Both my June 2017 blogs are in response to things encountered as a visual arts examiner/moderator. This one is aimed at teachers and to some extent is about ethics and the limits of art submitted for assessment.

The other one – YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS… – is for students and relates to assessment and the differences in perception from the perspective of a teacher and that of a moderator, but the audience for each could be reversed. (Feel free to read both!)

Anyway, this one is about the work of a student who as part of her exhibition/examination submission included a photograph of herself wearing a transparent plastic/PVC raincoat.

The raincoat had a double layer of plastic, and the student had filled the space inside the layers with water.

So far so OK. Self-portrait photo wearing raincoat. So what?

Well, there were two extra elements that took the ‘self-portrait’ into a more controversial area.

Firstly, the student was naked. Of course, depending on the view/angle of the photograph and the pose of the student this may have no effect. For example, a back view from the waist-up, no problem.

But this was a frontal view.

But still, so what. The visual arts examiner will probably have seen many examples of nudity in art, including nudity in student art, including students wearing nothing or very little, and would assess the work according to the assessment criteria and other guidelines. My students frequently upload nudes as part of their final exhibition upload.

(But still, images of an unclothed student would still raise some questions and if any aspects were of particular concern, the work would be reported to the relevant IB team – ethical practices etc)

So there is semi-nudity (wearing a see-through plastic coat dilutes the issue somewhat).

But the second element caused even more discussion.

The student had placed a few goldfish in the water that was within layers of the plastic raincoat, and concerns were immediately raised in relation to the ethics of this: in particular, were the goldfish suffering in any way because of the actions of the student?

It should be obvious but for the sake of clarity: animal cruelty cannot be any part of any artwork created for the visual course.

The IBDP visual arts programme is springboard for creativity and visual arts students constantly amaze and impress with their ideas, but the freedom we provide is not without constraints, particularly ethical ones.

Engaging with sensitive topics (Guide page 9)

“Studying visual arts gives students the opportunity to engage with exciting, stimulating and personally relevant topics and issues. However, it should be noted that often such topics and issues can also be sensitive and personally challenging for some students. Teachers should be aware of this and provide guidance on how to approach and engage with such topics in a responsible manner. Consideration should also be given to the personal, political and spiritual values of others, particularly in relation to race, gender or religious beliefs. As part of the collective consideration of the school, visual arts students must be supported in maintaining an ethical perspective during their course. Schools must be vigilant in ensuring that work undertaken by the student does not damage the environment, include excessive or gratuitous violence or reference to explicit sexual activity.”

Had the teacher approved of the way the goldfish were used? He/she had signed off on the upload so presumably the answer was yes.

Did the goldfish suffer? If they were only in the plastic raincoat for a few seconds, probably not.

In a more general sense, is it acceptable for artists to incorporate animals into their art?

Some of the work of British artist Damien Hirst comes to mind: the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) have been reported as condemning some of his work.

Channel 4 News: Butterflies die during Hirst exhibition – London’s Tate Modern art gallery reveals that 9,000 butterflies died during a 23-week run of a work by artist Damien Hirst. You can find pictures of the art here.

The RSPCA has condemned the deaths.

In a statement, it said: “The RSPCA believes that all animals should be treated with respect and in a manner that minimises the risk of harm. In this so-called ‘art exhibition’ butterflies are being forced to exist in the artificial environment of a closed room for their entire lives. There would be national outcry if such an exhibition involved any other animal – such as a dog. Just because it is butterflies we are talking about here, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be treated with kindness.”



A  letter was sent to the student’s school to clarify what had actually happened and to remind the art teacher of the strong view the IB takes in relation to ethical issues.

And the student and her goldfish?

Not known.


More information

Damien Hirst condemned for killing 9,000 butterflies in Tate show

By Roya Nikkhah, Arts Correspondent:

“Even by Damien Hirst’s standards it was an unusual artwork – two windowless rooms swirling with live butterflies. Visitors to the exhibit at the Tate Modern in London observed the insects close-up as they flew, rested, and fed on bowls of fruit. But whilst the work, In and Out of Love, was praised by many art critics when it featured in the gallery’s Hirst retrospective earlier this year, it has now landed the artist in a row with the RSPCA.

Figures obtained from the Tate reveal that more than 9,000 butterflies died during the 23 weeks that the exhibition was open.

Each week it was replenished with approximately 400 live butterflies to replace those that died – some of them trodden underfoot, others injured when they landed on visitors’ clothing and were brushed off.”

 The Huffington Post have highlighted this issue, naming artists sich as Wim Delvoye, Marco Evaristti, Banksy, Navin Thomas, Adel Abdessemed, Tom Otterness, Tinkebell, Laura Finn, Jan Fabre and of couse Mr Hirst.

Artists Vs. Animals: 15 Artists Who Have Enraged Animal Rights Activists

Damien Hirst Butterfly Fiasco: Artist Kills 9,000 In The Name Of Art (PHOTOS)


Animals and Art – other incidents

Wim Delvoye vs. Pigs

Belgian artist Wim Delvoye began raising and tattooing pigs in 2004 for a project titled “Art Farm.” The petting zoo/ art exhibit, located in China, featured a number of porkers who were inked with brand logos and Russian prison tattoos while under anesthetic.

Marco Evaristti vs. Goldfish

In 2003, Chilean-born, Danish-based artist Marco Evaristti created an installation titled “Helena,” which featured live goldfish swimming in functional blenders that visitors were invited to “turn on” if they so wished. At least one visitor did, according to the BBC, killing two goldfish

Banksy vs. Elephant

In 2006, internationally renown street artist Banksy covered a large Indian elephant named Tai in pink and gold paint for his L.A. exhibit, “Barely Legal.” The gilded animal was meant to signify the general population’s refusal to recognize poverty and was painted with permission from the Los Angeles Services Department.

Navin Thomas vs. Pigeons

Indian artist Navin Thomas angered more than few bird enthusiasts when, in a 2012 sound installation, the artist placed pigeons in a room with a white-noise-inducing copper antennae. Like most birds, the pigeons were inclined to perching on the wire, not knowing that their weight on the device would lead to irritating fluctuations in the sound’s frequency.