Critical and Contextual Studies

The artist is not a special kind of person, but every person is a special kind of artist.Ananda Coomraswamy (1877–1947) Indian writer Transformation of Nature in Art.

Art disturbs, science reassures.Georges Braque (1882–1963) French painter.

The true method of knowledge is experiment. William Blake (1757–1827) English poet, painter and printmaker

Critical and Contextual Studies is an A-level Art course with the emphasis on learning about and writing about art, research and curation.  The CCS course helps students to gain a good grounding in the History of Art and in recent years has supported students to go off to study History of Art, Film, Anthropology, Fine Art, and Animation.

In Form 6 the course supports students to build their confidence in writing about art, both analysing artworks but also researching to support their observations.  We also run a survey course which focuses on collage and considers its importance in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Pupils have the chance to start to plan fictional exhibitions, considering which artworks to include, suitable venues, supporting written material, marketing material, supporting public programmes and also considering the curation of the artworks within a space. Students find out more about the challenges of the art market, the history of the art museum and some of the tensions that surround these institutions.  Visiting expert speakers talk, among other things, about how galleries seek to engage the public, how to run an art space, how galleries gain funding and how commercial galleries work with artists. 

In Form 7 students produce more independent work, developing their personal investigation, a project where they plan an exhibition using their experiences from earlier in the course. In February of Form 7 the students receive an exam paper for their externally set assignment.  They have a series of starting points to work from and having selected one they have 12 weeks to plan a fictional exhibition.  They use the experience from earlier in the course to help them with this. They then have three days to bring their ideas together. In the past students have created an element of their exhibition, whether that is marketing materials in support, a film to introduce the artworks, a new art commission for the show, or educational materials to help people to access and understand the work. This allows the students to work to their strengths. 

Students visit Birmingham to have talks at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, meet curators who work at the University of Birmingham Cultural Collections, meet the Director of Collections for Birmingham Museums Trust who leads on exhibitions, collection management and acquisitions, conservation and research programmes at the Museum and Gallery in the city centre and visit the Ikon Gallery. It is an opportunity to get an insight into how galleries run, how work is shown and to consider how to reach out to different audiences.  There is also a trip to Cambridge where they are able to compare the Wysing Arts Centre with the Fitzwilliam Gallery and Kettles Yard considering how the work is presented, how exhibitions are curated and promoted.

It is a positive, practical course that gives students a greater confidence to research, as well as to put their plans into action.  

Elinor Brass

Elinor Brass

Director of Art and Design

I have joined Oakham after 11 years at Eltham College in South East London, where I was Director of Art. While at the school, I was lucky enough to set up a gallery called Gerald Moore Gallery, which is open to the public showing an extensive range of work from new commissions to exhibitions from the Hayward Gallery touring collection. I have always continued to study while I have been a teacher. I did my Masters in painting at Wimbledon School of Art while I was a teacher at The Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe and now I am working on an Educational Doctorate through the Institute of Education exploring learning in a gallery setting. I also continue to make my own work, mostly working on a small scale in collage, painting and drawing at the moment while I complete my doctorate. In 2009 I set up a project called ‘Sketchbook Circle’, which is for art teachers to collaborate with each other. The circle now has around 300 members from across the country and it is really supportive community of practitioners.In my free time I fit in as much art making as I can but I also love going to gigs, galleries and the theatre. I also enjoy playing tennis, watching sport and spending time with my family.

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