A level History of Art


History of Art provides students with an intimate environment for focused and intense discussion revolving around the history and development of Western Art. Classes are highly interactive, and students are encouraged to discuss and debate their ideas with both their tutor and with each other. A major advantage of studying History of Art at Ashbourne is the College’s proximity to the world-class galleries and museums of central London, and students are able to take full advantage of Ashbourne’s location to undertake regular visits to exhibitions in order to see original art in venues including the National Gallery, The Royal Academy of Art, Tate Modern and Tate Britain, the Wallace Collection and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

There is also an overseas trip each year, where students get to visit other major European cities and explore the galleries, museums, art and architecture relevant to their own unique cultural heritage and development.

History of Art provides a wide range of both print and audio-visual resources that students use throughout the course of their studies, and are also encouraged to be familiar with the practical work produced by the other creative and expressive disciplines within the department. The teaching staff are both passionate and highly knowledgeable, and are committed in striving to instill in their students a lifelong interest in, and enthusiasm for, the study of art and artefacts.

Why study History of Art?

The study of History of Art, first and foremost, provides students with the skills and the critical vocabulary they need in order to analyse and interpret works of art. However, History of Art goes beyond providing a mere overview of artistic trends, giving students a wide-ranging cultural and historical understanding as the course follows the progression of Western art from the Classical world to the present day. Students are taught to consider works of art within their historical and cultural contexts; this makes A level History of Art an ideal complement to other humanities subjects (including English Literature, English Language, History, Classics, Modern Languages, or Philosophy) but it is also a helpful A level for students of Fine Art as it helps them to make links between their own work and that of previous artistic traditions. By the end of the course, students should be able to look at any painting, drawing, sculpture or building and analyse it critically in terms of its composition and historical context.

Which syllabus do we follow?

We follow the AQA syllabus for History of Art.

How many units are there?

There are four units in total: two at AS and two at A2.

What is each unit about?

Unit 1Unit 2Unit 3Unit 4
AS Unit 1 – Visual Analysis and Interpretation. Students begin the course by learning how to analyse the visual features and stylistic elements of painting, sculpture and architecture. The works studied span the whole of the Western artistic canon and candidates are taught how to use appropriate terminology to examine art and to show awareness of the historical, social and cultural contexts of art and architecture.
AS Unit 2 – Themes in History of Art. In this unit, students investigate art historical themes such as patronage, form and style, subjects and genres, gender, nationality, and ethnicity, and materials, techniques and processes. They are then taught to consider and apply these themes to a range of teacher-selected examples drawn from the history of Western art from Classical Greece the end of the twentieth century.
A2 Unit 3 – Investigation and Interpretation (1) 
In this unit, students undertake an in-depth study of one historical period of art, selected from one of four different options. Currently, Ashbourne students study Option 4: Art and Architecture in Europe and the United States of America between 1946 and 2000.
A2 Unit 4 – Investigation and Interpretation (2)
 In this unit, students undertake an in-depth study of one historical period of art, selected from one of four different options. Currently, Ashbourne students study Option 4: Art and Architecture in Europe and the United States of America between 1900 and 1945.

How is the course examined?

Unit 1Unit 2Unit 3Unit 4
In this unit, candidates are required to answer three questions on unseen works of art (analysing one painting, one sculpture and one piece of architecture) in one hour.
Candidates answer three essay questions (chosen from 3 different topic areas) in one and a half hours. Candidates have a choice of 3 topic areas out of 6, with one essay question per topic.
Candidates answer two essay questions from a choice of 4 on their prescribed art-historical period in one and a half hours.
Candidates answer two essay questions from a choice of 4 on their prescribed art-historical period in one and a half hours.

How is the course structured?

Students study Unit 1 and Unit 2 concurrently during the AS year and Units 3 and 4 concurrently during the A2 year.

When do the exams take place?

The AQA History of Art course is assessed by examination only. AS students sit Units 1 and 2 in May of their AS year, and A2 students sit Units 3 and 4 in June of their final year. In addition, A2 students have the option of re-sitting AS units in June of their A2 year if they choose to do so.

Entry requirements

While there is no specific entry requirement to study AS History of Art, a minimum of a B-grade in an English subject at GCSE is advised.

Which Ashbourne teachers teach this course?

Katie Pettitt

[MA Contemporary Art Theory and Criticism (Essex), BA English Literature and History of Art (Joint Honours) (Birmingham), Professional Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) in Post Compulsory Education and Training (UEL) ]

Katie studied History of Art and English Literature at undergraduate level at the University of Birmingham and holds a Master’s degree in Contemporary Art Theory from the University of Essex. Katie has held various roles in the arts sector in London, including working for the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), Anne Thorne Architects and most recently the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), for which she collaborated with internationally acclaimed artists on innovative and high-profile art projects in and around London’s Olympic Park. Before teaching at Ashbourne, Katie established History of Art A level at the International School of Creative Arts (ISCA), the only specialist day and boarding school run in association with University of the Arts London (UAL). She joined Ashbourne in 2012 and now teaches History of Art, Media Studies and English. Katie is passionate about engaging students’ interest and encouraging them to develop their enthusiasm for literature and art history both in and outside the classroom.

Will Stockland

[MA History of Art (Scottish MA, Edinburgh)]

Will Stockland studied art history as an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh, where he specialized in Tudor and Stuart English art, Italian Renaissance art, French Modernist art, and Islamic art and architecture. He has also studied Central Asian and Persian art at the School of Oriental & African Studies (University of London) and the University of Oxford, and is the author of several art-historical publications. Will has taught art history at the Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies, Oxford Royale Academy, Oxford Tutorial College, Carfax Tutorial College, and Tudor Hall School, and has assisted with research and cataloguing at the Ashmolean Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Will is passionate about enthusing students with his own love of art and its history. He is a great communicator and is very experienced in preparing students for the challenges of the A-Level History of Art syllabus.

Beyond A level for History of Art Students

History of Art A level is, of course, ideal for anyone who wants to pursue study in History of Art at undergraduate level; studying History of Art at university is an immensely enjoyable course and can lead to further study of art history at graduate level, or into a wide range of careers including work in arts administration, art galleries, museums, auction houses, art conservation, curatorial posts, and the travel and tourism industries to name just a few. In addition, History of Art A level combines well with (and is a good preparation for) other humanities subjects at university (such as literature and history), but it is equally a good choice for those studying Art and Design courses.


There are no set textbooks for A level History of Art; however, the following list provides students with a few key texts that they can consult prior to and throughout their course:

Hugh Honour and John Fleming, A World History of Art (Laurence King, 7th Edition)

E.H. Gombrich, The Story of Art (Phaidon Press, 16th Edition)

John Berger, Ways of Seeing (Penguin Classics, 2008)

Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New: Art and the Century of Change (Thames and Hudson, Revised Edition 1991)

History of Art A2/AS Scheme of Work