I’d been dreading the exam for Storia dell’arte contemporanea all term – since two friends who took the oral exam in semester 1 just scraped the pass mark (18/30) and were both made to burst into tears during the exam. Put bluntly by Professor Iamurri to one German contemporary, “You don’t know anything about contemporary art and you can’t speak Italian.”
The course is a challenging one – covering a ridiculous time span, from French neo-classicism right up to today, Western European and North American art. Compulsory texts include a 500-page A4 manual and 2 subsidiary texts: 3-400 pages each, of dense Italian literature. I’d been warned by a former Erasmus student to steer clear of the notoriously hostile (and unsympathetic to foreign students) professors Iamurri and Cinelli. But I took no heed, with a great deal of romantic enthusiasm for the course material at the start of the year.
Inevitably though, by the time the exams drew nearer, with the intense heat of summer having arrived and the will to make the most of everything (friends, the city, farther-flung excursions) before the year ended, I was ill-prepared for my appointment at the first appelli. The bizarre oral exam system allows for THREE time options (called appelli) each term in which to take your exam. You book this online via the university portal (portale dello studente) for which you will be given a password when you arrive.
You can also cancel your appointment online via the portal up to the end of the exam. I chickened out of my appointment and gave myself an extra couple of weeks to study, making it my final exam on the 6th July. I arrived at 9am to go over a few things before the exams were scheduled to begin (10am). But what with their individual discussions with masters’ students on their dissertations, and a mysterious 3 hour lunch break (2-5pm) it wasn’t until 6pm and a 9 hour wait that I finally got the chance to sit my exam. By this point, I’d lost my nerves and was just thrilled to be getting it done (several examinees had to return the following day).
Unfortunately, making it through the exam in one piece wasn’t going to be an easy task. I sat down with my manual and one of the subsidiary texts (the other one I’d skimmed through in the library, but hadn’t bought due to it’s cost. And I was advised my friends that whilst the professors’ preferred you to have all texts, you could get by fine without them). It wasn’t my day. As soon as I sat down, Professor Cinelli demanded why I hadn’t brought the three books. In response to my explanation, she initiated a lengthy discourse to the accompaniment of Professor Iamurri to the rest of the exam hall on the obscene lack of seriousness of Erasmus students. And how did my university go about selecting it’s candidates in the first place?! Under normal circumstances I might have burst into tears at this point. But having seen and heard the experiences of others, I took their behaviour to be habitual, rather than personal.
After this 10-minute attack, Professor Cinelli calmed down and was ready to begin, fist declaring that, without all three texts she wouldn’t be able to award me more than 24/30. My oral experiences have made me grateful for the examination process in the UK which I think must be far fairer – where the oral system is so dependent on the mood of the examiner, the competence at public-speaking of the examinee etc To me it seemed that Professor Cinelli was most interested in proving what I didn’t know, rather than finding out what I did know – asking complex questions to which she would ascribe particular one-word answers. And seeking out the few pages in my book without notes in the margins. Finally the trauma ended and I was awarded 21/30. I thanked her for her time and she didn’t respond. I left disappointed, but absolutely thrilled it was all over.