This article aims to help GCSE, IGCSE and A Level students come up with ideas, interpretations and artist models for their 2013 Art Exam papers. Responses are given to topics from a number of different exam papers from examination boards such as AQA, Edexcel and CIE. These suggestions are not intended to be a complete list, nor to provide ‘perfect’ ideas: rather they have been supplied to help you with the brainstorming process. Final selection of ideas should only be made in conjunction with advice from your teacher.
As noted in the 2012 Art Exam topics article:
No topic is inherently boring. Even the most mundane can result in beautiful work. What matters is not the thing or even the idea, but the way it is interpreted; the way you respond to it, what it means to you and whether it wriggles inside and kicks at your soul.
It is important to remember, too, that it is not always necessary to have an exceptionally clever or original interpretation. Sometimes a literal or simple approach can be conveyed in a imaginative, skilful and unique way. If you have spent days searching for the ‘perfect’ interpretation, consider whether this time would be better spent starting and creating artwork. Good artwork takes time. Stop fretting about whether your idea is perfect and begin.
Force (GCSE Art and Design Edexcel)
- Brute force / violence (relating to a particular circumstance, scene or activity)
- Athletics / human strength / physical activity (focused on one particular activity or sport)
- Movement involved in a particular forceful action
Paintings depicting movement by Simon Birch and David Agenjo:
- Peer pressure (relating to a particular behaviour / action / activity)
- Trees / landscapes ravaged by wind
- Rain lashing a particular scene
- A boiling hot summer’s day / icecream melting
- Decay / rot / mould: an outdoor structure succumbing to the forces of nature
- Aftermath of an earthquake or some other natural disaster
- Floods / slips / erosion / cars swept away in swirling flood waters
- Bombs / terrorist activity
- Gravity / falling / precarious sculptures / structures
An imaginative painting exploring gravity by Jeremy Geddes:
- Scientific analysis of forces (old textbooks / diagrams / scales)
- The conversion of one force to another: i.e. an old mechanical plough / pulleys / cogs
Beautiful works from a series entitled ‘Man and the Machine’ by Kelani Abass:
- The force of waves disintegrating items at the edge of the sea
- Electrical force fields
- Political / religious forces
- Societal obligations to conform
- Human perseverance in a trying circumstance / willpower / desire to survive / force of life
- Breaking or smashing something
- Car crashes
Clever collaged artwork by Patrick Bremer:
- Recycled items being crushed together prior to transporting
- A building being demolished
- A still life where items are balanced precariously / crushed from above / squashed
- A wreckers yard
Striking scenes by Jason Webb:
- A nut cracker
- Breaking something obscure and unexpected into tiny pieces and reassembling these, or using as the basis for a still life
Example of an abstract sculptural form created by Cornelia Parker:
- The human body subjected to forces of some kind: pushing / pulling / shredding
- Mental forces and the way these shape or deform our being
Intriguing artwork by Henrietta Harris:
Art2day has also put together a collection of images that might inspire here. For more artist model ideas, please visit the Student Art Guide Pinterest Boards.
Juxtoposition (IGCSE Art and Design CIE)
- Siblings sitting side by side
- Unexpected items sitting side by side on a refrigerator shelf, or in a pantry, or supermarket shelves
- Different species of animals living happily in close quarters
- Wild animals alongside tame / domestic
- Unexpected combinations of objects at unexpected scales
Surrealist paintings by Matthew Grabelsky:
- Healthy food alongside unhealthy food
- Multiple views of a single person within one portrait
- Unexpected items in bowls of food
- Drawings of items alongside actual items (integration of drawing with photography: drawings of drawings)
Beautiful print by Aaron Horkey:
Open (IGCSE Art and Design Edexcel)
- Architectural openings – looking through windows / doorways / framing of scenes
- Bodily openings (wounds / scars)
- Open mouths: the never ending desire to be fed
Example: Scotch Tape Series by Naman Photography:
- Pile of open books / letters / desk scene
- Animals in cages / open latches / gates / escape
- Birthday scene – unwrapping / opening presents
- Unexpected packages containing random items
- The peeling open of nuts / fruit / vegetables / discarded skins
- Animal carcasses
A great Foundation sketchbook page depicting open hanging carcasses by Seamus O’Dare:
- Gutting fish
- Open scissors / surgical instruments
- Open hands / fingers / holding of precious items
- Breaking open something unexpected
Example by Dennis Sibeijn:
- Open boxes / cartons / packaging
- Grocery bags spilling open
- Flies landing on a food item that was left open
- Opening seedpods
Beautiful drawings by students of Monica Aissa Martinez:
Floating (AS Art and Design OCR)
- Swimming / diving
- Ducks and ducklings
- Something horrific floating in water
- Rubbish / litter clogging waterways
- Hot air balloons (showing the interior mechanisms / people etc)
- Floating seeds / seedpods
- Gravity / weightlessness
- A body caught at the bottom of the sea
Covert and Obscured (AS Art and Design Edexcel)
- Masks / disguises
- Makeup / concealment
- Carrying out an embarrassing activity / action in private
- Unexpected objects buried in soil
- Wrapping in layers
Amanda Duke has also collected some great artist models for this topic on Pinterest!
