Auteurism and the secondary agency of portfolios: Selection of future students at a design school admission test

Sara Malou Strandvad

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftartikelForskningpeer review


Based on an ethnographic study of evaluators' micro-practices during the admission test at a prominent Danish design school, this paper looks into the decisions made by evaluators when selecting future students.Two rounds make up the test in question: A first round where evaluators review portfolios made by anonymous candidates and a second round where a number of candidates are invited to interviews based on positive reviews of their portfolios. Following the two-tier course of the test, the analysis discusses the co-constitutive relationship between portfolios and candidates. Whereas the first round of the admission test clearly builds on the principle that talent can be identified in applicants' work, the second round introduces the premise that the person in question may be more important than the work. Hence, while objects constitute active participants during the review round, they tend to become neglected when applicants step in. To consider the selection processes during the test, the paper draws inspiration from the anthropologist of art Alfred Gell's art nexus that consists of artist, recipients, art objects and prototypes. With these four cardinal points, it becomes possible to identify relations made between evaluators and candidates along with portfolios and conventions which they refer to. That is, rather than seeing the test as a social game played solely by evaluators and applicants, the art nexus calls attention also to the roles played by portfolios and aesthetic conventions. However, based on the structure of the test, evaluators rank the subjectivity of candidates as paramount, while portfolios become in Gell's words ‘secondary agents’. By introducing a specific form of personhood as the final selection parameter, the admission test continues a long tradition of auteurism, which may have problematic effects, as previous studies of cultural education have demonstrated within fashion design and the congruent domains of film and fine art.
TidsskriftCultural Studies
Udgave nummer2
Sider (fra-til)141-157
Antal sider17
StatusUdgivet - 2015

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