September 17, 2015

I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think (Socrates 470-399 BCE)

8.00 am. It’s encouraging to see the School’s tweets frequently retweeted and favourited. Who gets to see them, I wonder? In small ways, incrementally, we make our presence known to others. On to School, 8.45, a pair of speakers, in my hands. (Life sounds like a Velvet Underground song, sometimes.) . 9.00 am. A brief ‘recky’ of one student’s sound-projection requirements, and of the School’s resources to respond to such. 9.40 pm. On to the International Politics Department and a two-hour briefing on the state of the nation (‘state’, as in: How did we manage to get ourselves into this ‘state’?) and Aberystwyth University’s aspirations for future NSS success. We waited patiently for the meeting to commence:

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Some ruminations, on my part:

  • Not all things are doable. All things are not doable.
  • If everything is prioritised, then nothing is a priority.
  • Optimism should be based on reasonable expectations which are, in turn, based upon past achievements. Any other foundation is mere wishful thinking and hubris.
  • What does ‘effective feedback’ effect? Conceivably, and ideally, to inculcate a more realistic awareness of aptitude, a greater determination to exceed one’s limitations, and the confidence so to do (on the part of both student and teacher).
  • Our notion of ‘the quality of student experience’, as it’s presently understood, concentrates far too much on the external paraphernalia of high education. The most important and lasting experience that a student may acquire takes place inwardly. It’s affects an enlargement of the individual’s heart, intellect, spirit, and capacity to feel. The quality of that experience is determined by the student, and by no one and nothing else.
  • We need to ensure that the student is prepared for a world, post education, that does not bend over backwards to make them happy.
  • J F Kennedy said: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country’. Qualitative experience should instil in the student a recognition of civic responsibility. In its absence, we’re encouraging entirely self-centred and counter-altruistic aspirations.
  • A university can only achieve betterment when the whole community (staff and students) follow an agreed vision towards a common goal.
  • A university should aim to be not only as qualitatively good as the best but also as characteristically distinct from the rest.

2.00 pm. Following an anniversary, celebratory lunch, I assumed the role of temporary sound technician and helped install a stereo system to accompany an MA student’s video work:

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An exhibition grows, frame by frame:

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7.30 pm. Next week’s open studio event at the National Library of Wales beckons. Publicity, co-ordination, transportation, and the logistics of surviving a 24-hours work schedule. The nights are drawing in:

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Having written a project announcement for the newspapers and social media, I ventured to construct a YouTube channel, which has been the missing piece in my armoury of social media. I launched the first video  — a collaborative image/sound investigation entitled Concert: To Do Something in Cooperation with Another, with Maria Hayes, undertaken in 2010.

 



September 16, 2015

8.00 am. DIY breakfast in a house with no other guests apparent. 8.45 am. I took the train from Aston back to Birmingham New Street, and hung around the city for an hour before travelling on to Aberystwyth. Dr Cruise was on the same train, and also working. (No rest for the academic.) I’d time to compose a brief expression of gratitude to the maestro:

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En route, I caught up with email and returned to my image>sound research proposal:

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1.20 pm. Home! 1.30 pm. Back at the School, I took off on a tour of duty around the MA Fine Art exhibition areas. Progress, fuelled by determination, is apace. 2.15 pm. A telephone tutorial with a PhD Fine Art student who’s based in Vancouver. 3.15 pm. An MA Fine Art consultation, as second supervisor. Individually and collectively, MAy things are shaping up professionally:

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Some principles and observations derived from this afternoon’s engagements:

  • It’s important to include works in the exhibition that are balanced in terms of their visual impact. A good painting that shouts too loud can too easily drown the voices of other good paintings that speak more softly.
  • Aspire to independence: learn to stretch a canvas, make a stretcher, frame a painting, and cut mounts and caption boards.
  • Develop a ruthless alter-ego: one who will stand back from you and your work and shoot from the hip, mercilessly.
  • After success, failure. Always.
  • Our success teaches us very little; failure is the great instructor.
  • We will each, one day, ask: ‘Who am I?’ Then the adventure will begin in earnest.

7.30 pm. I caught up (a little) on postgraduate admin and reviewed an MA art history thesis chapter submission. In an email to another student, who’s also battling with academic writing (and woe betide anyone that says it’s ever easy), I wrote:

That you recognise the limitations of the writing (and it does take time to get back into the swing of academic writing, if you’ve not be practising it) is promising. Some students stare at their output without the slightest inkling that something might be desperately wrong with it. 

9.40 pm. A breather before ‘the nightwatch’. 10.45 pm. Petty admin. It’s as much as my brain can bear.