Inside, Outside and in Between (A2 Art and Design Edexcel)
- Please see our extensive list of subject matter suggestions for the ‘inside / outside‘ topic in our 2012 Art Exam ideas article (most of these could align perfectly within the Inside, Outside and Between topic).
- The Saatchi Gallery has also produced a good resource here.
- This Pinterest Board by Amanda Duke has some great artist model ideas related to Inside, Outside and In Between, as does Art2day.
Student Art Guide members are also actively discussing this topic and sharing ideas within our forum! Join the discussion!
Rolling (A2 Art and Design OCR)
- Rolling pins / baking scene
- Road rollers / diggers / construction workers
- Children playing – rolling down hills etc
- Spinning wheels / cogs / mechanical items
- Roller coasters / spinning rides at amusement parks
- Rolling random items down hills
- Runaway vehicles
- Items blowing across sand in the wind (rolling tumbleweed etc)
- People pushing a vehicle stuck in mud
- Kids playing with marbles
- Forward rolls / gymnastics
- Rolls of paper – beauty in the mundane
- Rolls of skin / fat
- Old fashioned bicycles
An amazing painting by Edie Nadelhaft:
Taped, Tied and Bound (A2 Art and Design OCR)
- A chained animal
- Animals trapped / entangled in rubbish / litter
- Zipping up of unexpected items (zips in flesh etc)
- Taping / tying of the human figure (see the Scotch Tape Series above as well as the captivating drawing below by Gillian Lambert):
- Swings tied to trees
- A person tied up by their hair
- Washing tied on the line
- Bundles of random objects tied and bound together
- Bound onions, garlic and other vegetables hanging to dry
- Blood relatives: inescapable ties between generations / family
There are also some great photos that could inspire ideas for this topic in the Student Art Guide Pinterest Photography Board.
Narrow starting points
Some examination boards set students a range of topics – those which are open and interpretative; others which are descriptive and narrow. This range of topics is to cater for individual student preferences: some students prefer to have more flexibility with their topic choice; others relish the security and direction provided by a set starting point. It is not important which style of topic you select: what is important is the quality of the work you produce in response to your chosen (or given) topic.
Examples of more directed starting points within the 2013 IGCSE, GCSE and A Level Art exam papers include:
- A seated figure leaning forward with hands resting on a walking stick
- The upper part of a person trying on clothes for their next holiday
In topics such as this, the initial decisions you must make are less about interpreting the topic (although an element of interpretation is required) and more about:
Selection of Subject matter. Some helpful recommendations include:
- Ensure your chosen subject includes a range of different surfaces / textures / patterns (not an excessive quantity – this runs the risk of resulting in images that are too busy or complex, but enough to ensure that your images have variety and visual interest).
- Ensure your subject is accessible first-hand.
- Aim for subjects that have personal relevance (i.e. if people are included, draw people who are important to you).
- Consider backgrounds / surrounding imagery.
Composing the subject in an aesthetically pleasing way (partly influenced by artist models).
It is important to note that if you choose (or are given) an open-ended starting point, these decisions must be made too!
Some final reminders
The best Art exam topics (or interpretations) are:
- Significant and important to your life in some way
- Able to be seen / experienced / explored first-hand
The above suggestions do not attempt to explain how an idea might be developed. Development should occur naturally as your project progresses. You are not expected (or even encouraged) to have a clear idea of where your project should end up at the outset. To understand how to move forward with your idea once you have chosen it – or indeed, how to begin – read our article about Development of Ideas (although targeted at A Level Art students, this is helpful for GCSE / IGCSE students too).
GCSE. Fine Art. Year 10 Summer Exam /
Coursework Unit 1: ‘Inside / Outside.’ 2004.
Year 10 GCSE Students at William de Ferrers School do an internal exam in July.
This gives them an opportunity to experience a 10-hour exam, the result of which becomes their first piece of coursework (unit 1).
