Value Compass – A Critical Guide for my Practice

by Naretha Pretorius


Through my research and creative process while doing my masters in Fine Art, and through exploring various critical self-reflective research methodologies, I have learned how to critically self-assess my work.  This is greatly due to the guidance of my supervisor, Prof Joan Conolly, and through the teachings of Prof Jack Whitehead.

Conolly speaks of the criteria for rigor in research (Conolly, 2009: 105) while Whitehead introduces the notion of Living Standards of Judgement (( where we as researchers and practitioners (in any field) live, research and practice as based on our values.  And that our values are only truly relevant if we live by it.  Whitehead calls it living standards knowing that as we develop, so should our understanding of our standards, trusting that through the developmental process it transforms or improves.

Having to ask yourself as an artist what your values are, is a complex question to ask.  Meaning, how do you judge when your work is ‘good enough’?  I felt that it was instinctive or intuitive, I just knew it was complete or that something was missing!  But to sit down and carefully reflect and ask yourself why, is worth the effort!  It immediately clarified my confusing artist brain that can so easily get stuck (creative block), or it even provided me with a guideline/compass to assist in knowing whether I should further improve on something, redo it or accept it as done.  It allowed me to become a decisive self-critic, instead of the feared ‘my own worse critic’!

I have recently come to the conclusion, after 3 years of doing my masters, and still continuing to do so, that my work should at least comply to the following criteria:

  • Authenticity – that there is  integrity and honesty in my work, with personal meaning
  • Relevance – that my work is relevant to the concept, context and message it portrays or addresses
  • Appropriacy – that my work is appropriate in its application and choice of medium to that of the concept, context and message
  • Significant – that the work is unique and original
  • Sufficient – that the work is crafted in a sufficient way representing the concept, context and message (meaning, I have done enough to complete the work)

To illustrate how I applied my values, here’s an example of my teaspoon series:

I made 5 teaspoons, and after unpacking what the concept, context and message was about, I realised that I had to redo them.  They did not fully comply to my criteria.  My concept, context and message comments on the notion of tea serving (to the congregation, community or family/visitors) within a conservative Calvinistic Afrikaner environment.  I knew the teaspoons had to be exhibited in neat rows, perfectly aligned, and preferably presented on old wooden trays.  They therefore had to be the same size (to be repeated and create a uniform look, this speak the language of conformation), and to neatly fit within the wooden ‘frame’.  The detail of the teaspoons also had to stand out, and the clay it is pressed into should be even, to again, work with uniformity.

Below an example of one teaspoon redone: left is the original and right is the new one (photographs taken by Lanel Janse van Vuuren: lanel@vegaschool,com)


Conolly, J. et al. (2009). The Self as a Laboratory of Awareness: Exploring the Oralate-Literate Interface of Memory.  In Pithouse, K., Mitchell, C. & Moletsane, R.  (2009). Making Connections: Self-Study for Social Action (p. 105).  Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., New York.

Whitehead, J. Various articles and papers on