This month I’m posting about questions provoked by TWO VIDEOS submitted as part of a DP visual arts exhibition submission by a female student.


A short, (1 minute) dark (in both senses of the word) video. Here is a quote from the text:

“My idea and purpose of the video is to create the impression that the female has been raped and urinated on, supposedly by the person behind the camera. The video shows a female being assaulted. She is naked because it shows her vulnerability…I feel uncomfortable and the video gives me the creeps

The female student’s video was hand-held and shadowy, lots of looming, flickering shadows, silent (of course) and similar to some of the early German expressionist films of early 20th century. It wasn’t explicit but it was certainly expressive, it had power.

Misogyny continues to present all of us – and women in particular – with challenges, and it’s great to see that it’s being addressed and challenged by some of our students.



3 minutes long, a slowed-down video showing 3 scantily clad female teenagers gyrating on a stage with a black background. They are moving slowly, languorously, emulating the sultry ‘sexy’ moves that supposedly entice men, pouting, smiling, doing a pretty good job of parody, if that is what it was. The text said, “I want to express TRUTH. My aim is to push boundaries and draw attention to issues and inequalities in society, especially the way men and boys expect us girls and women to act and behave.



Both videos have the potential to shock. I wasn’t, but others may be.

In assessment terms, of course there is no “shock” criterion, but there is reference to the visual elaboration of ideas, themes or concepts to a point of effective realization, and the subtle use of complex imagery, signs or symbols that result in effective communication of stated artistic intentions.

I think the videos effectively realized concepts, although the imagery and symbols used were not exactly subtle. It was to some extent a predictable cliché. But still, for these two artworks there was certainly “effective communication of stated artistic intentions”. They made me pause.

It’s very easy to shock some people. It’s almost impossible to shock others.

Nudity often has impact, as do some political statements.

Drawings can cause violent and sometimes lethal protest.


How shockable are you?

If you are an art teacher I’m hoping that the answer is “not very”, because many art students try to create art that shocks – and if you are easily shocked you’ll regularly be having nervous breakdowns.

The same applies if you are a visual arts examiner, but as a team leader I do occasionally receive emails from examiners on my team who have been shocked by the submitted files that they are looking at, or if not shocked then concerned about artworks that might be “pushing the boundaries”. Of course, “The IB Diploma Programme visual arts course encourages students to challenge their own creative and cultural expectations and boundaries”. (New Guide page 6)

So the IB want students to challenge their boundaries.

But what about personal, political and spiritual values, particularly in relation to race, gender or religious beliefs?

Are they equally subjective? And what does the IBDP visual arts guide say about all this?

Engaging with sensitive topics

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. – Guide page 9

Look at the artworks shown here. Are they lewd? Provocative? Suggestive?

Would you feel comfortable discussing interpretations of these images with your students?

In the West we are bombarded by images. Of course, adverts frequently like the publicity that shock can generate (look at the ads for American Apparel or Rogue Perfume).

But if you are teaching art in a conservative culture you may have pressure from parents or school administration to redirect a student’s ideas away from the provocative and towards something safer and less shocking.

As an international programme we have to accept the implications of cultural geography: that “shock” – and students creating and submitting provocative imagery – and the power to shock – is all about context and remains culturally subjective.


Related Articles

The naked truth: when does art become pornography?

Can pornography be art?

When does art become pornography?

Art and pornography



Balthus obscene? “Thérèse Dreaming”1938

O Keeffe suggestive? “Black Iris” 1936

Fouquet Madonna (“Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels”) c1450