“Raising awareness of world issues” – The pitfalls (Concepts and Exhibition)

Conceptually speaking, the trouble with ‘raising awareness’ of world issues in your visual arts exhibition is that in most cases, awareness has already been raised, and examiners will probably have seen your video of ice melting – or a person swimming with plastic bottles, or a collage made of rubbish, or a Photoshopped photo of chimneys belching smoke, or cars polluting with their exhaust fumes, or oil pouring into the ocean etc – many times before.

Conceptual qualities mean you should elaborate your idea and also move beyond the predicable and the obvious. A great painting of a polar bear on decreasingly small floating glacier might get you marks for technical competence, but it’s a dull and cliched image and conceptually weak.

Of course, the issues are extremely serious, but this is not about the issues. This is about assessment, and the exasperatingly banal and predictable artworks that students submit in relation to the issues.

It’s the same with gender inequality and societal pressures to conform.

How many times must we see the thin girl looking at herself in the mirror and seeing the refection of a fat girl?

Or Barbie submitted as a gender stereotype? These are  familiar and obvious images and in terms of conceptual qualities are unlikely to get more than 3/9.

If you want to travel down that well-known and well-worn ‘raising awareness’ path, please remember that we (exhibition moderators) will be happy to give high marks to conceptually sophisticated and fresh approaches for criterion C, but are often only able to award low to middle marks because of the dull, predictable and familiar images that we see.

Of course, art certainly can be about protest, but it doesn’t have to be, and some exhibitions might achieve a lot more if they reflected something else. Artists can be creative and successful without tying their art to an ‘issue’.

Some of the best exhibitions I have seen during the recent examination session were nothing to do with any world issue, and conversely many of the weakest were focused specifically on world issues.

IMAGE: student painting by SAMANTHA C. Thank you Sammy!

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