The Exhibition…A “coherent” body of works? /kə(ʊ)ˈhɪər(ə)ns,kə(ʊ)ˈhɪərəns

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!

6 Comments
  • tan
    May 27, 2018

    I totally agreed to “Individual exhibitions reflect a variety of ideas and there is no single fixed theme, but there is coherence”
    Is important for student to know about this.
    Some student keep doing the same theme and so much so it become repeating the same in different media.. They need to explore and experience new and develop their ideas and concept too.

    • Andrew Vaughan
      May 27, 2018

      Thank you for this comment on coherence in reference to my 2015 Blog post.

      You may also be interested in “Its All about RELATIONSHIPS (Thematic or Stylistic) in Your Visual Arts Exhibition” which is due to appear tomorrow or Tuesday (i.e. May 28 or 29 2018).

      Thanks

  • rosalinda santos
    August 20, 2018

    33

    • Andrew Vaughan
      August 22, 2018

      Hi Rosalinda,
      I’m a little puzzled by your comment in response to my ‘Coherence’ post!

      Please could you clarify what you mean by ’33’?!

      (Or was it a mistake?)

      Thanks,

      Andrew

  • Peter
    March 20, 2019

    Hi Andrew Vaughan,
    Thanks a lot for this post. Due to my limited English ability, my interpretation of your ideas is that coherence means that all the art in an individual exhibition has a relationship that can be seen excluding the common theme. Therefore, What I plan to do is create very cynical and sarcastic works, they might have different themes (i.e. pollution, materialism, social division, corruption) but are all sarcastic. I am not very confident now but I always supported your opinion of coherence. Please could you correct me if I am wrong and give me some advice.
    Thanks again!
    -Peter

    • Andrew Vaughan
      March 20, 2019

      Hi Peter,
      I’m not sure that your statement, “coherence means that all the art in an individual exhibition has a relationship that can be seen excluding the common theme” is entirely correct. As I wrote in my blog, sometimes the ‘theme’ idea works: it can be a great idea to have a theme that provides some cohesion, coherence etc – but coherence is more about the RELATIONSHIP between artworks than just having a ‘theme.’
      Your cynical/sarcastic approach may work, but don’t forget that the examiner will also be looking for evidence of sophisticated thought (Concept) and skill (Competence).
      My blog was intended to suggest that a sense of identity, with works that reflect the ideas, the vision and the hand of the artist, and a variety of ideas – rather than a single fixed theme – can achieve well in terms of coherence. Works that creatively and intelligently make reference to issues such as pollution, materialism, social division and corruption could well succeed…
      There can be variety and diversity in coherence.
      I hope this helps,

      Thanks

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