Using Illustrations


Using the Illustrations in Access to English: Social Studies



With the focus in this course being on social studies the first activities suggested here look at how we might use the art work and illustrations in Access to English: Social Studies (henceforth referred to simply as Access) as resources that can stimulate and develop students' awareness of the social issues they study. At the same time it is important to help students to look critically at art work and illustrations, and to treat them with the scrutiny and critical alertness one reserves for all sources in the field of social studies. The final activities (6-8) are more generally communicative activities.

1. Comparing two illustrations

We compare how social conditions are expressed and reflected in two examples of art work. On p. 7 of Access you can see a reproduction of Sir Samuel Luke Fildes’s «Applicants to a Casual Ward» (1874) and on page 402 a reproduction of a print from just four years earlier, «Loading Cotton on the Mississippi» by Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives.
Students can compare the attitude of the artists in these two works, and the way in which their presentation of people and social background differ.
Students work in pairs. (i) Each thinks through the task and writes down at least six questions about the illustrations – none of the questions should be able to be answered by Yes or No. (ii) The students draw lots to find out who asks and who answers. (iii) They ask and answer, (iv) Afterwards they can prepare a short two-minute presentation to the class. (v) One or two pairs give their oral presentations to class (maybe using power-point or overhead transparences).
This is a procedure that can be used to compare other sets of illustrations, so we have given it a bolder font.
Background information
Luke Fildes (1844–1927) was, in his day, a well-known artist in England. He started his career as a book illustrator, and was engaged by Charles Dickens to illustrate his novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. (This novel was never finished and Fildes was pestered throughout his life by people who imagined he knew how Dickens proposed to complete it.) The illustrations for this novel were in a similar vein to «Applicants to a Casual Ward». When he died, the Times noted in its obituary that with his death «the public loses one of its favourite painters.» His painting «Applicants to a Casual Ward» was as far as he went in the direction of social realism. During the 1880s he spent most of his time painting portraits, although his most famous painting, «The Doctor» (1890) returned to the theme of human misfortune, now even more poigntnanty sentimental (this work reflected a personal tragedy – the death of Fildes's son). He became a much sought-after (and well-paid) portrait artist. He painted a portrait of king George VII, and was knighted in 1907.
Nathaniel Currier (1813–88) and James Merritt Ives (1824–95) were also highly popular artists. Today we take photographs in newspapers for granted, but it has not always been like that. The technology for producing mass circulation newspapers preceded the technology for printing photographs in newspapers. Illustrations had to be provided by other means, for example by lithographs. In America, the printmakers Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives were particularly popular. Their lithographs of contemporary events appeared in newspapers and were sold to the middle classes as domestic wall decorations. Currier and Ives became household names. (So much so that their names feature in one of America's most popular Christmas songs, «Sleigh Ride» by Mitchell Parish and Leroy Anderson.)
The lithograph on page 402 of Access is dated 1870, and therefore purports to show a Mississippi scene some five years after the end of the Civil War.

2. Follow-up work

After comparing the pictures on pp. 7 and 402, students can examine the following paintings and photographs – all are basically street scenes –   in Access. Use the same procedure as in Activity 1. Some additional information is given here, and a few suggestions for further exploration.
page 124   Harold Harrington Betts: «State Street, Chicago»
page 132 Joseph Hirsch «Street Scene»
Hirsch was strongly influenced by the social realism of «The Eight» group of artists who, in the 1890s, were primarily interested in painting «street life» and, incientally, in getting to any place where something dramatic had occurred so that their drawings or paintings could be reproduced in newspaper, which had still not adapted the photograph to the mechanics of daily production.. Social realism is not the same as photgraphic exactness (paint what you see) and Hirsch, like any artist, simplifies, exaggerates, and shapes the reality his eyes see so that the work of art he creates is a personal expression. For example, he flattens the forms of the four men. Whether it is effective and worth looking at more than once is something the viewer must decide.
page 257 Shanti Panchai: «Handkerchief Seller»
page 273 Bill Jacklin: «Sixth Avenue I»
page 389: Margaret Bourke-White: «At the Time of the Louisville Flood, Louisville, Kentucky, 1937»
It is easy to forget the extent of the devastation and human misery that floods have often caused in America – and still do cause, although modern emergency services reduce the risk of loss of life. As Paul Oliver reminds us in Blues Fell This Morning, «There is no stopping the Mississippi floods: they can only be kept under control». Many classic blues are laments on the impact of floods.

