I’ve seen a good few visual arts exhibition uploads since April 21st and I’m pleased to say I have seen some wonderful work. It’s one of the best parts of the job and the teachers and students who upload such great work should be congratulated. Their work is frequently sensational.

In fact during the Grade Award face-to-face meetings in the IB Assessment Centre in Cardiff, visual arts senior examiners can often be found sitting in a room filled with screens and focusing on their own screen, until the shout is heard (“Wow! Stunning! Come and see this!” etc.) – at which point examiners spring out of their comfy IB chairs to see the cause of the excitement.

In assessment terms, the highlights come from seeing artwork that exemplifies the objectives of the exhibition component: work that reflects not only an understanding of the assessment criteria but also shows that the course is working. We see fantastic work that fulfills and even exceeds the things we look for and ask for.

I could leave it there – a positive blog from a happy examiner – but I think I might also balance the report by pointing to some of the less successful submissions and suggest that there might be things that teachers and/or students might do well to avoid.

I’ve identified some ‘Exhibition Issues’, and my plan is to post a few now and the remainder next month – so stay tuned!

EXHIBITION ISSUES (Part 1 – to be continued)

1 Teacher comments

First of all I would like to thank those teachers who took the time to carefully compose and upload thoughtful, articulate and frequently honest appraisals of their students’ work. Those teachers used the opportunity provided to upload a comment, explaining the marks awarded by referring to the artworks and how they achieve in relation to specific assessment criteria, often quoting relevant criteria.

More often than not I agreed with the marks because both I and the teacher referred consistently to the assessment criteria when evaluating the uploaded files.

But some comments were not as helpful as they could be – so here are some thoughts about teacher comments (or lack of)

1a No reference to assessment criteria

Some teachers wrote about things that were not really useful to the moderator. For example, the student has always loved art, has a mother who is an artist, is very punctual and intends to take photography at college. All this may be true but it’s not relevant to my job and does not explain why the teacher gave the marks that he/she did.

1b Nothing but assessment criteria (no reference to the art!)

At the other extreme, it is not helpful if teachers just copy and paste the descriptor that matches their criterion mark. I already know what the descriptor says.  I would prefer to know specifically what the student has done in the art submitted to show evidence that relates to the mark awarded.

1c 8 words? Really?

OK, I agree that we don’t really need to fill the very generous 4000 characters (around 600 words?) allocation – my preference would be a 300 word limit but I wasn’t asked.

600 words (approximately) is a lot more than you need to explain your marks. But some teachers took the ‘less is more’ approach a little too far, uploading comments consisting of only one sentence. One teacher’s comment consisted of 8 words. I did not really get much idea of how and why that teacher awarded those marks…

 1d No comments? Really?

Some teachers apparently thought that the 6/VAPP form would be seen by the moderator and also thought that they could use that form to explain and justify the marks they awarded.

Both these assumptions are/were incorrect, so using the teacher comments space to write “comments on form” was not particularly helpful to the moderation process.

2 The value of traumaso - you want TRAUMAv3

A long time ago (March 2010) I posted a blog entitled “My trauma generated a 7”.

Its starts “It’s a theatrical given that harrowing experiences, involving pain and despair, often lead to stirring, intense – and wonderfully powerful – drama. Just look at all those Russians. But is the same true of IBDP Visual Arts? Well, sometimes, yes”.

Of course that was more than six years ago and I was writing about a very different visual arts programme. But the same issues arise.

I also wrote that everything stands or falls by the assessment descriptors, so even if the tale is a noble and moving tragedy and the student has succeeded against inhuman odds, if the work doesn’t merit a high markband then of course it won’t get a high mark. That still applies

Some Curatorial Rationales told tales of struggle and heartbreak, and were moving and poignant accounts of student experiences. And sometimes art did what it can do so well – it allowed and encouraged the vibrant expression of emotion and pain, leading to displays of personal and profound art.

But not always. And although of course I sympathize with the stress involved, I have to remain faithful to the assessment criteria, and in a few cases I could not agree with the marks awarded by the teacher because I could not see evidence of the achievement in relation to the assessment criteria.

3 Exhibition photographs

What’s the purpose of exhibition photographs?

Well I can tell you what it’s not –

  • The point of exhibition photographs is not to show how popular the show was and how many people were crowded into the exhibition space.
  • It’s also not to show the moderator what the student looks like (many exhibition photographs show a proud and beaming student artist).

Upload clear and uninterrupted views of the show giving the moderator the opportunity to get an idea of the whole, thinking about scale, arrangement, presentation, colour, impact etc

4 Size and Scale

This is a tricky one. Obviously big does not automatically mean good, and none of the assessment criteria refer to the size of the art in the exhibition.

But working on a large size/scale can present certain challenges to a student and it can also offer the opportunity to create art that adds impact to an exhibition.

Yes, some large artworks are dreadful (I saw some of these in the uploaded files I assessed) but I saw some great examples of ‘large’ art.

(What is large?  Let’s say any 2D artwork that is not just an enlarged photograph and measures in the region of 1.5 m x 1 m is getting there).

In an exhibition large work that has ideas, sophistication and intricacy is definitely heading in the right direction.

Even when looking at a photograph of the exhibition on a monitor (as we are forced now to do) size and scale can immediately give a good impression of what’s to come (when looking at the individual files).

STAY TUNED – more Exhibition Issues will be posted in August’s Visual Arts Blog!