Month: October 2015

October 6, 2015

7.00 am. An interrupted night’s sleep. Perhaps something I ate. Time to get on top of the small tasks. 8.45 am. Off to School. There are signs of turbulence in the skies; ‘As below, so above’. 9.00 am. The first MA Fine Art tutorial of the new academic year. And this is odd: a painting of a forest by a former MA Fine Art student, Stephen Hampton, turns up, from who knows where, in the studio space of a new MA Fine Art student, whose passion is painting forests. One should take such coincidences seriously:


10.00 am. The second MA Fine Art tutorial of the morning. Different student; different complexion to the tutorial. That’s, in part, what makes these exchanges so rich and demanding. 11.10 am. Having done battle with a counter-intuitive and begrudging photocopier, I fell headlong into the second Vocational Practice class, dealing with small-group tutorials (of which the class was a prime example). The group is shaping up well; it already has cohesion and that internal and necessary self-respect. 12.30 pm. A second BA dissertation tutorial of the semester, on the topic of the visual culture of astrology. I’m learning a great deal.

1.00 pm. On the way to the railway station, I picked up lunch before beginning the first leg on my journey, in the drizzle, to Stourbridge. Emails confronted, instructions despatched, and diary updated, I settled to examine an MA Art History dissertation. (Reading the topic on a train was entirely apposite.) Approaching Borth: Autumn is present as much in the lowering sky as in the hues of the trees:


4.22 pm. I arrived at Smethwick GB and took another train to Stourbridge Junction, where I alighted the smallest train I’d ever been on, to Stourbridge Town:


From the town rail and bus station I took a shortish walk to The Talbot Hotel (pronounced ‘Tal’ not ‘Tall’): formerly, a seventeenth century town house of some substance … that must be haunted. It simply must. My room is spacious and characterful, and like the rooms I used to stay in on holiday with my parents as a child. I’ll endeavour to sit on every chair before my stay is out, to get my money’s worth. Old hotels no longer boast trouser and tie presses:



The wifi is super slow. The offer of free wifi always has a sting in its tale. Having settled, I was off to town in search of an evening meal … until I found the bar/restaurant in the hotel, and remained there. An acceptable lasagne was had:


7.10 pm. I revived my original intent and made a brief walk up and down the High Street, before committing myself to understanding how the shower worked. I stare at the mantlepiece in the hope that an ornament might move without mortal agency. This clearly isn’t the Overlook Hotel. I showered to the commentary of a BBC 4 documentary on the Birmingham and Stourbridge canal system. I’ve watched Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) too many times to be entirely comfortable taking a shower in a hotel with the bathroom door unlocked. 8.30 pm. A time for reflection.

October 5, 2015

8.00 am. A time for reflection, repentance, restitution,  and resolve. 8.30 am. A little Blackboard updating, a little inbox deflating, a little filial communicating, before preparing for this afternoon’s Abstraction lecture, and collecting my thoughts about research matters that’ll be undertaken in the next few weeks. In the sound studio, next to my study, I continued processing the S/SNA files in the background, while adding a single guitar note:


10.30 am. After the period of settlement and establishment during this last two weeks, I reinstated my old regime. On with various, small funding applications to support the publication of the next CD and start-up administration for the ‘Daughter of Noises of Art‘ conference. 12.30 pm. An early lunch, before a return to School for the afternoon’s teaching schedule.

1.30 pm. The first BA dissertation tutorial of the year on a topic that crosses painting and music. 2.10 pm: Abstraction, and into Cubism:


I’m aware that the students’ reticence to speak up in lectures in response to questions is caused by a lack of confidence coupled with self-consciousness, rather than a dearth of intelligence and knowledge. We need to work on this. As I remind them, it’s better to say something daft than nothing at all. Rarely is ‘daft’ so far from the mark of what is required.

3.00 pm. A discussion with Penny Icke of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales about an ‘inspirational’ project, to be run by the Commission, that will permit students, creative writers, and professional artists to access their archives with a view to generating creative engagement. Even as Penny and I talked, names and faces from within our community came to mind as being ideal candidates for the occasion. 4.30 pm. To close the day, a PhD Fine Art tutorial.

7.30 pm. Time to prepare for tomorrow’s jaunt to Stourbridge, where I’ll be representing the School at a higher education arts fair. Well, it’s day out:


Afterwards, I updated modules, registers, and notifications about coming events.

We live in strange and unsettling days. The freedom to be, act, and speak according to conscience and with due regard for the best interests of others — which we once considered sane and self-evident — is threatened. Fear and panic have corroded that freedom; control has replaced trust; blame and shame have become the primary motivators; compliance and surrender are made the touchstones of loyalty; statistics become the measure of reality; manipulation is masked by good intentions; and plans substitute for vision. As a consequence, the heart is made heavy; the soul shrinks; the spirit is broken; and the intellect, bound.

Historically, liberation has always been the powerhouse of productive change. Moses said to Pharaoh: ‘Let my people go!’ Thus began a journey that led to the Promised Land.

