Notes on entry portfolio as measuring instrument

Notes on “Has the art college entry portfolio outlived its usefulness as a method of selecting students in an age of relational, collective and collaborative art practice?” by Donal O’Donoghue / April 24, 2011 / International Journal of Education & The Arts

“…there has been a noticeable shift away from object-based art production to relations-based and situation-based art production. An increasing number of artists no longer produce individual aesthetic objects; rather underpinned by the principles of collaboration, participation, and interaction, their art practice is concerned with the activation and production of new relations between individuals, groups and communities, or the reconfiguration of existing ones.”

“In this work, [Browne’s sculptural intervention, Free Irish Scones]did not produce an art object in the strictest sense, rather, she produced a set of relations based on human interactions and exchanges in a social and cultural context that were dependent on culturally learnt practices. These relations generated other relations.”

“Structured around ideologies of meritocratic individualism, the entry portfolio requires applicants to undertake a series of highly prescriptive inquiry-based object generating activities that concentrate exclusively on vision and material exploration. These activities promote individual modes of visual inquiry rather than collective participatory ones. … Certain forms and practices of visuality are valued over others. Particular ways of seeing and producing visual representations are encouraged.”

These portfolio guidelines suggest that being sufficiently knowledgeable about practices of visualization and sufficiently skilled in producing work that, as Bourdieu says, can be located “among the possibilities of representation constituting the universe of art and not among the possibilities of representation constituting the universe of everyday objects or the universe of signs” lead to an increased chance of securing a college place. In short, as currently articulated, it is difficult to see how the entrance portfolio allows for a process of self-definition, outside of the expectations of others, in this case art college personnel.”

“… this notion of the entry portfolio conceals the fact that it is a mechanism that operates to maintain the status quo, to legitimate class reproduction in and through culture, and , to use Kathleen Lynch’s and Marie Moran’s (2006) words, to silence “class dissent by fostering illusions of opportunity” (p. 222). In theory, anybody can put together a portfolio of artwork and submit it for consideration. The logic goes that those with “observational,” “inventive,” and “creative thinking skills” who willingly produce a collection of “appropriate “ work will be meritorious (Young, 1958). Those who fail to gain a place in art college, this logic suggests, are not as deserving of it. However, we know that the visual regimes and practices of visualization most valued by art colleges, and which define their culture in large part, are very particular and specific in nature; they are neither known nor accessible to all members of society to the same extent. Rather, they are accessible to those who through their family environment or schooling are sufficiently knowledgeable and have the means to appropriate and master them in subtle and complex ways. Such individuals are in turn legitimized by their ability to appropriate and master those visual regimes and practices of visualization valued by art colleges (Bouridieu, 1993). As Janet Wolff (1990) reminds us, “The historical development of the arts in our society has left us with a heritage which is pervaded by the inequalities of class, gender, race, and ethnicity” (p. 204). As demonstrated earlier, to become sufficiently knowledgeable in, and about the visual regimes and practices of visualization most valued by art colleges is oftentimes based on access to economic capital and resources.”


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