Examining: Emerging Criteria

This file is currently being developed but will include the following text written by Max Darby


This file is about the use of criteria when assessing student artworks. It outlines a strong case for the use of criteria that cannot always known in advance of assessment.

Students need to be given credit for what they achieve relative to what they set out to do, not be penalised for what someone else thinks in advance they should have done (Max Darby).

Developing a theory of Emerging Criteria

Darrel Caulley (1995), in a paper titled Developing a Theory of Evaluative Criteria which he presented at an International Conference held in Vancouver, Canada, coined the phrase Emerging Criteria to refer to “those criteria which emerge during an evaluation, and upon reflection, after the evaluation’ (page 7). The example Caulley provided to demonstrate the idea centered around viewing a movie. Caulley stated:

Most of us have preordinate criteria on which we make decisions about what we like in movies. However, we have all gone to a movie and found it to go against our ‘preordinate criteria’ of what a good movie should be like. After the movie we will discuss with friends or family why we liked the movie, that is, certain criteria will emerge during the watching of the movie, and upon reflection afterwards, why the movie was good (page 8).

Caulley strongly advocates an ‘interplay’ between preordinate and emergent criteria and not just the dismissal of our prior expectations. For him, a lack of preordinate criteria makes it difficult to make an evaluation. He recognises Eisner’s (1976) stance that there is a place for knowledge, training and experience or connoisseurship. “On the other hand, if we rely solely on preordinate criteria we may miss important qualities of an evaluand.”

For Caulley, there is a distinct difference between using no criteria and using no preordinate criteria. He believes it would be impossible to look at an artwork and to judge its quality using no criteria at all. Caulley believes that everyone brings some form of preordinate criteria to the judgment of an artwork.

In the assessment of art, Caulley’s notion of emerging criteria could work as a substitute for the kind of preordinate criteria currently used in the assessment of VCE art folios. To do that, assessors would need the capacity to develop their own criteria for assessment when an artwork was viewed. Alternatively, emerging criteria might be better used in tandem with preordinate criteria, either by providing the opportunity for emerging criteria to be added to an existing list or, by allowing an assessor to vary the interpretation of the criteria already on such a list to suit emerging needs. In a way, this could be considered a form of ’emerging interpretations of criteria’. What it would provide is an opportunity for assessors to vary the existing criteria to suit particular qualities they discover in an artwork, regardless of whether they might have been expected or not.

Implications of ‘Emerging Criteria’ for Assessment

One of the implications for assessment of student artworks, raised by Caulley’s notion of emergence, is that criteria prepared in advance may sometimes be inappropriate to the nature of some of the works submitted. It is not sufficient to argue that in most cases predetermined criteria can be effectively used as the sole measure against which judgments should be made. As long as it might be inappropriate for some artworks presented for assessment, it should be considered inappropriate for all artworks presented for assessment. Too often there is a failure to distinguish the differences between the nature of artworks, and to judge one by criteria suited to another. It would seem obvious that in Art, of all things, the artistic qualities against which a work should be judged are embodied within the artwork not external to it. That is, we need to look more intently at the artwork itself to appreciate and value it rather than overly focus on a list prescribed elsewhere. Artist Henri Matisse (1970), when referring to his preference against writing about art, supported that view when he stated “I myself am fully convinced that the best explanation an artist can give of his aims and ability is afforded by his work” (page 446). On the point of using some kind of ‘acknowledged standard’ against which artworks could be judged, he further commented, after being accused by critic M. Peladon of breaking existing rules and ideals in art:

The trouble is that he does not mention where these rules are – I am willing to admit that they exist but were it possible to learn them what sublime artists we would have (page 453).

Matisse emphasised the importance of artists being judged as individuals and stressed that different artists work to their own set of rules which have no existence outside of those individuals.