September 15, 2015

8.00 am. Inbox inquiries, put to rout; a modicum of packing and preparation for an unexpected trip, undertaken; and work needed on voyage, assembled. 8.45 am. Off to School. 9.15 am. The galleries are readied for the new MA Fine Art exhibition to be installed over the next few days:

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In between impromptu advisory sessions with exhibitors I blitzed my cupboards and draws, disposing of papers, files, posters, and booklets that have not been rifled through in too many years, along with adapters and transformers (for who knows what), dead scanners, mice, and computer keyboards, and software discs that expired with Microsoft Vista. (Live light!):

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Our maturity is most manifest in how we respond to disappointment, discouragement, loss, failure, temptation, poverty, wealth, and good fortune.

You’d think that hanging just a half dozen artworks would be a doddle. Rarely is it. The student must decide which six (from all the works that they’ve produced): will represent their best efforts; demonstrate both scope and focus; belong together; and form a coherent and sequential run. The council and perspective of others is always at hand, and should be consulted. (Only ‘A fool is right in his own eyes’.) But at the end of the day, it’s the student (taking up the mantle of a professional artist) who must make the final determination.

1.30 pm. Off, on a moderately delayed train, to Birmingham, with a rucksack stuffed with computery devices and documents to enable me to travel productively:

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Having edited the postgraduate studies document and responded to email, I pushed on with the fifth Abstraction lecture with Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art at my elbow. To my mind, his theories are more engaging than his painting. Rarely did his compositions address to the bounding edge of the format.

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4.25 pm. I arrived with time in hand to revisit the cathedral. The interior was decked with scaffolding and safety curtains, while the ancillary areas were closed to the public. Nevertheless, an impressive sight – gaunt and theatrical:

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7.00 pm. One more Evening with King Crimson, this time at the Birmingham Symphony Hall and as the guest of Robert Fripp. This was unexpected invitation that landed in my inbox late Sunday evening. The band was, again, on top form. They were a blast. The Salford audience was much less restrained in their enthusiasm. A concert hall imposes a certain civility on the audients:

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10.00 pm. My accommodation was at a B & B outside the city centre. The host was a warm, welcoming, and chatty Brummy, with a penchant for a somewhat Gothic turn of interior decoration. (What was in the ‘Dungeon’?) A black teddy bear occupied a plant pot in the bathroom. (What was that about?) Two plaster figurines looked down from the windowsill on those seeking relief in the loo. (Did I see their heads move?) A little unnerving!:

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September 14, 2015

A weekend away at Manchester. Two highlights in succession: An Evening with King Crimson at the Lyric Theatre, Lowry, Salford, on 11 and 12 September. The first evening, I took my elder son, the second, my younger son. Responsible parenting in action:

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King Crimson are the only progressive rock band who can still lay claim to the title in any meaningful sense. The two shows explored a compositional repertoire that spanned the period from 1969 to the present. The earliest pieces sounded as though they could have been composed yesterday. The band is about disciplined professionalism, rather than flashy showmanship; corporate interaction and respect for each member, rather than individualism and assertive egos. It has the composure of a small orchestra rather than a rock band. Indeed, the epithet ‘rock band’ describes King Crimson only in part:

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The members’ musicianship (instrumental craft, performance readiness, and the synchronisation of head, heart, and hands) was second to none.

8.30 am. I began the week by finalising the Erased Messiah Recording sound work. It has qualities that recommend it for inclusion on the new album. Certainly, my experience with 78 rpm has been sufficiently productive to justify further exploration and exercises. 11.00 am. On with writing the track descriptor, in readiness for its public release this afternoon. (I’m purging my way of unfinished projects, before the the new academic year begins.)

1.40 pm. Upload:

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2.15 pm. A second assault on the fifth Abstraction lecture. Theosophy exposed! Emails disposed. Letters composed. Some advice to an intending PhD Fine Art applicant:

You can’t force the issue with PhDs in Fine Art, anymore than you can sit down and just come up with a good idea. The best ideas seek you out; they come to you. Your responsibility, at this stage, is to be receptive and ready when they arrive. To do so, you must be in books habitually: read widely and voraciously — like your life depended on it. Allow one idea to lead you to another. Follow Hansel’s breadcrumbs into the dark forest.

Crumbs! Why is Damien Hirst now following me on Twitter? Answers on a postcard:

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5.15 pm. An announcement that dinner would be later than usual. One cannot rush a haggis. So, onward into the early evening … tummy-a-rubbling.

7.00 pm. How does one distil Theosophy into a half-dozen bullet points? So much of it sounds either utterly bonkers or else obfuscated by portentous concepts and compound terminologies that ring hollow.



