Post Exam Reflections
Saturday 17 May 2014
How did your exams go?
Yet another exam session is over and now all you can do is wait until July to get those results! In the meantime, let's consider some of the overall issues and problems encountered by students and teachers alike. Although many of these issues remain the same, each year one gains new insights and I would like to share with you a few of my general observations on this years student work. I hope these comments will provide you with some valuable reflections on where you stand in the bigger picture, and help you in helping your students to meet the criteria successfully next year.
Range of work
The range of work varied from the derivative and unadventurous to the original and experimental. Most students worked in drawing, painting, printing with a varying degree of success. Mixed media techniques presented some interesting and creative solutions, incorporating recycled or found materials ( book art, paper cutting and collage) or combining techniques in one piece ( i.e printmaking and photography). Some students tried out unusual materials ( squid ink, wonder bread) which, when it reflected the content or purpose of the work, was very effective. A few approaches to emerging media or time based work stood out such as light installations and shadow play film. When 3D media was clearly a set required studio piece for everyone ( i.e this is my mask project) it was generally of a low quality, but there were some good examples of fired and glazed ceramic sculpture and 3D constructions as part of an installation.
Teacher Guidance-how much?
There were many students who seemed to be working on teacher set projects that did not allow them to construct an individual approach. Teacher set projects are fine in the first year but they need to be open ended and allow for individual pathways to be taken, individual areas of interest to be pursued and the artists used for research should be selected with relevance to the students own interests. Too many times I see artist research on the same artists, this years favorites were Monet, Van Gogh, Kathe Kollowitz and Klimt, without there being a reason for the research or an explained connection with the work! The choice of artists for research can be guided by the teacher to relate to the students own interests, stylistic approaches, uses of media, issues or content, rather than assigning the same artist for everyone. The exception being when an exhibition is visited as a class; this is a primary source and can be experienced and commented on by everyone. At the other end of the spectrum is the problem when students are left to find their own sources for artists and often go to google image searches by topic, or unsuitable sites like deviant art.com. It would be helpful to students looking for interesting artists to research, compare and include in their workbooks if they are provided with appropriate websites for such searches, such as museum sites, art 21, Artchive, Artcyclopedia, etc .
The weaker students will always present a challenge to even the best teacher- if the student has no basic skills then they need to be helped to acquire some basics before they can be expected to walk alone. If the student has no knowledge of or exposure to art then they need to be exposed before they can begin to formulate opinions, critical thinking etc.
The stronger students are a pleasure to teach, you can show them a new technique, suggest an artist to look at and they will be able to take it from there on their own, with frequent critical input of course.
Positive Curriculum changes!
I feel encouraged that the curriculum changes are going to prove positive for IB art students and teachers. The sustained focus required in the form of the Comparative Study will encourage students to research a few artists in greater depth, and at HL make meaningful connections with their own work. I think that the cultural requirement ( The CS compares artists from different cultural backgrounds) will make this element more relevant and less arbitrary than current cultural comparisons.
Students need to see that art work grows from art work, that it is a continuous process, not just a series of unrelated projects. Teachers can encourage them to take ownership of their ideas and develop the work that really interests them with less emphasis on ticking off the studio pieces. The selected and curated final exhibition means that students will work towards a cohesive body of work with connecting threads running through it and this will be very helpful.
The challenges of meeting the current IWB Criteria
A look at each of the criteria in relation to student's work
Analysis of art from different cultures: this criteria is often approached tokenisticly with culture being construed as a sort of geography research project. In the stronger students, cultural research has relevance to their work and the analysis is perceptive because it is meaningful and appropriate.
Effective skills there is a wide range of skills and techniques, from beautiful examples of observational drawing, some visually lively and process oriented pages to banal marker drawings of butterflies and glitter spirals.
Investigative strategies The strongest students stay with an idea longer, approach it from different angles, bringing in comparisons and making connections. Putting the work in context is always helpful, giving it a place in art history, in society, and in relation to their own work.
Breadth and Depth Unfortunately, breadth wins over depth most of the time. Many students research a wide range of topics, artists, cultures without developing any real meaningful depth in any particular area. I think this will be positively affected by the curriculum changes when students are required to present a BODY OF WORK with a coherent rationale for their choices and presentation rather than a random collection of studio pieces.
Vocabulary Vocabulary remains a challenge for many students. Some have learned the lingo of the elements of art but to write fluently and effectively about art requires lots of practice, with exposure to art terminology in class, in critiques, in films and video. Teachers can help model art vocabulary simply by using it whenever possible.
Sources Choosing appropriate sources is often a problem, as mentioned students need to have guidance from teachers and be referred to good art search engines and appropriate websites rather than being left to google it. Acknowledging sources is also a bit tricky: I’m not convinced that the Wikipedia address for the Mona Lisa is the appropriate citation. I would like to see students label the image with artist, title, medium and date above all, then they can include the URL as a footnote. Often the citations included by students are simply a blog or web address and there is no descriptive reference for the image.
Presentation there is a wide range of presentations, from the graphically electric to the undecipherable scribble. Creative presentation is not a about the wow factor but it does help if the pages are visually appealing as well as interesting.
Critical Observations from the childlike to the deeply perceptive, critical observations vary in depth and level of articulation. The best ones are when the student has found something she really likes, is moved by, or is naturally curious about and willing to reflect on beyond the perfunctory.