Wednesday 14 September 2011

Problems and limits of traditional, analogue portfolios

Written for students of visual creativity.

David Hockney's book; "Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters" and the debate its Hockney-Falco thesis stimulated, should have encouraged drawing educators to introduce their students to the camera obscura, lucida and other optics as alternatives to groping for the image through "eyeballing", as Hockney described it (page 23, 2001). But just as drawing students are unlikely to be exposed to alternative drawing methods, most visual creatives are not formally exposed to the benefits of digital media as an additional portfolio medium to the traditional, analogue one. However, it is important for their students to fully consider all the limitations (and related problems) of relying solely on analogue portfolio media. Here follows a list of the limitations and problems for the student's consideration (plus the related benefits of having an online portfolio):

A. Difficult to assemble 
There's a reason that analogue portfolios are mostly collated only twice a year; they're often difficult to consolidate, frame and mount for presentation. This is likely to result in it being difficult for your teacher(s) to have an holistic view of your progress and for you to gauge the presentation of your year-end exhibit. Field research showed that a Visual Arts educator perceived a major benefit of students' online portfolio use being the resulting affordance to benchmark their progress and take pre-emptive action where they were unlikely to have sufficient work for year-end exhibitions.

B. No back-up
You don't have to own a Jackson Pollock to know that an original, physical artworks is often impossible to replace. So, if your artworks are stolen, damaged or destroyed right before your exhibition, it becomes impossible to physically prove your accomplishments to examiners! However, if you had kept a record of your work in an online portfolio, this would provide your a useful reference point for marking.

C. Poor distribution
Post-Google, those with access are very likely to use search engines to find background information on you and view images of your artwork. It is important to consider that by limiting your work to analogue media, you rely on your audience being close to the work for viewing purposes. By contrast, an online portfolio provides an opportunity for internet-connected audiences to easily view your creative work. Plus, you can study the digital audience of your artworks, its reception and how best to grow an audience for your artworks on the internet.

D. Lack of contextualisation for most artworks
In Secondary or Tertiary Education, students’ work is often contextualised by exhibition context and very often only feature the work's title and date. A benefit of online portfolio production is that it affords many options to label your artwork thoroughly. For example, Carbonmade affords options to add an "artwork title", "tags", "client tags" and a "folder description". By completing some, or all, of these tags appropriately, you can properly contextualise your artworks for ideal viewers; whether layperson or art historian :) . For example, you could add your "artist's statement" under folder definition or list any clients you have worked for under clients tags.

E. Limited opportunity to exhibit non-drawing work
There may be limited scope for you to include works done with reproduction (i.e. photography) and/or digital media (i.e. animations) tools in Visual Arts and Fine Arts exhibitions. If you need an outlet for other visual cultural interests, you can use an online portfolio such as Behance, DeviantArt or CGI Portfolio  to showcase designs and photos; potentially benefitting from ratings, comments and reciprocal links from other members.

F. No easily accessible feedback record
Educators seldom place feedback directly onto their students’ work as this would impact on the originals. However, a benefit of online portfolio pages is that your educator could use a social bookmarking tool, like Diigo, to comment on your pages, limiting the viewership to you (or select Diigo users). This could make your educator’s feedback easier to track and, hopefully, follow.

G. Digitisation for further study or job applications
Early exposure to digitising artworks could be beneficial for students who may need to submit digital portfolios as part to their university or job applications.

While your digital copy will never be the same as the analogue work it was sourced from, it can serve useful purposes when placed in an online portfolio. So, is there more to gain than what's lost in the "medium shift" translation of artworks and their use in online portfolios? Please share your view by commenting on this post. Ta.


  1. Dear Travis, You write an interesting post, but I really think that you thinking suffers from two defects. Firstly, you quote authors who are seriously outdated by modern technological processes and the communication strategies that they can support. The trouble is that far too many universities and FE colleges are staffed by people, nice as they might be, who are still constrained by 19th Century didactics.

    Secondly, although you mention a few Web2.0 devices you don't appear to acknowledge the powerful flexibility of ePortfolio systems that support feedback and peer-review.

    I wonder what would be the outcome if you re-wrote this post from a positive point of view? Concerning digitisation, for example, I would argue very positively for the ePortfolio. Just look at:

    Perhaps your students would think differently, if they were given a wider range of ePortfolios to choose from?

    I have set up a collection of ePortfolio examples at: which demonstrates a wide variety of approaches.

    My own blog at: might show more of my thinking.

    Best Wishes,
    Ray T (sorry Anon was the only sign-on that worked!)

  2. Thank you for the links and taking the time to comment, Mr Ray Tolley.
    However, I think your criticism is misguided; it does not appreciate the challenging secondary schooling context (1) that my research takes place in, nor does it address the post's intended aim (2):

    With respect to (1), I am not an educator ("your students"), but a researcher focussed on helping Visual Arts and Design educators in Cape Town (and the Department of Education, nationally) to think about the possible benefits of using internet resources and services as an adjunct to their classes.

    This context has many challenges, the first of which is finding FREE online portfolio services (a subscription fee would be a deal-breaker, even for an elite, well-resourced private school :( ) that both educators and students can EASILY adopt (with minimal or no additional IT support).

    The second is that many educators work in a time-starved environment, where they are keen to explore the benefits of online portfolios as an adjunct to the traditional portfolio, but have NO TIME to monitor student's feedback on each other's work. Since few educators have EXPERIENCE with facilitating appropriate peer-review and most are likely to doubt their students' emotional maturity/EQ (particularly before grade 12) to give appropriate feedback, promoting these software affordances is likely to be a non-starter. However, I agree that peer review and feedback should definitely be promoted to students from matric onwards (hence my mention of and other sites that encourage ratings, comments, reciprocal links, etc.).