September 10, 2015

9.15 am. Paintism continues around the school:

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The colour scheme of the concourse reminds me of Churchill’s War Rooms; the decor of the main lecture theatre, of a Robert Adams’ house:

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The decorators have done a really good job. On a more modest scale, but with an equal commitment to quality, our completing MA Fine Art students prepare their exhibition spaces:

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9.30 pm. Having battled with a computer emergency, I arrived late for an MA Fine Art tutorial. But we’d sufficient time to discuss matters that were, barring a little trimming at the edges (quite literally), already in the bag. 10.15 am. Is FaceBook ailing? I cannot upload photographs. Postgraduate admissions responses dispatched, spontaneous advice about sound installation given, and a tour of duty complete, I awaited a PhD inquirer at 11.00 am. 12.30 pm. My penultimate tutorial with one of my MA painters. (I’m getting nostalgic already.)

Some principles and observations derived from the morning’s engagements:

  • Neither the course, nor the tutor, nor the resources are crucial to a student’s success. (They help to create a level playing field only.) Success is chiefly the result of an individual’s triumph over ignorance, misunderstanding, inability, stupidity, laziness, unconfidence, defensiveness, defeatism, criticism, petulance, and egoism.
  • We may know of a surety that we want to do something long before we know what it is that we want to do.
  • It may take twenty or more years for you to discover an individual ‘voice’ as an artist. And, there’s no guarantee that you ever will.
  • Art never lets you down.

2.15 pm. After a lightning lunch, I returned to my research proposal. There are dimensions to this idea that I’ve not considered before. I’ve too many problematics and too few answers. ‘Just write down what you know for a fact, John!’ ‘Play 21st Century Schizoid Man very loudly, John! ‘Clear your head’. 4.45 pm. Progress.

6.30 pm. Further formatting on the Messiah tracks:

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Something is emerging, but this is not a major piece. I’ve not problem with that. My commitment, still, is to resolve it with all the professionalism, intelligence, and imagination that I can muster.



September 9, 2015

It takes time to find oneself; and time to (purposely) lose oneself again … which you’ll need to do, in the distant future (JH email to SC, August 6, 2013)

9.00 am. As part of my sound site’s annual tidy up and update, I released the four-track Call & Response collaboration, which my colleague Dr Roberts and I participated in last year (Diary, November 15 and November 16, 2014). It was a minor exercise (a drawing rather than a fully-fledged painting, for my part), but one which opened my mind to new ways of processing and other possibilities of timbre, dynamics, and contrast. Sometimes, it takes another person’s creative intelligence to perforate the boundaries of one’s own. The album ‘cover’ shows the glitched output from a public information monitor at Manchester Airport:

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10.00 am. The meat of the day: to write a draft research proposal explaining the aims and ‘intended outcomes’ of the image>sound translation project. In the background, in a bid to bring order and economy to my inbox, I unsubscribed from as many commercial mail shots as I could, once they’d plopped onto the screen. This was an immensely satisfying process. If only one was able to unsubscribe from some of life’s irksome duties as easily.

In the background too, while writing, I remastered The Red Ledger (2014) track. I’d been dissatisfied by the solo section at the close of the piece — which features the reading of a letter. As the track stood, the spoken words were incomprehensible to anyone other than myself and, possibly, the person who wrote it. Nevertheless, I could still recognise them in my mind’s ear. I decelerated the composition by 365% (being the number of days in a calendar year) in order to hide the letter’s sense from myself. (A psychiatrist would have a field day with that, I’m sure.)

Why are we vaguely embarrassed at enjoying our own work? I often listen to my sound pieces for enrichment. They offer me something that no one else’s work does  — which is, in part, the reason for making them. We create the art that we want to enjoy … Right? After all, if I can’t bear to listen to my compositions, why should I expect anyone else to.

1.40pm. Following lunch, I began assembling a track session to assemble the recordings made from my erased Messiah project. I’ve been impressed by the resilience of the shellac surface. Even with a pronounced patina of myriad, micro scratches the recording is still audible:

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2.00 pm. On with the research proposal. I enjoy picking strawberries from a fridge:

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It’s better than snacking on chocolate. Once begun, a proposal refuses to travel in a straight line. En route, you encounter byways to histories, traditions, practices, and theories that lie outside the scope of the inquiry, but which, nevertheless, will have to be travelled in the course of investigation. 4.00 pm. I re-reviewed of The Bible in Translation CD material and uploaded remixed tracks to my sound site.

