Degrees of success: a guide for tutors
This guide by Jane Watt outlines the ways in which you can make the most of Degrees unedited as a learning resource.
No matter what the content, media or approaches that practice-based visual art students employ in their undergraduate and postgraduate studies, the common end-point is still the degree show. It is the culmination of years of thinking, making, discussing, and presenting, the product of sleepless nights, heated debates, points of crises and eureka moments.
"From here on in it all counts! So its now all engines go, pull out all the stops and peddle to the mettle..." Bernice Wilson, Central Saint Martins, UAL, 27 August 2009
On paper, the degree show's purpose is a final 'exam' in which work is assessed and marked accordingly. However, it is a much deeper learning experience that often acts as a benchmark for future practice, and launchpad for emerging artists.
Degrees unedited is a significant part of a-n's online site that is dedicated to supporting students to reflect on a specific student project, and in particular their final year experience. It encourages them to discuss and make new connections with their nationwide (and increasingly international) peers, and to disseminate their work to a wider audience. The awareness of this wider context is an important first step into the professional world.
There are three main interactive strands that are tailored to used by students in Degrees unedited:
Reflect and debate
A Degrees unedited blog should be, and usually is, more than just an online diary. It is a space in which students can reflect on the day-to-day practicalities of their final year work, or a specific student project. It is a forum for debate and another medium in which written and analytical skills can be developed. In the blogs students explore not just the 'what' and 'when', but the 'how' and 'why'.
Karen Howse, MA Fine Art student at University College Falmouth points out:
"I must remember not to overlook the value of learning through making. I like it when the making processes echo the concepts explored in the reading and academic research. My previous work was purely intuitive, and it was hard to develop this way. I think to make thoughtful art the conceptual base needs strengthening too. Maybe debates in the blog will help me to be more reflective."
15 October 2009
She went on to discuss and exchange thoughts with a fellow student blogger over three hundred miles away.
Students are able to view their own experiences outside the often intense social relationships within a single course, or department. Their peer group expands beyond the studio walls to a UK-wide scale that opens out beyond their specific institutional context. Alexandria Clark, who graduated in 2009 from the BA Fine Art course at Nottingham Trent University remarks:
"blogging on Degrees unedited gave me the chance to write down thoughts and worries that were running through my head about the degree and upload it onto the website, instead of my usual ramblings and confusions that had been noted down onto paper and then lost within the piles of things to get done! Occasionally I would get emails from people saying they had read my blog, and then investigated further into my website, and then from there we sometimes would discuss ideas I was struggling with or things they thought were strengths and weaknesses."
27 February 2008
Sketch and write
View the blog as an integrated part of a student's creative, discursive and professional process: part of a portfolio, a place to self-review, and a public platform. The form of expression can be as natural as a conversation, or as formal as a written critique. Many students find that writing in a blog format comes more naturally than, say, the more formal forms of a dissertation, or essay. The entries are broken down into natural subsections, the development of ideas is connected to progression of time with an end point that, by its very nature, forms a structure for narrative.
Carol Ramsay describes her experience of blogging:
"we all have to log our findings and diarise our research for purposes of academic marking. That can sometimes feel like a bind when you are in artistic mode and wanting to produce art, not pages of written evidence. Via blogging, it becomes a kind of ritual that can be cathartic in some ways opening up and writing down what disasters had happened or what ideas had sprung to life that week."
Dan Green, who graduated from Nottingham Trent University in 2009, describes his experience:
"The blog for me was a useful thing to persevere with; I'm intrigued with it as a very public way of discussing things. At times it feels like you somehow 'owe' your readership an update, but most of the time it is that need to keep going and not give up on something; the blog can be an interesting way of forcing you to think something through, portraying where you are at any given stage, even if you are confused or feeling negative... I do find it helpful on a personal note, but also as a way of discussing with others who have experience or are in the same situation."
The text and image format of a blog works well as an additional tool to document and reflect on process, it can become an annotated sketchbook of ideas, an extension of the studio, or gallery. Bernice Wilson, a final year student at Central Saint Martins sees it as "a virtual space, a mind space where I voice my thoughts, where I can clear my head and make sense of my ideas, identify the progress I am making, and clarify ways to proceed. So it could be viewed as a virtual studio I guess, a good listener, a silent canvas."
Since 2006 Degrees unedited has provided a platform for students' experiences, work and critical debate. The blogs can increase the online presence of a course, department or university, contributing to an archive of creative academic activity. Blogs can be searched by both individual name and by institution.
Michelle Rowley course tutor in BA Fine Art, Printmaking at Wirrell Metropolitan College initiated a group blog for her second year students, tracking their trip to southern Utah to collaborate with Brigham Young University students on a book art project, Mapping the West. Rowley found that the experience of documenting this unique student project was beneficial in bringing reflections of the project together for the students involved, but also as a point of reference for future students and a way of raising the profile of the innovative projects that were going on at Wirral Metropolitan College.
Many of the Degrees unedited bloggers find that blogging becomes an intrinsic part of their process, and a public platform on which they can make and discuss work. Some, like Dan Green and Carol Ramsay have gone on after graduation to start new blogs on Artists talking. Degrees unedited blogs are also searchable under the Artist talking blog index (Projects unedited) which houses the UK's largest, and ever-expanding, collection of artist-generated blogs on professional practice issues.
Getting the most out of Degrees unedited blogs:
- Encourage students to use a blog as part of their analytical and reflective portfolio.
- Support students who are less comfortable with formal writing formats to write a blog that allows them to document their thoughts in a more structured, and time-sensitive way.
- Start a group blog to document a student group project.
