Those of you who like to read IBDP documentation will know that the visual arts guide refers to both a cohesive (page 51) and a coherent (page 56) body of work, in the context of the visual arts exhibition.

coherenceIndeed, at one point during the curriculum review and development cycle as a final assessment criterion it was “cohesive”- but it evolved into “coherent” (Jayson P reminded me of this).

In fact the old course (final examination session November 2015) referred to “a coherent body of work” in one of the studio descriptors, but the new course has coherence as a whole criterion, worth up to 9 marks out of a possible 30 for the Exhibition – so it’s important.

And I think some de-mystification might be in order.

As a visual arts examiner I’m a little concerned that teachers and students might just decide that coherence = theme.

OK, let’s be clear. It can be a great idea to have a theme that provides some cohesion, coherence and/or consistency to your exhibition. Sometimes the ‘theme’ idea works.

However, as some of you who may have been reading my blog – or even talking to me – over the years know, I am far from convinced that just “having a theme” is necessarily a good idea.

For a number of years as an examiner I have seen dull, lifeless exhibitions that seemed to have been restricted because of the theme.

Indeed, when I used to visit schools to interview visual arts candidates (ah, those were the days) I would hear students tell me that their theme hindered what they really wanted to do and in effect limited their creativity.
Madness. And unfortunately it still goes on – exhibitions are uploaded for assessment and some still reflect a narrow (rather than, say, exploratory) approach, with an idea at the centre that has not really been explored with much creativity.

So – having a theme is (often) not enough.
Your students don’t even need a theme. And if they do have theme it should be more about what they do with the theme and how well they explore the creative processes that will enable their exhibition to not be repetitive and hindered by the theme.COHERENCE d

So I’m really hoping to have seen the last of narrow, restrictive themes and am looking forward to seeing more thoughtful collections that explore relationships between the individual pieces.
I suggest that it’s more about the RELATIONSHIP between artworks than just having some theme.

“Relationships” could involve a variety of ideas but one effective relationship that many of my own students have is stylistic: there may in fact be no traditional “theme” but there is a strong sense of identity because the works reflect the ideas, the vision and the hand of the artist. Individual exhibitions reflect a variety of ideas and there is no single fixed theme, but there is coherence.

The coherence could reflect the student’s conceptual approach, or their decisions relating to media/techniques or size and scale, etc.
We also have to embrace (or at least acknowledge) the role of student as curator and of course the Curatorial Rationale (see my last blog post): supporting evidence includes the curatorial rationale, the submitted artworks, exhibition text and exhibition photographs/video – and the idea of communication (“the work forms a coherent body of work through effective communication…”).

BTW I saw an interesting little movie called Coherence last time I was flying home – check it out!