ALMOST 120 years ago, novelist Joseph Conrad wrote that "a work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art" should appeal to "our sense of pity and beauty, and pain; to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation."

Looking around the light-filled nooks and crannies of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (DJCAD ) in Dundee, it's impossible not to be affected by the powerful mix of pity, beauty and pain laid bare. A degree show is a heightened, slightly skew-whiff version of Conrad's description of what art should be. With bells on. Occasionally covered with yucky stuff (a prerequisite of any degree show – menstrual blood or rotting fruit anyone?)

For the last four years, around 300 students from DJCAD have been working towards this moment, which like a spring flower, blooms briefly before disappearing into the ether. Art is society's time-honoured way of catching the moment though and before I had even started looking at this degree show, I was reminded of this with a jolt.

A green skateboard lies on its side in a corridor, surrounded by fading blooms and a green notebook. People have been asked to write in the notebook about Connor Craig, a 23-year-old Art, Philosophy, Contemporary Practices (APCD) student who died in March this year.

In the catalogue produced to accompany the degree show, his course tutor, Philip Braham writes: "His life was in full flow at the moment of his passing." This was not the kind of final year assessment either of the two had in mind.

After four years of study, a Degree Show is a Big Deal for any graduating artist. Last year, 15,000 visitors came to see the work on show from students in 11 undergraduate programmes at DJCAD.

Every year, looking round degree shows, I tell myself not to look for themes but it's impossible not to. For the record, in this show, there seemed to be a lot of text-based work and explorations of how the natural world sits alongside an increasingly digital planet.

It's a human reflex to seek connection, but it's also an artist's job to seek out the themes which reflect society at the time of making work. To this end, some shows are more successful than others. Two artists who stood out as catching a zeitgeist and giving it a good shake were Emily Stewart and Lili Chasioti.

Stewart has made a series of tiny miniature paintings set onto laser cut perspex mounts the exact size of her iPhone 4s, which she used to contact each subject and acquire their image. A simple and effective concept, beautifully executed.

Chasioti's work, The Garden of Evolution, is based on an interactive installation first made at Dundee Botanic Gardens, which included a series of QR codes made out of pebbles. When scanned they lead to familiar-sounding disembodied Siri-style manipulated sounds and messages discussing the evolution of humankind through technology. Reproduced in in one of the college's most beautiful studio spaces, it has been reformed, using earth for the QR codes instead of pebbles.

Elsewhere, not far from the homage to Connor Craig, in a studio with a stunning view over he silvery Tay and its iconic bridge, Gentian Meileham has created an installation which is a direct response to the death of her brother Koan, who died aged 24 during her time at university. At the heart of this thoughtful installation, two playground swings made of bone-white porcelain and parian ceramic swing to a mechanical beat.

Reflection was a theme which leaped out from several degree shows, including Jacquetta Clark's. The Fine Art student has used the extremely rare heart condition from which she suffers as a starting point for a series of beautiful photographs of the human form. Clark suffers from dextrocardia. Her heart has formed on the right-hand side of her body; a perfect mirror image of a regular heart. The personal touch in this show adds real depth.

Another mesmerising work which takes the idea of reflection and stops viewers in their tracks is by Tamara Richardson. The centrepiece of her work is a floor-to-ceiling reflective hanging blind, which plays tricks with your perception. Is it see-through, or is it reflective? Alongside other interventions, such as the mirror-image Left without Context signpost, this is a powerful, beautifully meditative piece of work.

Thomas Stephenson's rather lovely wooden stove, with its snake-like funnel which burrows into a whitewashed wall, is a simple and inspired yet surreal piece of workmanship. It also asks deeper questions of society's recklessness when it comes to disposing of our planet's natural assets.

I also enjoyed the intellectual yet workmanlike approach of Jamie Watt. In perhaps the darkest, yet most playful show in town, he has created a makeshift guillotine with a mirror (more reflection) which allows you to see where you might fit into this execution scene. Around this, are several "interventions", such as a framed football shirt with the name Aitkenhead above the number "three".

Based loosely around the story of 20-year-old Edinburgh medical student Thomas Aitkenhead, the last person to be executed for the crime of blasphemy in 1697, this is a stark treatise on freedom of speech and sectarianism as relevant today as it was over 400 years ago.

My companion on this degree show fly-through laughed when I talked about rooting out the "wall-based work". Traditionally, DJCAD has produced a wheen of fine painters but this year, only a handful of artists have chosen to concentrate on pure drawing and painting: notably Alistair Fraser and Gavin Donaldson, both worth seeking out. Rowan Rosie's joyous neon abstracts paintings are also very easy-on-the-eye.

Emerging Talent: University of Dundee’s Art, Design & Architecture Degree Show 2016 ends tomorrow. Admission is free.