An investigation into the writings of established art and design practitioners as a useful model for the Critical Research module of the Art and Design B.A (Hons) Course

  • Minacha Camino

Student thesis: Doctor of Education


The requirement for a written element in the B.A (Hons) Arts degree has been in place since the Coldstream Report of 1960. Since that time, there have been discussions, scholarly articles and further government committees addressing the way that this component is delivered by universities and colleges. These discussions centre on the content, the assessment of the content and its relationship to students' own practice. There are many divergent views about how the subject, variously called contextual, critical or complementary studies, should be presented by the students in a way that has academic rigour and enhances studio practice. However, I have identified a gap in that literature: there also is a rich history of artists and, more recently, designers writing about their own and others' practice. I sought to establish whether or not the writing of established practitioners could be useful in improving students' own efforts and encouraging a synthesis between the written work in their final year journals, (an alternative to the traditional dissertation) and their studio practice. The methodology that seemed most appropriate was an instrumental case study, with data from interviews (transcriptions), text analysis and analytic induction of the writings by established practitioners and the students' writings about their own work and the work of others. Experience and by now conventional practice suggests that all students refer to the work of established practitioners, not always from their own chosen discipline. Although the students are not necessarily asked to research and write about other established practitioners, inevitably they will do so to engage with, identify and contextualise theory and history. There was a general lack of understanding about the complexities of the intended learning outcomes and, importantly, the sub-assessment criteria that was realised to be more difficult to explain and understand than the more traditional, essay method of the dissertation. This difficulty was mainly owing to the students' lack of experience in critical thinking and poor research skills when writing about their own work. The task for third year students was burdensome for some, but easier for those students who had critical studies embedded in their studio practice. In only one discipline were the tutors optimistic about the abilities of their students to understand the criteria and therefore likely to be successful in the assessment of the journal. This finding was mirrored in their students' responses. The lack of interest and wide knowledge of some tutors in comparison with other colleagues lead to a tension between what is currently learnt in the studio and what is learnt from non-studio teaching. I explored the relevant writings using the three themes of production, content and consumption. A comparison between students' and established practitioners' writing, using the criteria for the intended learning outcomes for the critical studies module, found that there were both some similarities and some important differences. On the basis of the evidence, the journal could provide the students with a more insightful understanding of their studio practice if there is: • A revision of the assessment criteria, using the saturation points of established practitioners writing in my analysis tables; • Much greater fostering of interest into the reading of established practitioners' writing; and• A team of tutors who are able and willing to teach critical studies/research alongside the studio work.These findings have implications for the training of the staff as well as the structure of the degree courses in art and design.
Date of Award31 Dec 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDavid Dyson (Supervisor) & David Spendlove (Supervisor)


  • Students' Writing
  • Critical and Contextual Studies, Established Artists' and Designers' Writing,

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