‘Raising awareness’

Art can do many things, and recently – certainly since the 1980s – we’ve seen a lot of artists focus on one thing in particular: the art of protest (or ‘raising awareness’).

With seemingly more and more things to protest about and the ever-growing reach and power of social media to inform etc, ‘art’ has become the go-to vehicle to express angst, anger, frustration etc. and to ‘raise awareness’.

We are more familiar now with a whole range of ecological and gender issues (etc) thanks to artists and art forms that focus on this.

The following contemporary artists all follow in this recent tradition (click on the name to learn more):

Basia Irland (and her Ice Books)

Bjargey Ólafsdóttir

 Isaac Cordal

Chris Jordan

Ethan Estess

Angela Haseltine Pozzi


Using the final visual arts exhibition to raise awareness

…So it’s hardly surprising that one thing in particular seems to fascinate many visual arts students: ‘raising awareness’.

That phrase in particular has cropped up many times in students’ curatorial rationales.

As in…I want to raise awareness of…’gender issues’, ‘the damage we are doing to the planet’, ‘feminist values’, ‘the lack of equality in the world today’, ‘pollution’, ‘rising sea levels’, the LGBTQQ** community’ etc.

Of course, these are all important issues and its good that students care about them.

Students are the future and I’m pleased that there is so much informed concern out there.


On the other hand (you were waiting for this, weren’t you) we need to remember that the exhibition component of the visual arts course does not reward (for example) environmental concerns or degrees of anger at sexist stereotyping, however justified, well-meaning and well-intended.

For better or worse, there are four assessment criteria: Coherent body of works, Technical competence, Conceptual qualities and Curatorial practice.

Only achievement in those criteria will earn marks.

Having seen quite a few exhibitions that clearly reflected ecological or feminist (etc) zeal – but were disastrous in terms of diversity*, competence and/or conceptual qualities – it might be worth remembering that ‘raising awareness’ is only one optional direction to follow.

And if you do want to go in that direction, remember to think about assessment and the things that the examiner/moderator will be looking for.

Badly painted cardboard penguins or photos of melting ice cubes are probably not on his/her list of things to look out for.


*LGBTQQ – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer

*diversity – don’t forget about ‘diversity within coherence’

‘There can be diversity within coherence: there should be evidence of relationships between artworks rather than simply similar artworks. The relationships could be dynamic and surprising, and could involve ideas about styles of art-making, or there could be thematic relationships but, as in the past course, a theme is not required“. 

From the visual arts exhibition clarification document (page 4).