• In my last two visual arts teacher Blog posts (June and July) I discussed issues and aspects of exhibitions submitted for moderation that I’d seen as an examiner.
  • This is the third and final post relating to this.
  • Some of those previous ‘issues’ included teacher comments, the value of trauma, exhibition photographs and size and scale (etc) and might have reflected a misunderstanding of some aspects of the course.
  • This month I am continuing this theme – outlining some ‘problem’ issues that teachers and/or students might do well to avoid.




Poster_-_Frankenstein_02 *By “the monster” I mean, of course “the theme”

I realize I may be being a little controversial here, and for many of you the idea of the THEME always has and always will be a basic element of the visual arts course, no matter what I say – but it’s NOT NECESSARY!

In a few cases students lost marks because their theme was not explored in any depth and was dull and repetitive.

But no matter how many times we say that you don’t need a theme and that students will quite possibly lose marks if they have one, the monster lives on.

In fact many students started their rationale by proudly describing their “theme”.

As mentioned in the clarification document (available on the OCC) “coherence in the exhibition is not necessarily achieved through visual conformity, or a collection that is just visually similar and/or repetitive. There can be diversity within coherence:  there should be evidence of relationships between artworks rather than simply similar artworks.”

The relationships between artworks can be dynamic and surprising, and involve ideas about styles of artmaking, or there could be thematic relationships but, as in the past course, a theme is not required.

The coherence descriptor does not refer to a theme, but to “thematic or stylistic relationships”.

Yes, having a single theme can and sometimes does work. Creative and exciting exhibitions can successfully depict a single theme.

But success in this context (DP visual arts) is more about linking ideas, depth of involvement, the way artworks relate to each other, the correct selection and use of relevant media and techniques, and the creative and imaginative approach taken.

It’s not really about just having a theme.

10 Passion vs Quality (the heart is strong, but the art is weak…)

Of course it’s great that students have passionate views on a variety of issues, but just having strong opinions will not necessarily lead to a strong exhibition.

Yes, I get the point, the student is really concerned about the environment, pollution, gender issues, politics, pressure to look beautiful etc – it’s good that they feel strongly.

But they really need to explore visual ideas and techniques in order to create a successful response to these feelings, not just write them on pieces of card and boards etc. Equally, submitting simple photographs of examples of polluting activities is too easy, simplistic and obvious.

A student is worried about pollution so he takes a photo of an upturned bucket (to represent waste) and some black cloth (to represent spilled oil) and Bingo! You have a “statement” about oil pollution.

But is it any good? The conceptual qualities 1 – 3 descriptor refers to “imagery, signs and/or symbols used are obvious, contrived or superficial”. The bucket and cloth artwork seem to be all of those things – obvious, contrived and superficial.

Or studentis angry about gender stereotyping so she makes some posters with slogans that express her outrage. OK. But a series of posters with text and exclamation marks is unlikely to do well in terms of conceptual qualities or competence.

(…but that’s exactly what some students submitted).

The exhibition is about coherence, competence, concept and the curatorial rationale.

Students need to interpret their passion etc through these lenses if they are going to do well.

11 Curatorial Rationale

Generally speaking, these were good, and in many cases they did exactly what we wanted – students justified the selection and arrangement of their art and (at HL) explained the relationship between the art and the viewer “within the space made available”.

But others seemed (presumably under the guidance of the teacher) to be stuck in the old ‘candidate statement’ mode of the previous course.

These spent a lot of time telling me what they did, explaining problems they encountered and how they resolved them, sometimes also telling me that the visual arts course (and indeed the whole Diploma Programme) was a real challenge but they had “grown” a lot through it, etc.

But they did not mention their intentions, or the way the art works were arranged/displayed, and did not refer to the space and relationship to the viewer/audience.

In basic terms the HL examiner is looking for:

  1. Evidence of artistic intentions
  2. A justification of the selection of the artworks
  3. A justification of arrangement of the artworks.
  4. An explanation of relationship between the artworks and the viewer.

It’s not that difficult. But if, after carefully reading 700 words, I can find no mention of any of this, then yes, I’m afraid it’s a big fat zero.

Relevant previous Blog links:

The Curatorial Rationale: avoid ARTSPEAK!

The Curious Rat (aka Curatorial Rationale)

12 Optional supporting photographs

There are of course valid reasons for using the “optional supporting photograph” slots – for example for viewing  a 3D piece from different angles – but some students and/or teachers seemed to feel that they had to use all 33 slots when it was obviously NOT necessary.

Here’s what I think about using 33 files when the main 11 are perfect: if you have uploaded eleven (HL) good, clear, moderately high resolution images that show a good view of a 2D artwork, in each of the individual artwork file slots, there is NO NEED to also upload 22 additional but pointless versions of the same images.

The examiner who is moderating his/her 70th exhibition will of course be as objective and accurate with the 70th as with the 7th. But forcing him/her to look at 22 unnecessary duplicate views of the original may also exasperate him/her, and what point is there in that?

Only use the extra 22 (HL) or extra 14 (SL) optional extra slots if they actually add something.

See you in September!