The starting point of assessment, then, should be what the student has presented, the works themselves. Specific criteria, or specific interpretations of criteria, should then be developed to ensure that what is assessed is consistent with what has been produced. In Victoria, what currently happens is the reverse, with assessors trying to determine how well the produced work fits in with the predetermined criteria. Since a major intention of studio art in an educational context is to challenge students to break existing boundaries or, at least to extend them, a more flexible approach to assessment is required when such a situation is encountered. Otherwise, students will just continue to work towards meeting the criteria already established and are unlikely to take any creative or artistic risks for fear of failure. Credit needs to be granted for what each student has done and achieved and the use of ’emerging criteria’ would appear to accommodate that need. This need is also apparent when all global judgments are made and not just in the use of pre-determined criteria. To accommodate this, there is also an obvious need for flexibility in the way global decisions are made. Final decisions should not be made until the artwork is viewed.

Without the kinds of expectations or restrictions which the use of criteria creates, students are more likely to meet challenges in different ways – different ways to other students and different ways than they might have done themselves without the restrictions in place. They will be more imaginative, might experiment with new media and even deliberately misuse some established art techniques in order to create something unusual or unique. This practice has been frequently employed in photography by both professional artists and students. The use of some everyday materials might also be explored in some unusual or non traditional ways which are inconsistent with the expectations of the criteria. For example, the following work (Appendix 22) by St. Catherine’s senior art student, Barbara Veall challenged the criteria of the Studio Arts study (1990)which included:

Appropriate and skillful use of equipment and tools

Appropriate and competent application of studio techniques

Appropriate and sensitive selection of media and materials.

(page 20).

The works were painted in oil paint on relief-carved floor carpet, a most unusual use of media, techniques and equipment. The carving was done with scissors and a Stanley knife. Polyester resin and sand were added to create textures which were quite unusual for carpet. Using traditional approaches to the use of carpet as a guide, it would be possible for the student to be rated lowly on each of the criteria listed above. An assessor might be tempted to ask “why didn’t the student use stretched canvas, or paper or board”? It is not unusual for comments of this kind to be made during assessment. The reality is that this student deliberately chose not to do that. She cut and shaved areas of carpet away to create patterns and forms into which she worked polyester resins and oil paint. In many instances the artistic results of her trials were questionable and she pondered over the effects they created. After all, sand and gritty textures are usually considered destructive to carpet. Instead of taking the easy way out and retreating to something more appropriate for carpet, oil paint and resins, she persevered and set herself new goals as she explored some of the challenge her original idea had presented. What was originally to be a wall painting became a floor installation and viewers were invited to walk all over it.

In an interview situation, as happens in assessment in International Baccalaureate Visual Arts, all of this could be clearly clarified and if still not understood, the student could be re-questioned. Students need to be given credit for what they have actually achieved not what anyone else thinks they might have achieved (if they’d done something else) or even should have achieved. This student clearly created something of quality and interest and used a way of working which could not really have been predicted.

‘Common’ or ‘traditional’ application of criteria which focus on the use of design elements and principles and the use of materials, techniques and skills would sometimes fail to do justice to the nature of some works and some ideas. The notion of ’emerging criteria’ or ’emerging interpretations of criteria’ would solve problems of this kind. Without it, artists such as Picasso, Pollock and Rothko, to name a few, could not have passed any of the senior educational examination procedures in operation today. In fact, they suffered at times by being preordinately judged by criteria other than those to which they worked. Certainly they could not have scored above the lowest ranks in any of the Australian systems.

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One Response to “Examining Studio Works: Emerging criteria”

  1. Caroline says:

    I agree. VCE has got it wrong for years since we gave up moderation. Art in school is not about making kids conform. It’s about making them try things, be expressive and most of all to ‘try their arm’ at something -anything, as long as they’re being interesting and creative. Anything, that is, but being bland and aweful and predictable as is the norm. I’d rather they do something and fail than reproduce the stuff found in Top Arts every year, after year after year after year etc… Formula stuff at best. Thanks for sticking up for us, again Max.

    Well done

    Caroline N.

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