Using critical discourse analysis to analyse the formative assessment method of a fine art studio practice curriculum, the author explores the espoused claim that both creativity and critical thinking are encouraged. Despite the prevalence of these often used terms, assessment practices and feedback were found to unwittingly encourage reproduction. A dominant negative dialectic at play in assessment practices was a modernist conception of the artist-student. The climate created by the imbalance between creativity and criticality was found to impact negatively on students' approaches to learning as a result of being alienated from their desires. Focusing on the South African context, this case study contributes to global concerns about strategic and uncritical adoptions of politically expedient discourses in higher education.