7.30 pm. I continued populating the Messiah erased track session in readiness for composition. All the tracks are recordings of the 78 rpm disc, played at that speed, as well as at 45 rpm and 33 1/3 rpm, and processed through low-, mid-, and high-pass filters.  No other modulation has been applied; the native sound is complete in itself. Guild not the lily.



September 8, 2015

O wretched man that I am! (Rom. 7.24)

8.30 am:

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On with a little prepping for this morning’s Research Supervisors’ Training session (to which I contribute three times a year), and with examination administration for the forthcoming MA exhibition, while setting up the structure for the fifth Abstraction lecture. (I’m on schedule.)  Happily, several worthwhile exhibitions of abstract art will be on show during the period of the module’s delivery: Jackson Pollock at Tate, Liverpool and Peter Lanyon at The Courtauld Institute, London.

In the background, I played recordings of King Crimson‘s live concerts from the early noughties, in anticipation of those that I’ll be attending at the weekend. After forty years a faithful fan, I finally (and against all expectations) get to see them perform:

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I don’t work to music at home all of the time, and at the School, none of the time. There are some tasks that require my undiluted attention. Admin isn’t one of them. I rarely write to music and I cannot make images other than in silence. (To produce sound works to music would be like painting while watching TV.) There are, recent research suggests, productive benefits to be gained from working to music. But not all music is for everyone at all times. For example, I love Bach, but his compositions distract me; they tickle the cognitive processes too much and demand my full attention.

11.30 am. Off, up the hill to the Research Supervisors’ Training session at the Cledwyn Building:

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A solid, honest, and genuinely helpful session. I always come away having learned something new. (And, I’m one of the teachers!) The Home Office’s heavy-handed approach to monitoring the coming and going of so-called Tier 4 postgraduate students is nothing short of unwelcoming, distrustful, and draconian. Small wonder students are preferring instead to study in European countries, the USA, and Australia, where young and ambitious foreigners are embraced with enthusiasm and compassion. So, our government’s reticence to positively engage with refugees relief should come as no surprise either. It stems from the same attitude.

2.00 pm. I’m hungry, now! A light lunch and a heavy discussion with Professor Zwiggelaar from Computer Science, at the Arts Centre:

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We had an initial discussion about digital processes whereby images can be analysed, converted into a bitstream, and translated into sound. (The reverse traffic was also considered.) This is pioneering work. I feel out of my depth … which is the best place to be. If this is successful (and such a project comes with no guarantee), I’ll be able to transcend the limitations of the databending process, and move beyond the methods of textual/visual, visual/sonic, and textual/sonic translation and codification that undergird The Pictorial Bible series and The Aural Bible II projects. A new phase of inquiry is about to open.

3.00 pm. Back at homebase, I caught up postgraduate admin that had accrued in my absence and began writing the introduction for the fifth lecture of the Abstraction module.

6.30 pm. Practice session 2. 7.40 pm. I continued with the fifth lecture. Tomorrow, I’ll have space to write up a proposal for the image-sound translation project, which I considered this afternoon, as well as to review the recordings made following the erasure of the Messiah 78 rpm disc.

 

 



September 7, 2015

Routinely: 7.30 am. The morning’s nourishment: a small bowl of oat and fruit cereal (I’m a cerealist), a yogurt drink, a medium boiled egg, and a pot of PG Tips, washed down with BBC Radio 4 news:

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8.00 am. The morning’s nourishment: readings from the Psalms and the Book of Common Prayer:

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8.45 am. Fortified, I head for School, accompanied by Dr Webster along the Llanbadarn and Buarth Roads. The painters are making a final push to complete the redecoration of the interior by the end of this week, in readiness for Open Day:

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9.00 am. An hour of petty admin, that was: emails to Information Services about emails, failed trip notes, and website malfunctions; a tentative review of next semester’s diary and timetable; and a form-filling-in job reference for a sparkling former student. (Always a pleasure). 10.00 am. A late MA inquirer’s discussion. 11.00 am. A double-whopper postgraduate art history tutorial with Nicole, who’s on her final lap:

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Some principles and observations from this morning’s engagements:

  • Why are we surprised when, having committed ourselves to dispiriting grind, determined to be resolute, learned from our past defeats, and firmly understood what the work requires of us, we either improve or succeed?
  • There is a risk involved in any new venture. One might be exposed, overwhelmed, cast adrift, court failure. Alternatively, one’s life could be changed immeasurably and for the better. Such a possibility make some risks worth taking.
  • Darkness and light, acting together, are necessary to model form. So, too, our limitations as much as our capacities shape the outcome of our endeavours.

