The Ethical Imagination – Year One Cross School Project 2011 – Brief

FoCI-led Cross-School Course 2011  



“We reach a point in the endless spiral of undecidability where each one of us is obliged to make an ethical decision, to say, here I stand. Or, at the level of collective responsibility, here we stand.” 

Richard Kearney, The Wake of Imagination, London: Routledge, 1988, p.361.

“In our actual experience, freedom strikes us as valuable not because it is an end in itself, but because it enables us to pursue and achieve things we regard as genuinely worth having.”

 Charles Guignon, On Being Authentic, London: Routledge, 2004, pp.44-45.


The Glasgow School of Art Cross-School Course involves all First Year students in Design, Architecture, Fine Art and Digital Culture. It is an opportunity over an intensive fortnight for you to share ideas and to learn new perspectives and working methods from your peers in different disciplines across GSA. The theme is the ‘ethical imagination’, and all students will be producing creative, critical responses to the theme during the course, individually and in small groups. An important part of the course is interaction with your peers in GSA, but also with locations and agencies in the city of Glasgow. Site visits are scheduled and these will contextualise the course for you, as will the diverse introductory lectures which you receive in the first week. After works have been submitted, and assessed, there will be a showcase of coursework shortly after the completion of the course, to which all students and staff will be invited. The course is led and assessed by the Forum for Critical Inquiry, with input from staff across all GSA schools.

The Ethical Imagination

‘Ethics’ is all about the rules and principles which shape and guide the behaviour of individuals, groups and communities. It goes without saying that ethics is a complex field but artists, designers and architects have frequently played very important roles in this domain of the arts and humanities. At the heart of ethical consideration is the attempt to undertsand the world from a perspective other than your own, while balancing the world picture which you might feel is naturally yours. This task has been very well served by artists, designers and architects, as their creative endeavours help us see the perspectives of others and help us see again, and often more clearly, the perspectives which we take for granted as our own.

The ethical imagination is something which binds artists, designers and architects together, then, as the business of creative empathy with others is central to effective practice in our disciplines. This course is an exploration of this potential of artists, designers and architects, of your potential, and you will make work during the course which reflects upon this practice and which evidences your particular standpoint on what the ethical imagination might mean to you and your chosen studio discipline.


The Brief

You will join a small group for the duration of the course which will comprise students from other schools in GSA. Working in these groups you will participate in site visits, lectures, group crits, workshop sessions, studio practice, and group discussions as you develop an idea and produce an output for one of the coursework options. All students will produce one piece of work as an individual, but all students will also contribute to the written collective rationale which each small group will jointly author to accompany and contextualise the individual submissions of that group.

Your work can evidence engagement with the theme of the ethical imagination in a number of ways, shaped by the coursework option which you choose from the list below. Perhaps you emulate the working practices of a design group or architect or artist in the production of a studio output: perhaps you produce a critical text which considers the downside of the artist being compelled by ethics to consider the perspectives of others: perhaps you produce some drawings and photographs with notes about the work of an individual or agency in the city: perhaps you make a short video about the processes and practices of an ethical practitioner or about an ethical artwork.

As befits the brief, you can take your own position on the topic through your submission, but you must be able to discuss this position with the group and record your motivation in the collective rationale, if it differs from the perspectives of your peers.


Your Coursework 

You will select one of the following four coursework options. For each one you are required to produce an individual piece of work and contribute to the collective rationale for your small group. The collective rationale should, in no more than 600 words, set out a concise explanation for the works produced in the group, identifying shared perspectives on the topic and also accounting for different perspectives.

