By now I expect that many of you (students) are on holiday – so I’m pleased to see that you have spared a moment to check on the visual arts blog!

If you have graduated I’m happy to see you and good luck on July 6th (RESULTS day!)

If, on the other hand, you are in between the first and second year of the course, some of this blog may prove useful.

I’m reflecting on more things seen during the last visual arts examination session, with particular reference to the exhibition, and things to avoid.

Hence the “when not to…” starting points listed below…

When NOT to embrace the Learner Profile (in particular, when NOT to be a Risk-taker!)

I will start by saying that yes, of course I support all the IB Learner Profile attributes! In fact, a favourite is “Risk-taker”.

But there are times when it may not be such a great idea.

A number of students were keen to tell me (in their Curatorial rationales) that they had submitted artworks that were ‘first-time’ encounters with a particular technique. They were proud to be risk-takers.

“I have submitted works exploring media and techniques that I have never used before. The results are not great but I wanted to show I’m a risk-taker!

I’m not sure that this was such a good idea. The work was often (predictably) weak, because the result of the first time you try anything is probably not going to be as good as the tenth time.

I saw weak ‘first-time’ work in charcoal, scraperboard, watercolour, clay and digital animation.

Why risk 40% of your final grade by submitting unresolved/’one-off’ artworks?

Of course I encourage my students to experiment and explore new techniques and media, and then to develop and refine skills acquired; but I would not recommend that they submit the results of the very first time they encountered a new technique.

For one thing the moderator is looking for evidence of competence, and that is something that usually comes from practice, not first-time experiments.

By all means show your experiments and mistakes in your visual arts journal and Process Portfolio submission, but be careful when selecting final exhibition artworks.

The exhibition is primarily about RESOLVED work.


When NOT to get carried away by your frustrations with the world

“Donald Trump – Caricature” by “DonkeyHotey” Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC-BY2.0). Accessed 20 June 2017.

OK, the world has a lot of problems and you feel passionately about some of them. That’s good. But if you want to use your visual arts exhibition as a vehicle for protest, remember that assessment is not based on the degree of anger, or despair, or frustration that you feel.I’m sure that your feelings are strong and genuine, but bare in mind the three assessment Cs – coherence, competence and concept.

The problem with a lot of exhibitions that protest is that they aren’t very good in terms of coherence, competence or concept.

For example, I saw quite a few cartoon and caricature versions of Donald Trump. Like many other politicians, President Trump has already been caricatured extensively in many different countries, and the Trump-inspired artwork that I saw was for the most part obvious and predictable, and conceptually weak.

If you want to protest, fine, but the exhibition moderator is probably already familiar with the issues you are protesting about and he/she does not assess your fury, exasperation etc.

The assessment clarification document says that “Conceptual qualities relate to the degree of the candidate’s sophistication of thoughts and ideas, and includes the important concept of “elaboration”. To achieve well in this criterion, ideas, concepts, etc. should be explored in depth and developed not only to an “adequate” level but to a point of “effective” realization”.

By all means explore and protest about issues and problems, but please try to avoid the obvious, banal and predictable!


When NOT to decide that ‘my art speaks for itself 

It’s often easy to recognize outstanding art. That part of the exhibition moderator’s job can be relatively simple.

So it was usually easy to identify a lot of the art that exemplified visual arts exhibition ‘success’. As soon as I saw it I thought wow, and I probably clicked on zoom to see more details.

The photo of the finished product – video, sculpture, painting, print, whatever – contained almost everything I needed to see.


But sometimes I’d be looking at a photograph, and I’d re-read the rationale and the text, and I’d still not know what the student had done to get to this final piece, and this dilemma occurred most often with digital art.

If you submit digital artworks, please say something about the process: explain what was the starting point and what you did.

It can take a couple of seconds to create a digital image, and a couple of minutes to add enough effects and layers to make it look quite convincing.

I’m afraid that I was not persuaded by some very simple digital files uploaded by some students. Some looked slick and superficial, some looked badly drawn, some looked incomplete.

But in all these cases the student just said things like “It’s about loneliness” or “it was inspired by a song”.

This is NOT helping me give marks for technical competence.

Moderators would like to know what you did, what understanding and knowledge you have of the programme(s) you are using, what those programmes are, etc.


Enjoy your summer!