The theme for the exam in 2004 (the first year of the students GCSE course finishing in 2005) was: ‘Inside / Outside.’
Students could take inspiration from the following paper, or use their own ideas, as long as they could relate it to the theme.
Inside – the human body
The inside of the human body is complex and miraculous.
You may have been inside the Body Zone in the Millennium Dome with its imaginative interpretation of how the body works. It may have given you lots of ideas to explore further.
You may have some x-rays from the last time you were in hospital.
Many artists have studied anatomy. For example:
- Leonardo da Vinci.
- Judy Chicago's great ‘Birth Project.’
Other artists have explored inside animals bodies. For example:
Are they mysteriously beautiful or horrific?
Inside – the mind
Inside our minds there exists a secret and personal world, often very different to the image we portray to the outside world.
This might be a challenging theme for you to follow, if you dare to take us inside the real you.
How do you feel inside? How can you show this in your work?
You can tell a lot about the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo's life and her deepest feelings from her paintings. They speak of pain and struggle.
You might study the 19th-century British artist Richard Dadd who had a private world inside his head and in his paintings.
Surrealist artists like Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali often explore personal themes inside their minds and in their dreams.
Edvard Munch was an artist whose paintings like The Scream were full of the emotion he felt inside.
Outside – the mind and body
Our own bodies are environments of their own covered in flesh, skin, hair and decorated or clothed in an individual fashion.
The surface of the body exterior can be young and as smooth as marble, or old, wrinkly and as tough as leather.
Rodin's sculptures explore the surfaces of the human form.
The monumental paintings by Jenny Saville explore today's issues about physical beauty and society's preoccupation with plastic surgery and weight control.
What appears to others is only an exterior. Inside, our minds and bodies are the human qualities that make us individuals; able to feel emotions, touch, taste, hear, smell and see.
We can experience joy or pain, love or hate, anger, loneliness, distress, passion and laughter.
Inside – the Earth
The inside of the Earth has always fascinated mankind. We dig into it to discover its mineral wealth. Scientists explore its geology.
The ancient Greeks believed in Hades, the underworld.
Jules Verne's journey to the centre of the Earth describes a fictional subterranean world inside the Earth.
You may be able to visit an old mine or quarry museum as part of your research. The museum may also include the artwork of local miners. You might study artists like Josef Herman.
The idea of life inside the Earth is also explored in comic and science-fiction novels.
Artists like Piero della Francesca in the 16th century and Stanley Spencer in the 20th century explored the theme of resurrection – rising from the dead.
Outside – environments
Landscapes, townscapes, seascapes, sky-scapes.
These environments can depict air, water, earth, life, space and perspective.
As the seasons change, so does the landscape.
Over thousands of years the land is transformed by the natural processes of erosion, floods, volcanoes, earthquakes and tornadoes.
Man also changes his environment; by pollution, waste and destruction, but also through planting and building.
You could compare Turner's storms at sea with the Japanese prints of Hokusai.
The Great Wave off Kanagawa depicts the fluid movement and powerful force of the tidal wave through colour and line.
Peter Lanyon's paintings are about his impressions of the land seen from above and the feelings of movement when flying a glider.
David Hockney's large paintings of the Grand Canyon show strange perspective and blazing hot colour.
For surreal and fantasy landscapes look at Max Ernst's Europe After the Rain II or Yves Tanguy's Imprevu
For gardens, compare Monet's painting at Giverny with the abstract canvases of Gillian Ayres.
The paintings of Jock McFadyen explore urban walkways, old cinemas, shops, train stations. He captures the personalities of buildings which are scarred and weathered by life and human beings.
For contemporary buildings you could look at the ‘The Guggenheim Museum,’ Bilbao, Spain or ‘The Gherkin’ (30, St Mary Axe) in London.
Appearances of buildings are transformed by the changing light from morning till night, from summer to winter. Different moods and atmospheres are created as shadows are cast.
Monet's paintings of Rouen Cathedral are the perfect example of how changing light and colour transforms buildings.
Linking Inside and Outside
Doorways and windows are enticing. We often cannot resist looking through them. They are a link between inside and outside and can offer a means of escape or a route to safety.
Photographers have often used the frame within a frame that a door or window offers; with a view looking inside or outside, perhaps with a figure framed inside the doorway.
The French photographer Henri Cartier Bresson is a useful reference here.
Peter de Hooch used the idea in the 16th century Netherlands.
Edward Hopper used doorways and windows, and the contrast between inside and outside, to enhance the mood and atmosphere of his paintings.