Workbooks are a great place for skill development.

Workbooks are a great place for skill development.

This week I’ve been thrown back into the world of IB Art. I’m an examiner for the IBO, which means come April I’m given artwork from all over the world created by 17 year olds (generally speaking). This year I was given the task of moderating workbook pages.

IB Art has a large emphasis on process. Students are expected to describe, analyze, and connect their artworks to contemporary society and culture, to other disciplines, to history, as well as consider its relationship to other artists and artwork.

I love looking through strong workbooks. They become a beautiful artwork in themselves, reflective of sometimes 100s of hours of work. Some students end up with one workbook after two years of endeavor, their pages so dense with analysis and visual exploration that it takes 30 minutes to read a single page. Other students run through workbooks as if they are racing, risk-taking and exploring new media, which fills 4 workbooks! In the end, students choose a selection of pages as evidence of meeting all criteria and examiners have access to this snapshot.

As much as I love the workbook sometimes I struggle to justify its expectation of students. Many artists we ask them to research actively avoid self-reflection and analysis and leave it to the critics. Yet, I’m sure those same artists do reflect and self-assess, just not in the public eye. And that is the part we need to remind our students of! Good artists will take the time to critique work, evaluate and then use that information to refine it. This is exactly what the IB workbooks can do for students.

Great example of an idea map, similar to a mind-map really.

Great example of an idea map, similar to a mind-map really.

In fact, I now use some of the skills I’ve historically encouraged in my students for my own artist practice and would encourage you to do the same. Here are a few skills I would encourage you all to work with. Start your own workbook!

  1. Mind Mapping. I use mind mapping for idea development, refinement, goal-setting and even research! It allows me to think laterally about ideas and try to stretch my concept.
  2. Contextual research. It’s important to take time and reflect on your work or as you develop it. Why are you making this? Has some event promoted this motivation? How does it relate to your other work? How can you use this information to inform your artistic production?
  3. Vocabulary. Practicing formal art analysis and using art terminology is important for any kind of artist. How serious will people take you if you don’t know the terminology specific to your trade? It suggests a lack of education.
  4. Media exploration and risk taking. A workbook space is a safe space to trial new ideas and new materials, free from judgement (keep yours at bay until you need to reflect and refine!).
  5. Evidence of Process. I try my best to take pictures as I progress through an idea or project. Clients really enjoy seeing process and its a great means of dialogue for social media publicity.

BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: Select one of the five skills/strategies listed and incorporate it into your artist practice. 

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