    A third challenge is the scarcity of visual arts and design publications available to South African students. With their large memberships, services like Carbonmade can serve as useful resources for students to see the range of visually creative professions that exist and to benchmark their portfolios against.

    Given these three key challenges (and using other selection criteria), the educators I work with selected Carbonmade, not me. This service is highly appropriate for their context, but probably not optimal for yours.

    On (2), the blog post is clearly introduced with the statement "Written for students of visual creativity." This post's aim is modest: to help Visual Arts and Design students think about the limitations of analogue media and related problems (a perspective which they are unlikely to be exposed to in their arts "education"). The post then provides positive advice on how digitizing their artworks and publishing them to an online portfolio (or e-portfolio) could help address these issues.

    Given this aim, I hope you can understand why I find your comments on the authors I quote as being "outdated" and a reference to "19th Century didactics" as being misplaced. As I hope you'll see in my next Slideshare presentation (which I will upload after an "E-learning update" next week), the authors I refer to are very contemporary (including; David Buckingham, Helen Barrett, Gunthar Kress, Carrey Jewitt, danah boyd, Ito et al.) and definitely not proponents of "19th Century didactics"!

    Kind regards,

  3. I have had difficulty submitting a lengthly comment, so here's hoping cutting it into "Parts 1 & 2 works"!

    Part 1:

    As a Visual Arts educator participating in the implementation of e-learning portfolios, and trying it out for myself, I can certainly say yes, to your question: “…is there more to gain than what's lost in the "medium shift" translation of artworks and their use in online portfolios?”  There is no turning back in terms of using e-learning portfolios with the students/learners in our school Art Dept. Though I have encountered problems, the advantages of developing e-learning portfolios far outweigh the disadvantages. Further, the reasons you cite in this blog entry dovetail with sensible contemporary pedagogical practice, and significantly, with the South African National Curriculum Statement (NCS).  

    In this context it is important to note that the National Curriculum Statement has been amended, and these amendments come into effect from January 2012. The amendments in the form of the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) have been written for every school subject. My understanding is that the CAPS are single, clear and summative policy documents, with the intention of making the guidelines easier for busy teachers to understand & implement. At the time of writing, we are still awaiting the approval of the very final draft of the Visual Arts CAPS document which should be available by the end of September, 2011.

    In the absence of the publication of the final CAPS document, I am relying on Coleman, W & Coleman, P 2011, for some detail of the amended National Curriculum Statement. Significantly, the reasons you cite in your blog entry for the creation of an online presence, supports what these authors have extracted from the most recent draft of the CAPS document. They quote from the draft of the CAPS document in commenting:

    The CAPS document begins by defining the Visual Arts as covering a “broad field of creative practices that involve the hand, the eye, the intellect and the imagination in the conceptualising and creating artworks, both 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional.”

    What the learner is required to do is to “develop a coherent body of work” which demonstrates his or her creative response to the world. The learner’s world is both personal & global, and the grade 10 learner studying Art should be encouraged to explore both so as to “develop an individual visual language and literacy, which is informed by the study of visual cultures, past and present,” South African, and global.

  4. Part 2 of 2:

    All the projects which the teacher devises for the learners and those which the learners propose themselves should be to foster these two aims:
    • the development of a body of work which each learner takes pride in and exhibits as his/her own,
    • the development of learners who have their own visual language & who are visually literate.
    Coleman, W & Coleman, P 2011, page 3.

    The development of e-learning portfolios at my school, particularly in the new form we are working towards, certainly help in the process of supporting the CAPS statement that requires  learners to “develop a coherent body of work”. Consider the Carbonmade file structure which provides the opportunity to present a chronological coherence. Also, the way the learners are making use of the multimodal choices available to them in the chosen Carbonmade software being used, and the individual bias they show towards creating a portfolio that reflects their particular interests.

    As you indicated in your recent presentation to UCT's Digimob SA research group on ‘The Mutimodal Choices Visual Arts Student Made in Creating Their Online Portfolios’, the showcasing of a ‘drawing’ or ‘mixed-media’ orientated e-learning portfolios by certain learners is interesting, and resonates with so much of what the CAPS document expects. Further, the introduction of a file for the learner’s ‘Inspiration’ is significant in this context. Consider, in this context, the expectation of the CAPS document that Coleman, W & Coleman P mention:
    • the development of a body of work which each learner takes pride in and exhibits as his/her own,
    • the development of learners who have their own visual language & who are visually literate.

    I need to develop these ideas once I’ve had a look at the actual CAPs document, and once my learners have made their next significant updates to their e-learning portfolios.

    Your research is really important, and I’m sure it is often frustrating to pursue this route. Please keep going; in the long term it will be of enormous value.


  5. Another benefit of digitization and thoroughly labelling one's online portfolio is that it becomes easy to search one's own "portfolio database". This affords educators an opportunity to teach students aspects of database literacy, plus "search and searchability", if Jane Austen will excuse the pun...

  6. Hi,

    Your post really helped me to understand the Problems and limits of traditional, analogue portfolios. It has great details and yet it is easy to understand.
    That's what i was looking for. I will definitely share it with others.

    Thanks for sharing.

  7. This blog is nice and amazing. I really like your post! It's also nice to see someone who does a lot of research and has a great knack for writing, which is pretty rare from bloggers these days.


This blog is moderated due to problems experienced by a few readers who could not submit unmoderated comments. Please keep your comment length under 300 words; any longer and you will struggle to submit it. Ta, Travis.

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