My Visual Art students call it the Curious Rat, because “Curatorial Rationale” is a bit of a mouthful.

Anyway, its March, and the digital upload ‘window’ for final examination submission of visual arts files is open – so it’s time for you (especially if you are a visual arts student in the final year of your course) to finalize your files!

It’s a busy time and it may be tempting to focus on (for example) finishing some of the resolved artworks in your exhibition, and/or making the process portfolio pages look as good as possible.

But a vital new part of the exhibition upload is exhibition assessment criterion D, “Curatorial practice”.

The curatorial practice is a required and assessed part of the exhibition component This asks you to justify the selection, arrangement and exhibition of your artworks “within a designated space” and, in addition at HL, to reflect on how the exhibition conveys an understanding of the relationship between the artworks and the viewer.

This is your chance to guide the way the audience (including teacher/examiner) perceives your exhibition. Communicate directly with viewers, and help them recognize your intent and the purpose in your body of work, and understand your point of view

Here are seven things to consider when you start writing your curatorial rationale:

1 REFLECT ON PREVIOUS GALLERY VISITS Before starting to write your curatorial rationale, put your exhibition into context: think about other exhibitions you have seen/experienced. Consider the nature of making collections of works of art, the display and exhibition of art, and your own intentions and artworks. Also consider how viewers engage with artworks in different kinds of exhibition contexts, and how they might react to your own art show

2 PLAN & FOLLOW A BASIC STRUCTURE! Don’t just ramble. Plan what you want to say; it can be helpful to follow a basic structure – for example,

  • Overall premise – what are your aims and intentions?
  • Range of artistic approaches – for example, have you experimented with a number of media/processes? If so, why? What ideas have you explored?
  • Decisions about arrangement and display. Is there a sequential or thematic arrangement?

3 REMEMBER THE WORD LIMIT! For SL students, the word limit is 400 words. For HL students, it is 700 words. If you exceed this, parts of your statement will not be
considered by your teacher and visual arts moderator. But less is more! While the word limits are 400 or 700 words, most curatorial statements written for exhibitions in galleries are between 300 and 500 words.

4 DON’T FORGET THE EXHIBTION TEXT you have an opportunity to write a short statement to accompany each artwork in the exhibition, so do not use up your ‘curatorial’ word limit describing each work. Rather, identify thematic and/or stylistic connections between works. (But if there is a particular work that was especially instrumental in the way you perceived your exhibition, it might be interesting to describe that work in more depth to draw the audience into your thought process).
Humphries-Untitled-2014-715x10245 IT’S OK TO SAY “I and MY” You are writing about your own work, so personal pronouns (I, my and so on) are appropriate.

6  AVOID ARTSPEAK JARGON! Your statement should be written in an informative and persuasive tone: write meaningfully and avoid the kind of art-world jargon that might alienate a general audience. Be realistic, frank and honest about your work but don’t be afraid of using art vocabulary when appropriate. For example, if there is a specific art term that is central to the main idea of your exhibition, define it within your statement. (see October 2015 Blog post “Avoid Artspeak!”)

7 HL VS SL CRITERIA In addition to the word limit difference, there’s a difference in what is being assessed for SL and HL, with HL examiners looking for a “justified explanation for the selection, arrangement and exhibition of a group of artworks within a designated space and reflection on how the exhibition conveys an understanding of the relationship between the artworks and the viewer”. The reflection on the artworks/viewer relationship element is not required in the SL criterion.


Some of the images shown here are photographs of exhibition texts accompanying works of art in the Tate Britain and Tate Modern galleries, London (photographs taken by me).

It might be useful for you to read these texts and consider how the words are used without referring to the images being discussed (apart from one example). What do you think? Are there things that you would avoid, or conversely use, in your own texts?