There is a DP Visual Arts Curriculum Review in progress at the moment, with a lot of art teachers voicing a lot of art teaching and art education concerns.
Their voices are expressed through a lively and fascinating forum, with a lot of thoughts and opinions about art, art teaching, art issues, etc.
A couple of recent posts relevant to examination experiences with the current course caught my eye.
The authors of both posts are, like me, examiners of the Exhibition component.
1 My colleague Jane posted this on the Curriculum Review forum.
“Although I of course applaud the idea of students engaging with social issues through their work, this is often done to the detriment of skill development. I have marked the work of so many candidates whose statements or rationales are full of big ideas that simply fail to deliver because the work is so technically poor, or to use the language of the current course, ‘contrived and superficial’. Emphasis is needed on depth of exploration, both conceptual and contextual understanding, and technical skill development in the most appropriate media”.
2 Another exhibition examiner colleague, Greg, added,
“I am often confronted with digital artworks that are simply the result of the student following YouTube tutorials, or the arbitrary layering of ‘found’ imagery in Photoshop. This level of superficial engagement, or simple appropriation of another artists’ concepts, can also occur when students present minimalistic, stripped back and apparently ‘conceptual’ exhibition outcomes. Such works frequently fail to communicate the often highly eloquent intentions stated within their associated Curatorial Rationales and Exhibition Texts”.
I have highlighted
“…rationales are full of big ideas that simply fail to deliver because the work is so technically poor …”
“…Such works frequently fail to communicate the often highly eloquent intentions…”
The CURATORIAL RATIONALE
What struck me about the posts were the similarities: both referred to rationales and the gap between ‘big ideas’ or ‘eloquent intentions’ and the artwork.
And these quotes from Jane and Greg could have come from a number of exhibition examiners.
So what’s going on?
Don’t we want students to have big ideas and eloquent intentions?
Yes we do.
But the issue is not the intentions.
The issue is the gap.
The gap between aspirations and reality (‘talking the talk’ vs ‘walking the walk’)
Aspiration is good and of course, we encourage students to have aspirations, ambitions and goals. There is nothing wrong with that. But in terms of visual arts assessment, and specifically the link between the curatorial rationale and the exhibition, the exhibition should be a reasonable representation of what is said/claimed in the rationale.
As an examiner, I turn to the rationale first: it’s the first thing I read when starting to assess the files submitted for the exhibition.
Here are some sentences taken from different recent rationales:
- “The viewer will be immersed in a tumultuous field of truthful and sometimes painful insights into the human condition and pressure”.
- “My art will give my audience a sense of joy and peace. I want them to cheerful and to see that there can be happiness in the world.”
- “I am offering the viewer a mirror into his/her soul. My exhibition will ask questions and reveal truths”.
- “I want the experience of my exhibition to make the viewer question rights and wrongs in the world.”
- “I want the viewer to be lost, shocked and in despair”
- “I want the audience to laugh at the absurdity of everything”
I get that these are bold and perhaps unrealistic aspirational statements.
Perhaps the students thought that relatively weak art could somehow become strong if linked to a cause and supported by ambitious aspirations.
But unfortunately, when looking at the exhibition, there was often very little that immersed me in a “tumultuous field of truthful and sometimes painful insights into the human condition and pressure”.
The exhibition relating to “I want them to cheerful and to see that there can be happiness in the world” showed variations on the theme of the smiley face. This is a trite and obvious image,
and its use was unthinking and banal. I’m afraid that in this case the student’s intentions and aspirations remained unfulfilled. The exhibition did not make me feel particularly cheerful or more able to see that there can be happiness in the world.
Sometimes, as Jane and Greg indicated, there was too much gap between what the student wrote and what the student made: even the most eloquent rationale cannot validate a fundamentally weak collection of superficial and/or poorly constructed pieces. Sometimes, having read a great rationale, I found myself looking at a weak exhibition that did not appear to relate to the words I had just read.
So, when they are writing the rationale, remind students to focus on the criteria and to make recognizable links to the artwork.
Intentions should be closely linked to the student’s justification of the selection and arrangement of the art. At HL the rationale should also explain the relationship between the artworks and the viewer within the exhibition space.
Also remember that in effect, the Curatorial Rationale is worth more than 3 marks because of the impact it has on criteria A and C. 3 marks (out of a total of 30) may not seem like much but the words also impact the way examiners view/assess the Coherence and the Conceptual Qualities of the exhibition, so there are implicit implications from the rationale.
Examiners don’t consistently encounter the ‘gap’ scenario.
But it happens enough to be a concern.