2.00 pm. The final push with the fourth Abstraction lecture. This would preoccupy me until late evening. 9.30 pm. Practice session 2.



September 5, 2015

9.00 am. A spot of Farmers’ Marketeering and a little Lidling. Lidl is a down-to-earth supermarket in the mould of deceased stalwarts like Gateway, Kwik Save, International, Somerfield, and the original Coop (pronounced ‘quorp’ in South Wales). Eggs are very reasonably priced here:

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10.15 am. The fifth push forward with lecture 4 for the Abstraction module, until 12.00 pm. After which, I made a first stab at writing up a description for The Wounded Heart Ministries sound work. One only need say enough, and as concisely and precisely as wit allows:

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2.00 pm. I reviewed the samples of engraved sounds, derived from the Welsh and English texts of the Second Commandment, in preparation for the Image & Inscription event, which will held at the National Screen & Sound Archive in a few weeks. The tracks required colour coding before processing could resume:

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5.10 pm. I uploaded The Wounded Heart Ministries track to my website. The site needs a little overhaul. I have better mixes of some of the earlier tracks and albums, many of which will be incorporated into the new CD:

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Even though the track sounds exactly the same as when I’m playing it on my desktop sound software, hearing it on a public site puts it at a distance from me. It’s like standing back from a picture after the last brushstroke has fallen. 5.20 pm. ‘Stop!’ 7.30 pm. An evening with the family.



September 4, 2015

8.30 pm. A short exchange of views with a colleague regarding the completed The Wounded Heart Ministries composition and the process of databending:

DR: Thanks for sharing, an interesting run, what was it that you bent? I found that sometimes the most useless looking file yielded the most harmonic/textural fruit. The process of enquiry is often unrewarding. Are you working on a full/long sequence of this? I think with this kind of thing (our kind of thing?) it is either high impact (brevity, volume, irregularity) or immersive (drone and incremental spatial or microtonal adjustment) that brings a satisfying wholeness to the ‘release’.

JH: The thing I ‘bent’ was the screen capture of a glitched website. I converted it into a variety of image formats (JPEG, TIFF, GIF, etc.), then as a RAW format, before importing the files into sound software and saving them in a WAV format. I also sampled sections of the source image (areas of absolute black, white and red, overlaid text, etc.), and afterwards collaged them together as a new whole, one which followed the logic of the source: repeated motifs, superimposition, erasure, deformation, and areas of emptiness, and so forth. 

It’s very hard to extract material from the file conversion that sounds sufficiently engaging. (Much of the source file translated into pink noise.) It’s tempting to process the output too much in order to compensate for its inadequacy — which is rather against the spirit of the unspoken rules of the game, I suspect. So brevity and concision were called for. The track, in its finished form, will be on the forthcoming Bible in Translation CD, along with the piece that I’ll be making at the National Screen & Sound Archive at the end of the month. 

I don’t think this process can yield the results that I need. Which is why I’m in discussion with Computer Science to see whether there are other ways of undertaking image-to-sound file conversion that might give me more consistent and controllable, and less obvious outcomes. 

9.30 am. I made a response to issues related to a much needed upgrade of the School’s main lecture theatre (We need a better sound system!) and recent NSS feedback on our provision, and answered postgraduate queries. 10.30 am. A second push with the fourth lecture for the Abstraction module, while edging the draft mix of The Wounded Heart Ministries to a conclusion:

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2.00 pm. Third push, and into Malevich and this …

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… a book that had a considerable influence on my conception of art history, and sealed the deal on my future career. It was presented to me, in 1976, as a school prize for my contribution to Milfraen House — one of the four divisions of the school, each named after a Welsh mountain. Mynydd Milfraen is a mountain close to Nantyglo Comprehensive School, which was closed in 2013. I’m surprised that it hadn’t been demolished by the pupils long before then. Like many comprehensive schools built in the early 1970s, the school was constructed of inadequate materials and furnishings that either punctured, cracked, or fell out within months of our occupation. The art room, drama studio, and music room were my ‘safe zones’. The only places and subjects where I could breath. I was woefully under par in all other dimensions of my education. In truth, I was headed either for the coal pit or an art school:

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View of the art rooms, Nantyglo Comprehensive School, 2001

For this reason, I’ve had, ever since, every sympathy for the academic underdog.

Arnason’s magisterial sweep across, and interweaving of, the painting, sculpture, and architecture of Modernism since the mid-19th century remained at my elbow throughout my undergraduate degree. I read it from beginning to end several times during that period. In ambition, clarity, and compelling story telling, it has not been surpassed:

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6.30 pm. Fourth push. 9.30 pm. Practice session 2.  Restraint is power. 



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