3. Clusters of illustrations  

Here are page references for illustrations on a common theme (there is some overlapping in these lists):
Family life: 121, 264
Key moments in national history: 115, 146, 153, 158, 181, 368, 399
Creating a national myth: 16, 80, 81, 146, 153, 181, 359, 392
War: 16, 38, 55, 87, 116, 142, 145, 215, 348, 352, 365
Street scenes (see activity 1): 7, 124, 132, 247, 256, 273, 389
The following lines of enquiry suggest themselves:
(a) the artist's attitude (what he or she wants to «say» or express)
(b) the text-book writers' choice (why is this picture in Access?)
(c) the style and technique used by the artist
(d) personal preferences     
Students can, of course, be asked to find their own clusters of illustrations on a given theme, or even to find the theme themselves and then the illustrations.
It should be possible to arrange intelligent discussions of pictures on a common theme. For example, the many illustrations on the theme of war and conflict can be compared in the same way as the two poems from the First World War on pp. 54–55 lend themselves to comparison.
Further clusters of illustrations:
Posters etc: 57, 111, 118, 213, 226, 333, 343, 428
Magazine covers: 98, 199 (And encourage students to find the first-ever cover of «Life» magazine, which used a photograph by Margaret-Bourke, see Activity 2, p. 389).

4. Social comment

Students must be encouraged to search through Access to find illustrations which, in their opinion, express strong opinions or attitudes on social conditions and/or political issues. Some of them have, of course, featured in the activities above. Each student must be able to explain why they choose the pictures they do. They should also be encouraged to find images in current newspapers and magazines which are compelling comments on society, politics, injustice, successful development projects, achievements etc. (It is unnecessary to focus exclusively on tragedies and injustices.)

5. What do you know about . . . ?

There are plenty of pictures of celebrities in Access – politicians, film stars, writers, singers – they are all there. There are also pictures of famous buildings. How can all of these be exploited? Here is a suggestion.

Procedure: Choose two or three of the photographs and do a “What do you know about . . .?” brainstorming. The teacher can make lists of the learners’ ideas and then, after sorting out disagreements on dates, places and the like by using the Internet, get the class to organize information in paragraphs.
Example: The illustration on p. 187 can generate a discussion on the Supreme Court's role, and also on the importance of classical borrowings in the young American nation (architecture, the name «Senate»).  

6. Inferring

In several cases students could be asked “What is he / she thinking?” “Why do you think he / she is so thoughtful / happy / worried / self-assured / etc.?” Students could be asked to make speech bubbles in some cases.

For example: pp. 121, 167, 223 (bottom), 285, 348, 406

7. Who’s/What's missing?

Maybe we think someone or something is missing in a picture. For example, someone seems to be missing in the photograph on page 208. In Activity 1 we looked at the print on p. 402, and probably decided something was missing if this was to be a complete picture of life in the South. Students can explore Access, and come up with their own suggestions.

8. Enigmatic pictures

Some illustrations are a trifle mysterious and enigmatic. What's going on? Why have they been chosen? Which are good? Which are weak? Why?
For example pp. 59, 128, 251, 277, 289
Teachers might ask “What springs to mind when you look at the picture on . . ., and why?” and make lists of ideas. This is good training for vocabulary building and discussion.

9. Essay writing

Use a picture a starting-point for an essay: any of the pictures listed in Activity 8, or those on pp. 236 and 244 could be suitable and challenging.

10. Other tasks

A number of pictures show scenes from contemporary life.

Students can be encouraged to choose pictures themselves and explain why they have chosen them. Examples:
  • Find a picture which expresses a strong mood (happiness, worry, anger, determination, etc.).
  • Find a dramatic picture. Why have you chosen it? What is going on? What special techniques has the artist or photographer used?
  • Which is your favourite picture? Explain to your classmates why you like it more than the other illustrations.
  • Find a picture which you think would make a good CD or DVD cover. What sort of music or movie could it be used for?
  • Choose a picture of a person and put yourself in his or her shoes. Think, talk or write about the following:
    - Who am I and why am I here?
    - What have I just done?
    - What am I doing now?
  • Find some similarities and differences (physical, geographical, professional, social, etc.) between two people portrayed. 
  • Choose a person in a picture. What do you think of him / her / them?
  • Would you like to be like him / her / them? Why (not)?

Web resource

For American artists:

For biographies of artists:

For examples of photographers' work:

Article on documentary photography «Photography as a Research Method»:

Cappelen Damm

Sist oppdatert: 24.03.2010

© Cappelen Damm AS