Making Public: The Fine Art Degree Show

Annual Symposium. Leeds Beckett University.

Posted: 6 Nov 2018
By Andrew Sheridan
Submission date:
11 January 2019
Event date:
Friday, 12 April 2019 (All day)
Annual Symposium
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Making Public: The Fine Art Degree Show

NAFAE's annual symposium is intended as an opportunity to meet, discuss and exchange ideas. We invite short provocations, poster presentations, and 20 minute papers or case studies. Call for submissions: abstracts of 200 to 500 words by January 11th, 2019. As a network we are primarily interested in what and how people are producing and how educators and art practitioners are responding to contemporary challenges and contexts across the sector.

Most institutions across the UK that offer Fine Art and Art related degree courses have a “degree show” in the form of a final year exhibition; it is frequently perceived as a standard expectation but is it a platform that meets the diverse needs and ambitions of the whole student cohort? Are there practices that have successfully incorporated the range of experience that is being pursued across the student body? What are the pre-requisites for success or the fulfilment of expectations and how are those metrics impacting on the student condition or their approach to independent learning? Are art schools and courses managing the degree show differently at graduate and postgraduate levels? Are there alternatives that are being trialled and are they affecting reforms or shifts in the delivery and design of teaching and learning? Are we preserving a form of exposition that is constraining learning outcomes? Is there a fear of teaching and learning resources being eroded as a consequence of changes in our behaviour as educators? Do we sufficiently trust our managers and decision makers in the context of change and shifting requirements or reference points? How does the art school or art course represent its regional geography and how is the exposition of final year work influenced by the local socio-economic landscape? The ’Degree Show’ is often used as a tool of assessment and sometimes heralded as the event that students spend three years working towards. It is a historical expectation of a Fine Art education and also one that tends to receive endorsement by the institution. It can be a celebration of work. It might be framed by competition or specific expectations of being ‘noticed’ or achieving sales but can it match those expectations? A degree show framing of art work may still seek to replicate the white cube though it is more likely to be constrained by the limitations of space and facilities. The very concept of a show or exhibition may not suit all contemporary expanded art practices, where a proportion of students operate in a post-studio context in which interdisciplinary working and collaborative practice are strongly encouraged. Is it appropriate to question the relevance of a degree show in an age where more and more students are moving into post-graduation worlds of working: with context and site, alongside social communities, in response to public realms, through media and on-line environments, or in assistive roles or as facilitators in applied fields. Do we need Degree Shows? How representative are they of our context for teaching and developing arts practices for contemporary society? Have they become institutionalised or instrumetalised for what they might offer our institutions in terms of public engagement? Are there alternatives? Has the degree show become outdated/outmoded? Is the ownership still really with the student body and to what degree are exhibitions curated, censored and utilised as marketing material for an increasingly commodified higher education system?

Contributions are invited on themes including but not limited to:

  • Alternative models of exposition and public engagement
  • Student choice, voice and perspective
  • Sustainability and Resourcing
  • Space makers: The impact of an era of new buildings in UK higher education
  • Relationship of the Degree Show to Teaching, Learning and Assessment
  • Varying notions of display and dissemination
  • Curating and interpretation
  • The role of the University/Art School Gallery
  • Beyond the institution
  • The role of the degree show in supporting graduate outcomes.

Please submit an abstract of between 200 and 500 words. Images may be included in the abstract but please embed within a single document. For submission details, please visit the NAFAE web-site. NAFAE is a members network. Details of membership can be found on our web-site. Membership is open to all or can be accessed through participating institutions.

Often, students tell me how much they dread their degree shows; it's not a celebration, but a competition. They've been equipped with a complex set of anxieties but no basic coping strategies, like inviting other people to come or contribute. The function of the degree show is not questioned, they just accept the stupid formats, like VIP breakfasts – why don't you just make tea and toast for everybody?” 2008-2009, BA Fine Art/Contextual Studies, Dartington College of Arts, Devon;

2009-2010, MA Fine Art, Camberwell College of Arts (UAL).

I remember my undergrad degree show feeling like it should stand for everything that I wanted to be as an artist, and for all of the years I had been studying. But in hindsight, it was the very beginning, a sort of testing ground

Holly Hendry 2013 graduate

Your degree show – whether at BA (degree) or MA (postgraduate) level – is a valuable opportunity to showcase your work to a wide range of people working in the art world. Curators, writers, other artists, gallery directors and many others visit degree shows as part of their research into artists they might want to work with in the future. It’s important that your show looks its best at all times, and that you are available and contactable in the months following your show.

Artquest Website 2018

A crucial early showcase is the art school degree show, which, following the influential example set by Goldsmiths’ Visual Arts Department in the late 1980s, has now become increasingly professional in presentation. The degree show also provides a valuable opportunity for a wider public to have access to challenging contemporary art in its earliest incarnation.

Louisa Buck (2004) Market Matters