Visual Grammar - responding to historical paintings

Students learn how to apply visual grammar to describe and communicate features of historical paintings. Through examination students identify the impact of early British colonisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' country.
Resources #1: 
North View of Sydney New South Wales, 1822 / J. Lycett
Resources #2: 
Sydney from the North Shore, 1827 / J. Lycett
Resources #3: 
Sydney from Bell Mount, 1813 / painted by Stephen Taylor
Resources #4: 
A family group with canoe, possibly near Clovelly, 1886 / painted by William Pitt Wilshire
Resources #5: 
Oil painting of a group of Australian Aborigines, possibly in Sydney, ca. 1849
Resources #6: 
A direct north general view of Sydney Cove ... 1794 ... / oil painting

Glossary

Visual texts:

Texts in which meaning is shaped and communicated by images rather than words. Visual texts use techniques such as line, shape, space, colour, movement, perspective, angle and juxtaposition to shape meaning. Examples of visual texts include cartoons, billboards, photographs, film, TV, artworks, web pages and illustrations.

Visual features:

Visual components of a text such as placement, salience, framing, representation of action or reaction, shot size, social distance and camera angle.

Visual language:

Language that contributes to the meaning of an image or the visual components of a multimodal text and are selected from a range of visual features like placement, salience, framing, representation of action or reaction, shot size, social distance and camera angle. Visual language can also include elements such as symbol, colour, scene and frame composition, setting and landscape, lighting and the use of editing.

Source: NSW Education Standards Authority Glossary

Background information for teachers

Learning intention:

We are learning to apply visual grammar terms to a historical painting. This will help to describe and communicate features of historical paintings. We are learning about the impact of early British colonisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' country.

Success criteria:

Students will be successful when they can:

  • apply a selection of visual grammar terms to a historical painting
  • describe and communicate features of an historical painting
  • describe an example of the impact of early British colonisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' country from a selected historical painting

Background information for students:

Using the Visual Grammar Summary  powerpoint– provided as a downloadable resource

It is difficult to know what life was like for the Aboriginal people of Sydney Cove before the arrival of the British, because they did not record their activities in the same way as Europeans. Theirs was an oral culture and most of the visual records they created in rock carvings and paintings along the shores of the harbour were destroyed long ago with the clearing of the land and building construction.

The information we can deduce about the pre-colonial lifeways of Aboriginal people comes from British settlers who recorded what they saw in the first few years of contact and, more recently, from archaeological research. We must remember that in many respects the British saw Aboriginal people as a curiosity. Therefore, our knowledge of Aboriginal life before British colonisation can only be seen through the lens of the colonists and has to be extrapolated from their observations of Aboriginal people at the time of first contact.

Teachers should be aware that, in some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, hearing names or seeing images of deceased persons may cause sadness or distress, particularly to the relatives of these people.

Source: State Library of NSW - Aboriginal Women of Sydney learning activity

Background on the paintings and insight into discussing different perspectives on the arrival of the British to Australia

“Each of the paintings offers a glimpse into the artist’s world – how they saw it, or how they were commissioned to portray it. They are a window into the past, but they also prompt us to ask what, and who, is not visible. These paintings are not impartial records. They often depict an idealised view, favour particular subjects and marginalise others. … Together these paintings provide a sense of the way many Australians saw themselves, but they do not reflect the experiences of all Australians. They are a powerful reminder of how collection both reflect and inform our understanding of history and ourselves.”

Source: 10 Works in Focus: Painting from the Collection. Volume 1, p. 

Student Activities

Visual Grammar Guide

Students learn about the concept of visual grammar as a way to describe and communicate features of an image.

Number of set tasks: 1

Analysing paintings

Students analyse paintings from the State Library of NSW collection using the visual grammar guide from activity 1.

Number of set tasks: 1

NSW SYLLABUS FOR THE AUSTRALIAN CURRICULUM: ENGLISH K-10

Writing and Representing 2 

  • EN2-7B identifies and uses language forms and features in their own writing appropriate to a range of purposes, audiences and contexts

Reading and Viewing 2

  • EN2-8B identifies and compares different kinds of texts when reading and viewing and shows an understanding of purpose, audience and subject matter

Students:

EN2-7B

Responds to and composes texts

  • compare and review written and visual texts for different purposes and audiences

EN2-8B

Understand and apply knowledge of language forms and features

  • explore the effect of choices when framing an image, placement of elements in the image, and salience on composition" label" composition of still and moving images in a range of types of texts (ACELA1483, ACELA1496)

Respond to, read and view texts

  • identify and interpret the different forms of visual information, including maps, tables, charts, diagrams, animations and image

In each year K-6 students must study examples of visual texts. The selection of texts must give students examples of a wide range of factual texts that present information, issues and ideas.

History – First Contacts

HT2-4 describes and explains effects of British colonisation in Australia

Students:

  • use sources to identify different perspectives on the arrival of the British to Australia
  • outline the impact of early British colonisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' country

HT2-4 applies skills of historical inquiry and communication

 

Literacy - Visual knowledge element 

Understand how visual elements create meaning

Level 3

  • students: identify the effects of choices in the construction of images, including framing and composition

 

Critical and Creative Thinking – Inquiring: identifying, exploring and organising information and ideas element 

Identify and clarify information and ideas

  • Level 3 students: identify main ideas and select and clarify information from a range of sources

 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures 

Culture OI.6: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples live in Australia as first peoples of Country or Place and demonstrate resilience in responding to historic and contemporary impacts of colonisation.