Towards another life.




October 3, 2015

8.10 am. Oh, miserable and dreadful world! Contact with the server that hosts my website had been lost:

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 08.34.28

I filled the time — that would otherwise have been set apart for dairy updating on my site — by finalising a number of postgraduate references. 8.45 am. Wondrous joy, with thanksgiving!; the website server was resurrected. I was told that it had crashed overnight, and the automatic monitoring tools weren’t able to restart it. 9.45 am. I pushed outwards towards the School to post the references. There, Tali, one of our MA Fine Art retirees, was performing an act of wanton iconoclasm in order to ready her studio space for the next occupant. Then, on to town to do battle with Boots the chemists over delayed prescriptions, and to harvest fresh vegetables at the Farmers’ Market:


10.20 am. Back to the Dialogues3 descriptor, and to the construction of my website’s account of the event. 12.00 pm. I fired up the sound studio’s console in readiness for a review of the recordings made on Thursday evening. An equipment check indicated a break in the triple pedalboard circuit that required some attention. 12.30 pm. Fixed!

2.00 pm.  I began a two-fold review, first, of the new Image and Inscription files and, secondly, of the Suspension/Strictly No Admittance recordings.  In respect to the former, there are files that, while not being suitable for the intended composition, have merit and could be developed as an independent track. 3.30 pm. I explored a new (to me) method of recording through the mixer directly to the MacBook’s DAW via the USB. Then, I reprocessed some of the S/SNA files through effectors in order to tease out some of the higher frequencies:




I’m aware that I need to build the sound layers in exactly the same way as Sandra constructed the paintings: from the bottom layer to the top. What, then, is the sound analogue for unprimed canvas, for primed canvas, and for the base layer of the painting, and so forth? Should the sound work reveal the process of incremental painting, or the sum of those layers only? In the exhibited works, Sandra presents a summation — the final product — of that process. Sound is time based and linear; sound artworks have the capacity to present both the process of accretion and the product, and, indeed, to present the process as the product.

5.30 pm. Press ‘esc’. 6.30 pm. An evening to myself.

October 2, 2015

9.00 am. Off to School on a winning autumn morning. Quite the best time of the year:


On arrival, we discovered that there was no one in building who had keys to open the galleries for the external examiner. 9.15 am. I updated registers and Blackboard and prepared for a telephone conversation with a BBC researcher, who was putting together a radio series on the topic of the invisible. 10.00 am. The conversation. I suspect they’ll return to me at a later date for a fully-fledged interview on the topic of spirit photography and spirt audiography. The purpose of these initial calls is to test whether the ‘expert’ knows their stuff, and can articulate such without too many pauses, splutters, and ungrammatical inelegances. (Editors love interviewees who can speak in complete sentences.) 11.00 am. A final feedback discussion with one of our retiring MA Fine Art students.

Another retiree (who had, incidentally, already been marked) kindly baked me a gluten-free chocolate slab cake. Yum! Too good to keep to oneself:


11.45 am. On with a raft of references that have to be completed in the next few days. 1.00 am. I attended the examination board, with lunch, to discuss the show and its participants, and finalise the marks. With David Ferry, this is always an instructive, positive, and enabling (dreadful cliché) conversation, with fair and unanimous outcomes. 2.20 pm. Business done; everyone satisfied; justice and equity prevailed.

2.45 pm. The assessment feedback having been posted, I got down to my final reference. The MA exhibition was getting down too:


In the background to all things, I was twiddling knobs to produce a range of Bebe and Louis Barron-type moans and groans. (Quite unnerving with the right amount of reverb.) Ben, one of our MA Fine Art retirees, is helping me find a software solution to create a real-time visualisation of these noises for an Open Day presentation. 4.00 pm. I knuckled down to my teaching diary for the next week. There’s much to fit in and around a day and a half away from university mid week.

7.30 pm. Bloomsbury Publishers (who published the Harry Potter books) contacted me about a potential book on the bible and visual culture. I responded with a cautionary tone:

You need to be careful about is any overlap with the forthcoming The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Bible and Arts, to which I contributed. The book covers other art forms besides the strictly visual (music, drama, film etc.). Of course, there’s room for another publication in the field, but it will have to define its territory in relation to the Oxford book. One thing needful is a reference book that deals with methodologies of studying the visual art in relation to the bible. A good model is The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion ( This includes a chapter on the bible and visual culture (which I wrote); but the book’s reach is far far broader in all directions. Indeed, the problem I had was in condensing methodological approaches the bible and visual art and culture. The topic required a much larger canvas. 

One of the salient limitations of both publications is their failure to properly deal with contemporary art and new media. (I touched upon this in my own The Bible as Visual Culture ( Moreover, today, the visual arts are not hermetically sealed; they seep into, for example, music and, most notably, sound art to form hybrids and interdisciplinary practices. So, a book on the bible and the visual arts only may already sound a little dated to the ears of art historians, fine artists, and art researchers. 

