Thoughts on Assessment and Feedback while teaching art in the neoliberal realm.

Art schools could be thought to be about teaching art and the making of art. This idea presupposes that we know what art is and whether a piece of work is a success or a failure. Whereas the community of learning and exchange of ideas and sharing of experience may support the creativity and the making of art, the neoliberal drive to provide standardised evaluations in the form of internationally comparable grades against sets of ‘valuable’ competencies may conflict with the process of art making and risk taking. Too much assessment, too much concern with grades is bad for creativity. 

On the other hand ‘feedback’ can be a helpful form of conversation. The purpose of employing the practicing artist is that they are assumed to be able to understand the non-visual language of the student and locate it within the history of art and the contemporary artworld. This experience is shared as feedback with the student in the studio visit – now the online tutorial. Within a community of learning this conversation would ideally be one between peers, practicing artists in conversation. Realistically, the setting of ‘school’ and the ascribed roles and power imbalance of ‘student’ and ‘teacher’ cannot be ignored. My solution to this is then to recognise the power imbalance and the responsibility that comes with power, just as I seek to erode it by performing the role of artist peer.

Within the formal assessment and grading I am asked to employ my skills, which the bureaucrat who demands the grades, does not have, and then assess and grade students who employ very different theories, practices and outputs against a standardised marking criteria which attempts to capture the skills and competencies required to succeed within the creative industries or become employable. These grades and assessments can be used by both student and institution to develop strategies for ‘improvement’, which is a neoliberal imperative. However, my aim is not to encourage the student towards continuous self-improvement and give them grades they can use to market themself. My aim is to think together with the student about what art means and what art does in the world and how to make it, think about it, transgress boundaries and even have fun with it.

Thinking about the assessment process, as I embark upon it at the end of the current module, I am trying to hold these different thoughts together. I am trying to grade and assess in a way that meets the expectations of the students and the university. These are the expectations written and repeated in the brief, in the lecture, in each tutorial in the form of learning objectives. I am also trying to teach art.

Prior to the PGcert and the reading I have encountered on the course, I may have found the learning objectives annoyingly vague and to some extent dismissed them, working intuitively with the students who in turn responded intuitively to meet the objectives of independence, curiosity, risk taking and so forth. Now, I embrace the space within the learning objectives. I embrace my ability to refer to these objectives and instead of ignoring or dismissing them, work intuitively with the students who in turn respond intuitively to meet the objectives of independence, curiosity, risk taking and so forth, in the way that works for the student and arises through conversation, discussion and thinking together.

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