Two issues with curatorial rationales

As an IA (Exhibition) moderator I very often read

a) eloquent and frequently passionate curatorial rationales that do not achieve the mark that perhaps the student expected, and

 b) rationales that
are not eloquent, but instead tend to be convoluted, frustrating and

Here are some tips in relation to these two issues that you
might want to pass on to your students when they go about writing their
curatorial rationales:

a) rationales that do not achieve the mark that perhaps the student

This is about assessment: the second strand of the HL
Criterion descriptor is often forgotten or ignored.

The first part of the first strand is usually well covered
(“justify selection”) with variations on the theme of justifying the

But that’s not enough and I find myself having to give only
1 or 2 marks for a lot of CRs because that is where they stop.

For 3 marks, I would like to read – in addition to
selection/arrangement – about the relationship between the artworks and the
viewer in the space available. Tell me about this relationship and the space it
occurs in.

b) rationales that are not eloquent, but tend to be convoluted and impenetrable (“artspeak”)

This is about the tendency in some students to write a
lavish, garrulous but ultimately meaningless essay for their Curatorial
Rationale and/or a series of similar mini essays in the “Text/Topic/work focus”

Here is a paragraph to show you what I mean, based on
three separate but genuine curatorial rationales.

“Inspired by the
East African art collective Embe Tembo Mboga and also influenced by the monks
of Thulo Zbrsk, my art claims that same sense of introspection and loss.
Cognitive hypocrisy and intangible fears provoke dissonance, as can be seen in
artwork 2. Purple becomes impulse, metaphysical tragedy becomes death and eggs.
The wings of Anime drift over the forgotten intrinsic moon, with the viewer
reeling in underwater shock (Artwork 5). The vegetables transmit calmness and
anger. In artwork 6 the thematic foundations clearly replicate my identity,
aligning exposure with process, conceptually unique and timeless.”

Give me a break.

Students, can you please just STOP?

As an exhibition moderator, it’s simultaneously exasperating and boring to read and try to decipher this inane artspeak.

Talking the talk is not the same as walking the walk. I’d like to suggest that the time spent planning, writing, reviewing, amending, etc. these lengthy and often pretentious monologues might be better spent working on (or elaborating) the art itself.


The IB say, “Conceptual
qualities relate to the degree of the candidate’s sophistication of thoughts
and ideas, and includes the important concept of “elaboration”. To achieve well
in this criterion, ideas, concepts, etc. should be explored in depth and
developed not only to an “adequate” level (markband 4–6) but to a point of
“effective” realization (markband 7–9).”

All too often the words have no recognizable link with
the artwork. Submitting a poorly made and unresolved artwork and then telling
me that it’s a metaphor for the world, how humanity is unresolved etc just
seems lazy to me.


Here is what the Guardian
said about International Art English:

If you’ve been to see contemporary art in the last three
decades, you will probably be familiar with the feelings of bafflement,
exhaustion or irritation that such gallery prose provokes:

“The artist brings
the viewer face to face with their own preconceived hierarchy of cultural
values and assumptions of artistic worth,” it says. “Each mirror
imaginatively propels its viewer forward into the seemingly infinite
progression of possible reproductions that the artist’s practice engenders,
whilst simultaneously pulling them backwards in a quest for the ‘original’
source or referent underlines Levine’s oeuvre.”


“If truth always
prevails, then it seems inevitable that a time will come when artspeak is seen
as vacuous and pretentious.  The
practicing cognoscenti will only have themselves to blame when the tide
eventually turns and history casts a less than flattering light on their

Useful artspeak

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