The fourth in our series of conversations on 19 November, ‘Assessing Creative Practice’ was led by Susan Schuppli (Visual Cultures centre for Research Architecture), John Johnstone and Esther Sayers (Education). The group shared aspects of their practice to a varied audience including staff from Visual Cultures, Art, Theatre and Performance and a Music PG student.
Visual Cultures and Fine Art: differences in practice & methods of assessment
Susan identified a difference between Visual Cultures and Fine Art and terms of methods of assessment. Much of the literature around assessing creative practice talks about metrics that can draw up equivalences, for example, between ‘publications’ and visual output. However, Susan didn’t feel that these methods were so useful for Visual Cultures, which seems to sit outside or between defined practices. The output in Visual Cultures is more like a visual display documenting a process than an ‘art work’ per se. For Susan, the back-story of investigative modes of research is integral to understanding and judging the final output. Equally some assessment criteria such as carrying out ‘original’ research is difficult to apply to Visual Cultures where the aim of the work may be to activates public interest, to be a provocation or catalyst for further action or an engagement with a public archive. Susan described what they do in Visual Cultures as ‘practice which retroactively forms itself as research’.
An added layer of complexity is encapsulated in the idea of ‘translation’ – from the perhaps un-narratable subjective experience of the researcher to a medium that is legible by others, from one discipline or field of knowledge to another or from process to final presentation. In an example that Susan gave, a student wanted to be assessed on his curatorship of his peers’ work for the final show. For Susan, by creating ‘a lexicon of meaning’ in the final show, his output was in itself a work of translation.
In brief, for Visual Cultures at least, and arguably for many other practice based disciplines, the question is whether to assess the outcome, the process or both? If the process is assessed then how does the student make this background learning visible? This places the emphasis on the student to both document and archive their research and processes and to be able to select which parts of this are suitable for assessment.
Education: three areas where creativity happens
John challenged us to reflect on what creativity is and where and how it comes about. He talked about how the curriculum in schools can restrict creativity as teachers are confined by a rigid matrix of criteria to assess pupils’ work. in order to assess creativity one draws on one’s own values and indeed John asked us to write down our own definition of creativity. From our notes we could perhaps tell something about what our values were. Building assessment around values required critical engagement with our own ideas and including the views and values of students. John identified three areas where creativity happens – action, thought and context. Serendipity also has a role to play; the ability to make the most of material or ideas that are happened upon by chance, is one of the keys to success. All of this needs time. Students do need to produce, but they also need to be receptive and responsive to the context they find themselves in. John exemplified this by drawing on his own practice regarding human rights.
Esther agreed with John about the need to try to stand outside our own values. In Education, how they do this is to ensure that work is not assessed by one person but in dialogue with colleagues. She has been involved in creating a matrix for assessing creative work which draws on the college generic assessment criteria. Both Esther and John agreed that knowledge of the student and their context is also key so that the final output is not judged in isolation. In assessing work, tutors look at the process (evidenced in journals or sketchbooks), the context for the process such as identifying and addressing a problem (evidenced in presentations – verbal or written), the final presentation (artwork).
Esther allocates a 50% weighting for studio work and 50% for the exhibition. She also uses peer evaluation with guidance to students on how to evaluate work on different criteria (e.g. concept, craft, communication, innovation/risk, presentation, problem solving, successful translation of ideas). The students are really engaged with this and it also really helps them to develop their own capacity for critical self-reflection and to understand how grading criteria will be applied to their own work.
A broader discussion followed on how you give students credits for their development and progress, how you can assess such things as ‘risk’ or collaborative work. What does successful collaboration mean? How to get over the tension between the individual academic success and the success of the group? After all, in most employment situations and in many creative industries, including what we may think of as ‘solitary’ pursuits such as art and writing, working with others is essential.
Key messages arising from the three presentations
- Students need to archive and log their practice and their own research.
- Assessing creative practice is not straightforward but it is possible.
- Assessing students practice means taking into account the process as well as the end product.
- Work can be assessed at different points in the curriculum, not just at the end.
- Peer reviewing is an important part of each student’s learning.