- Integrate blogs into professional practice modules to archive individual projects and demonstrate dissemination of practice and work.
- Use student blogs to increase the visibility of your course and institution, link the blogs to your own institution's website as alternative student profiles.
- Start a blog in good time so that your own creative story has time to unfold.
- Create a focus (for example, your degree show), or structure to your blog. You might aim to write one entry a week over twenty weeks, revealing your journey from idea to completion. These devices help to anchor a narrative, and give you something within which to work.
- Be realistic in the time that you can devote to your blog.
- Reflect, analyse and pose questions, don't just describe.
- Remember what you write is in the public (and professional) domain: be professional, but write from the heart (and mind).
- Include images.
- Invite and exchange comment.
Blog tips for your students:
The reviews section of Degrees unedited has grown out of the wealth of degree show reviews that were traditionally written in the June and July each year. In 2005, around the time that the term 'user-generated' began to be used, a-n launched the online Degrees Reviews. This enabled representation of the growing number of shows, and reflected the need for critical writing and debate around degree show practice. Online publishing allowed a larger pool of writers to be published beyond the confines of copy and page restrictions of a-n Magazine. The success of this user-generated material led to the development of Interface, a-n's interface. The link between Reviews and Interface continues with all Degrees Reviews being listed and accessible in the Interface archive.
Degrees unedited Reviews:
- provide an opportunity for students and graduates to publish their own critical writing on contemporary practice as well as invite other artists, writers and curators to write about their own work;
- increase the public profile of student work, exhibitions and courses around the country;
- foster continued exchange across universities and colleges in the UK and beyond.
Claudia Clare entices the reader with her opening lines in 'Horses Make a Degree Show Look More Beautiful' a review of Harrow Ceramics degree show, University of Westminster, London, 2009: "Plagued, first by fire, then by threats of closure and, finally, by tube strikes, Harrow Ceramics marches on undaunted. This was certainly one of the most varied of their degree shows that I've seen and easily the most colourful..."
Getting the most from Degrees unedited Reviews
- Encourage students to invite peers from a different institution to review their degree, or student show look at the blogs for inspiration. These cross-institutional contacts foster new networks amongst students and tutors as well as publicising student work.
- Integrate writing reviews of student shows into critical writing modules for all stages of students' contextual studies. This could form part of an assignment where each individual review is then peer-reviewed with a small selection then uploaded for publication in Reviews.
- Like the Blogs, Reviews can increase your course and institution's profile, providing useful information for potential applicants.
Many institutions now recognise the value of good marketing and listings of degree shows. Each year, the Degrees paper supplement is published alongside the May issue of a-n Magazine. The annual Degrees supplement is the only publication of its kind that is dedicated to degree show listings. All institutions that advertise in this supplement automatically receive a free entry in Degrees unedited online Shows listings. However, subscribers and student registered users can also post their own free listings for specific aspects of degree shows, or student exhibition projects on Shows. These also appear on Interface listings. The self-generated listings provide a good testing ground for students to market their own exhibitions, as well as a vital public platform on which details of degree shows can be placed.
Getting the most from Shows
- Integrate show listings into your students' professional practice learning. Here they will be learning through doing, as well as promoting their show on a professional platform.
- Encourage a small final year student sub-committee to work in liaison with your institution's marketing department to work on the branding of the degree show.
- Publicise interim and student project exhibitions throughout the year, as well as individual course shows that identify the wealth of work in each school.
Advice for students on effective Shows listings
Richard Taylor, Degrees unedited online editor, gives the following advice for creating effective Shows listings.
- Make the most of your visual audience the image can be anything from a piece of work to a simple, memorable graphic.
- Consider the image's message something too vague can be misleading, whereas anything too specific or representational of a singular artist in a group show can be unfair, this is particularly important for a degree, or interim show. It needs to be eye catching.
- Embed the key exhibition details within the image itself this then acts as a thumbnail alongside the text that you provide on the exhibition, most people click on the thumbnail and so the enlarged and searchable image comes up trumps.
- Be consistent use the graphics and image as part of an e-flyer that you can send to your own mailing listings.
- Always make a distinction in file format between the printed version of your flyer / image and your electronic version. Optimise the image for web viewing by saving the file as a GIF or as a PNG, make sure the file is set to 72 dpi, RGB colour. For your printed version make sure that the file is set to 300 dpi, CMYK colour and saved either as TIFF, JPG or PDF file.
- Keep the 'blurb' as short and sweet as possible, a listing needs to be a quick snippet to introduce the event.
- Entice the reader with a flavour of the show, this is not the place to go into great detail, save that for the press-release, or better the catalogue.
- Include a website link and a direct link to the press-release.
Degrees unedited is an ever-expanding resource that is used by students independently, and can be integrated into the more formal aspects of learning. This public face of learning and creating reflects the vitality of each new cohort of creative practitioners entering the professional visual art arena eager for success.
Degrees of success: a guide for students
Alexandria Clark, Nottingham Trent University
So now.... by Dan Green
Karen Howse, University College Falmouth
Post Grad, Pre Artist by Carol Ramsay
Michelle Rowley, Wirral Metropolitan College
Bernice Wilson, Central Saint Martins, UAL
Jane Watt is Advisers and tutors online editor and an artist. She was Knowledge bank commissions coordinator between 2008-09.
First published: a-n.co.uk March 2010
© the artist(s), writer(s), photographer(s) and a-n The Artists Information Company
All rights reserved.
Artists who are current subscribers to a-n may download or print this text for the limited purpose of use in their business or professional practice as artists.
Parts of this text may be reproduced either in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (updated) or with written permission of the publishers.