Issues and Concerns in teaching the visual arts course

I’ve been looking at Candidate Record Booklets containing evidence of studio work and investigation from students just examined in schools in the southern hemisphere. (These schools typically have their examination visit and interview in November).

Predictably, the ‘southern hemisphere’ teachers and students (many in Latin America. Australia and New Zealand) experience many issues that are similar to those encountered by teachers and students in the northern hemisphere.

The report on this session will appear online (OCC) in early 2011, and examiner comments on both components will describe these issues, as well as recommending assistance and guidance for teachers.

Three issues in particular stood out, and apologies if they have a familiar ring to them. These issues  are regularly discussed and addressed in teacher training workshops (both face-to-face and online), subject reports and on the Online Curriculum Centre.


1. Misunderstanding the purpose and concept of ‘the theme’

Some teachers  still think that having a theme is a requirement, and demand that students choose one.  This authoritarian approach can be unhelpful for students: some apparently spent months without any ideas, and in the end produced most of their work in a short period of time just before the exhibition was set up;  others may have chosen to follow more exciting directions , but felt they couldn’t because it would not ‘fit’ with their declared theme. Still others tried to fit work into a theme that would have stood better on its own terms.

As I have written previously the theme can be a great vehicle if it is explored with creativity, sensitivity and thought and backed up with in-depth investigation. But some exhibitions are weakened because the student has rigidly followed a theme: sometimes (when it is misunderstood) the theme prevents, or at least hinders, the creation of good work. A theme-inspired exhibition that is full of repetitive, unimaginative work is clearly not going to do well no matter how cohesive it is.


2. Using technology

Using technology successfully is like using any artistic process, media and /or technique. To do it well  the student needs to have acquired some proficiency, and have developed a good level of understanding and skill. Digital and New media art work can be weak and derivative, just like any other art form.

Examiners commented that some candidates seemed to be “mesmerized” by some extremely simplistic and basic image-manipulation effects.  For example in Photoshop clicking Filter/Stylize/Solarize can certainly change the image, but as an end in itself shows little (or no) evidence of understanding the potential and possibilities inherent in some aspects of image manipulation. To quote one examiner:  “it is hardly creative or technically demanding to change the colour of grass from green to purple“.


3. Using ‘found’ images (visual plagiarism)

Examiners reported that some images seemed to have been simply downloaded from the internet and then copied: some students did not appear to know how to correctly use found images and/or how to incorporate copies of other artwork into studio work without this being evidence of plagiarism. Some students just copied ‘found’ (or stolen?) images and then presented the finished work as their own.

There should be a rigorous watch over work as it is produced, and tight controls over any possible appropriation and/or plagiarism of images.

All copied work, whether in studio or investigation, should be acknowledged and referenced.



1 Comment
  • Jayme
    March 25, 2011

    I am just surfing around trying to find art teachers that want to talk about teaching art. I teach middle school and am looking for other Art teachers that want to discuss developmental “readiness” or stages K-12 and making appropriate decisions about what kids really need to be doing/learning at each level in school. I think topic ties into the one above. I teach at a K-12 independent school and am researching/recording/observing how kid react to what they do in art class. I am noticing that once they can make decisions in high school about what kind of art class they want to take, the majority sign up for Photography and Digital Design. It is because our elementary and middle school curriculum is very broad, giving a lot of variety of experience but does not allow them to develop essential skills (drawing) in order to feel confident in any area of creating art that requires skill and patience. They are not lazy and I do not think it is because they love technology. It is because their ideas are way more sophisticated than they can skillfully express with traditional art materials. So in looking at #2 above, I am interested in the topic of how you teach kids to be skillful in the time allowed in class to do quality work, at the same time focus on creating compelling content.
    I debate this topic with my coworkers but I am looking for people that are more interested in this and want to talk about it.

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