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A fruitful feedback session

 A tutor facilitated feedback session with student peer group for the Creative  Arts Degree Programme 

I run monthly feedback sessions for the Creative Arts department. Students from different levels, units and disciplines turn up, meet each other for the first time or re-connect but ultimately gain feedback of their work which they can take forward.  

Some feedback can be seen as daunting, unpredictable, too long, too dominating and a little bit too nice. But it is up to you how you want to direct it; you have ownership and drive it in a way which suits you. What do students want from feedback sessions? Critique, direction, progress, ruthlessness, compliments?  

The model: DESCRIBE (forget everything else, what are we actually seeing in front of us?), ANALYSE (what is important, what is good and what is bad?),  INTERPRETATION (what can it be, mean, convey, after being fed some facts?) JUDGEMENT (is it working?)  

With these four headers, we started with three students. How do you start? You can give information, or you can keep shut. To give information, it may be necessary to inform the viewer, so they do not miss the point. To say nothing allows the viewer have complete freedom with their own interpretations. 

‘Mountain Village’ Baiba Vagule (HE4 Practice of Painting)

What are we seeing? A landscape, depths of an Alpine town, a sleepy village? What was niggling us? Distorted perspectives. The piece was charming but perhaps naïve. The more we looked, the more we were there. But technically there were too many after-thoughts. Baiba revealed that she was halfway through this assignment piece. The perspective was niggling her too, particularly the rooftops. What can be done to improve? We suggested to make them more textural so now she can finish. “It’s dangerous drawing every brick.” A useful feedback halfway through work. When you’re stuck, ask for advice.

Steve Cussons (Research/Body of Work HE6)

We were presented with a video performance piece. We watched in silence. The artist rubbed and pushed dark pigment around her face. We felt calm, pained and disturbed. We were torn in opinions from being uncomfortable to being content. The title ‘Benediction’ was revealed. The ‘ah’ moment from the audience. If we were thinking self-punishment, then does it match the action of purging and cleansing? Or is it washing away our sins? This piece stemmed many areas of discussion from cultural,  religious and spiritual references to duration, technical difficulties and  audience engagement. 

‘Lost’ mock up. Tony Stuart (Illustration: Key Steps HE4)

It was a magazine cover. The Covid cell was the biggest element over toy soldiers, hand sanitisers, travel books, passport, batteries a Costa coffee cup. We felt a strong message of time lost through Covid. Was the war against Covid more significant than global wars? There is a fight going on. 

Moving away from what we saw, popular culture references of Sci-Fi movies were thrown in. ‘War of the Worlds’ and ‘The Day the Earth Stood  Still’. We were ‘spot on’ with ‘War of the Worlds’ and social freedoms taken away by Covid, Tony revealed. Technically we were impressed. Tony said that the balance between digital and hand-generated work was an issue and that there needs to be a human element in his works, so he was satisfied. “Nice to get feedback and get it informed, job done.” 

Each student learnt something from another. Whether it was advice on how acrylics can be used, artists to research, or wider contextual references. Our conversations thrived on how to move forward. “Sometimes, I just want to get the roofs right” (Baiba) and that’s fine. It’s what’s important for you now no matter your unit or level is. 

Feedback sessions are conversational. We may start small and then it grows. We find commonalities. In this session we discussed what our art communicates to an audience, we spoke about wider issues of spirituality, religion, cultural factors and of course Covid-19. It turned out one piece of  work was clearly about Covid affects, another about Covid restrictions and one sub-titled Covid pieces.  

The participant and the observer are equal. We may keep quiet, we may off load, rant, laugh, get confused or be enlightened but whatever the dynamics, there will be a way to move on. And within that there is a sense of relief, fresh  perspectives, reassurance to explore and make mistakes and in conclusion just try it out.  

Thank you to Baiba Vagule, Stephanie Cussons and Tony Stuart.  

The next Creative Arts feedback session is Tuesday 6 July (5-630). Come along and join in the party, build up a community and realise that you are not alone.  

Email diana-ali-tutor@oca.ac.uk to register. 

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Posted by author: Diana Ali
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