a changes in approach.

The process of collating and summarising is very important to me. It is during this phase that I examine and rationalise arguments to come to my own conclusions. I draw mental links and formulate ideas (from which I may seek out further information to test assumptions and substantiate or dispel theories). I decided that in order to make the task meaningful, I would annotate my research. My notes include why a particular article was selected, and the salient points it contains. I also decided to write a summary of how the artsit’s work either relates to, or might influence my practice – a really useful exercise for focusing my attention.

References for each artist are included in the bibliography page.