The other limitation of existing books on, or close to, the subject is that they are addressed to biblical and religious studies scholars primarily, rather than to scholars and practitioners in the visual arts. So, to my mind, there is still an audience who is under served in respect to this subject. 

8.30 pm. I sat and began to write a description of my response to Sandra’s paintings, yesterday evening. What’s happening on the surface of her works:






October 1, 2015

8.15 am. Emails opened, answers posted, and submissions collated, filed, and foldered. 8.50 am. Off to School to pick up my laptop on the way to my first tour of duty at the Old College studios. Can there be a more wonderful walk to work than this?:


10.15 am. Hot chocolate in hand, courtesy of the Cabin, I mounted the stone stairs to the West Classroom. When light enters, I’m filled with expectation:


10.30 am. Off we go, and the first, third year painting tutorial of the morning. The students dribble in, coughing like TB patients. ‘Freshers’ flu’ has struck again. This illness is in danger of becoming institutionalised. Some principles and observations:

  • We can be burdened by our failures and underachievement in the past. This heavy rucksack needs to be dropped at the foot of the mountain before we make our next ascent.
  • Natural talent is not fixed. You can enter art school with great ability and it atrophy for want of exercise. Alternatively, you can enter art school with a modicum of ability and it grow significantly with exercise.

1.00 pm. Back to the School and to a working lunch before Professor David Ferry, the external examiner for Fine Art, arrived at 1.30 pm. He was impressed by the quality of the show overall. The students have been allocated to one of three groups. The first group saw him this afternoon, and he interviewed each member individually thereafter. Periodically, I looked in on those waiting for and returning from their vivas. ‘Stop fussing!, John.’ 2.00 pm. A third year fine art tutorial with a ‘go-between’ (being a student who works across two mediums):


I want to get rid of one cabinet immediately, and both eventually. What do I do with all the files of slide transparencies? Today, the Internet is my image bank and computers, my filing cabinets. I rarely open the draws of their analogue predecessors any longer. Mid afternoon, I had the opportunity to prepare a wall for my first ever white board (non-interactive) to be installed. Now, I’ll be a proper teacher. More de-paperisation followed.

7.30 pm. Having shipped out an economic and portable range of sound equipment to the School, I set up in the Project Room to fulfil Live Art: Dialogues3: ‘Strictly No Admittance’. The modulation, looping, and recording processes were facilitated by Apple Logic X, controlled by an Apogee GiO Floorboard:


9.00 pm. Job done! I’ll need to write up a description of the projects aims and outcomes, as well as process the recording before it can be released publicly.




September 30, 2015

8.20 am. A disposal of emails with attachments to staff pertaining to postgraduate allocations of various sorts before a walk to School, cutting a track down Llanbardarn Road, up Pound Place (I wonder why so called), and Trinity Road, passed the church, and on to the Buarth. 9.10 am. Further email flurries. My ‘To Do Today’ and ‘To Do This Week’ lists grow, dispiritingly. 10.00 am. A PhD Fine Art tutorial with Eileen:


11.30 am. The beginning of a day of MA Fine Art assessments. That the show is strong doesn’t make the task any easier. Sarah was feeling the pressure … getting the jitters:



In my capacity as either first supervisor or second marker, I assessed until 5.15 pm, with half hour for lunch. (This is a nobbling regime.) Some principles and observations:

  • The more ‘mature’ MA students have been among those who have made the greatest leap forward since Exhibition 1. Age is no obstacle to artistic vitality and growth. On the contrary, it may be contributory factor.
  • More than native talent, cognisance of the context of one’s operations, technical expertise, and intellectual wherewithal, the capacity for hard work is the necessary foundation for success.
  • We should expect to exceed our own expectations (and, indeed, those of others).
  • We may not feel success, even when we have achieved it.
  • We may feel successful, even when we aren’t.

5.15 pm. Even the light draws lines here:


7.30 pm. An evening writing up assessment reports in readiness for the external examiner’s arrival, tomorrow.

The discussions about student satisfaction rubble on. Of course, students should receive the best quality of teaching and care and resources we can offer. But not at any cost. Balancing principles are required:

  • Staff must place professional integrity before popularity. They mustn’t be afraid to upset or rebuke a student when it is clearly in a student’s best interests. Any other attitude is irresponsible in my opinion.
  • The concept of student satisfaction is becoming a form of benign intimidation. It should be resisted as such.
  • The concept of student satisfaction is primarily about the student’s perception of reality, rather than about the nature of the reality itself (which may be very different). 
  • Disgruntled students can respond to questionnaires selfishly, mischievously and unintelligently. They are human, like the rest of us. 
  • Negative comments may be representative of a small minority of students only (particularly in a department the size of the School of Art). One doesn’t turn a cruise liner around ship just because a few passengers are seasick.
  • There’ll always be criticism, even when it’s not deserved. 

If everyone (students and staff) in the School were mobilised towards a common goal, fuelled by equality of commitment and an intensity of passion (savoured with honesty, optimism, and goodwill) then anything would be possible.