  1. Studio. For this option you will produce one piece of work which can be held in the palm of your hand. The work can be of any medium and you may choose to use workshop facilities if you have been inducted to workshops through your studio department prior to the commencement of the course. You might also consider producing a short video, using your mobile phone, or camera: videos should be viewable using either Real Player or Windows Media Player, and should be submitted on DVD. The studio work you produce should evidence your position and creative and critical thinking on the topic of the ethical imagination, so think carefully about the legibility of what you produce. Your work will be delivered by you to the Forum in the Mackintosh Building by the given deadline, and must be transportable in a standard-size archive box. Include your name, group, and e-mail in case we need to contact you about any technical issues.
  1. PowerPoint. For this option you will produce, using PowerPoint or similar software, a ten-slide presentation with up to 100-words of notes for each slide. The finished presentation must be no more than 1MB in size and should be submitted to the VLE at the end of the course. As with all submission modes, your presentation should evidence your engagement with the topic and should make clear your own critical position on the ethical imagination. Think carefully about the relationship between your images and your notes, and between your images. Your opening slide should give your name, group number, studio discipline, as well a title for your presentation. Your last slide should give in its notes a brief summary of the perspectives you have taken on the issue.
  1. Text. For this option you will write a 1,000-word critical commentary on the topic of the ‘ethical imagination’. As with the other modes, you will also make your contribution to the 600-word collective rationale for the group’s various submissions. The 1,000-word text might be a review of an exhibition in the city related to the theme, or it might be a general discussion of the theme. The finished file should be no bigger than 1MB. Whichever approach you choose, you must make reference to relevant books and articles in support of your essay. You must also include a title page for your text, which states name, group number, studio discipline, and which gives your text a title. A brief, but relevant bibliography for your submission is mandatory, and you will submit the finished text through the VLE. Your text should be illustrated with two ir three appropriate photos or scans.

The Collective Rationale is a mandatory submission for your group and will be no more than 600 words. This part of the brief is designed to get you to think as a group about the individual pieces you produce, to look for common threads and to chart observed differences. One way of approaching the Collective Rationale is for each member of the group to submit 100 words or so explaining their contribution to the group and their thinking on the topic as made evident by the work produced.

The Collective Rationale will be submitted by one member of the group on behalf of the group through the VLE. Where an individual has made no contribution to the discussion and preparation of the collective rationale, that will be recorded on the submission by the other group members, and that student will receive a substitute piece of work as a retrieval before they can pass the course overall.

The collective rationale will be discussed in group crits over the course of the two weeks, and approaches to its completion will be discussed with your group tutor. Assuming that all have made a contribution to the rationale, all students in a group will receive the same alpha-numeric grade for that component of the coursework.


Aims of the Course

This is a studio- and lecture-based course which introduces Year 1 students across The Glasgow School of Art to what is, arguably, a common denominator of our specialist disciplines – the ‘ethical imagination’. The ethical imagination grounds in some way the activity of all architecture, design, fine art and digital culture students and the course functions in a cross-disciplinary way to focus upon and apply ideas and methods of working pertinent to this theme.

The key aims of the course are:

  1.  to introduce all Year 1 students to the concept of the ethical imagination with reference to critical literature and studio practice exemplars.
  2.  to introduce all Year 1 students to aspects of the history and contemporary contexts creative education, relevant to architecture, design and fine art.
  3. to facilitate inter-school collaborative work around a common theme and around shared working methods.
  4.  to introduce students to the practice of collaborative creative practice.
  5. to allow students to present individual and collaborative works for public display.
  6. to familiarise students with the different specialist studio disciplines of The Glasgow School of Art.


Learning Outcomes 

  1. explain the history and contemporary relevance of the concept ‘the ethical imagination’ to study within creative education.
  2. understand some of the founding reasons for the contemporary forms of creative education in higher education.
  3. work in small collaborative groups with specialists from within and without their chosen disciplines.
  4. create work in conjunction with others and reflect upon both process and output.
  5.  appreciate the common and distinct aspects of the creative practice disciplines of The Glasgow School of Art.



You will be assessed in the Cross School Course for both your individual coursework option and for your group’s collective rationale. Both aspects of the course are mandatory – and you must pass both elements to proceed to Year 2. The individual component, one of the four options listed above, is weighted at 70% of the overall submission, and the collective rationale is weighted at 30%. Specific criteria for assessment are given on the assessment proforma.

Those of you choosing Option 1, the studio output, must deliver your artefact by hand to the Forum for Critical Inquiry, basement of the Mackintosh Building, by 5pm on Thursday 3rd November. The work must fit in to a standard archive box, which will be provided to you for transportation.

Where no work is submitted or where work is deemed to have failed, students will be given a retrieval opportunity through FoCI. Where a retrieval is not successfully undertaken, students in this situation will be issued a summer resit.

All students will receive by e-mail a typed feedback sheet on their coursework within three weeks of the end of the course, unless other arrangements have been made with individual students.

The showcase of work from the course will take place on Friday 18th November from 4pm, details of arrangements and venue to follow.

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