November 5, 2015

8.00 am. I reviewed emails and tinkered with my lecture sample PowerPoint before a time of contemplation and searching — inwards and outwards. 8.30 pm. After further work on the sampler, I packed my bags and headed out for the Old College. 9.35 am. The first of the day’s painting tutorials. Together, we looked at images by Jacob van Rusidael, and observed his sometimes eccentric placement of the horizon, low in the landscape. The sky and sea beyond the studio was a presentment of the very same principle. This one is for Fran:

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Back at the School, the main studio was eerily quiet. As is my habit, the first action on entering is always to turn on the lights: ‘Vanquish darkness!’ Phil ‘the porter’ is intent on scraping clean the entire area between the main studios, save one tile, by Open Day. Cross him at your peril:

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Some principles and observations from today’s discussions:

  • We’re apt to over-burden ourselves with the expectation of consistent success and unremitting improvement in our work. However, in reality, at best, we work — like we live — inconstantly, haltingly, oscillating between virtue and baseness, charity and meanness.
  • Endure boredom nobly.
  • Just because everything in Poundland costs a pound doesn’t mean that everything in painting needs be paint.
  • Exercise: Paint a transcription of another artist’s work. Remaking is just as instructive as making.
  • So often, whether we’re dealing with a landscape, the figure, a still life, an interior, or an abstraction, our paintings of such are also covert self portraits.
  • There comes a point in a tutorial when we need to address the meaning of the work in relation to the bigger picture of our life, belief system, values, and hopes. What is art, if not about these things?
  • If your preparatory work didn’t prepare you to undertake the final work, why did you make it?
  • Each finished painting is the next’s preparatory work.
  • Any creative act necessarily involves the implementation of certain specific skills at the expense of others. We can’t exercise all that we are capable of in any one work.
  • Avoid ‘the flowery way that leads to the broad gate and great fire’ (All’s Well That Ends Well). In painting as in life, choose the challenge, embrace the difficult, stick to the narrow and hard path.
  • Never steal the fruit of another artist’s labour. Always acknowledge your debt.

3.00 pm. A moment’s respite to jot down ideas arising from my exchanges:

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3.30 pm. Three to go! My last charge took me to see her prints downstairs in the steerage section of the our liner. There, Mr Croft runs a tight ship. Someone should make a Jim Dinesque drawing or etching based on these:

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Joseph Kosuth would have appreciated them. Conceptualism runs deep in this School, it seems. Students who undertake painting and another practice based discipline sometimes need to be reminded that ‘it’s all one’. Ideally, there should be a traffic of ideas from the one to the other. Moreover, a student may have resolved the very problem that they are dealing with in one medium, in the other … but not recognised the fact.

5.10 pm. The final hour; the eleventh Abstraction lecture:

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7.45 pm Off to the Arts Centre to see the cinematic interpretation of Macbeth. 10.45 pm. A ‘Night Watch’: time to catch up with what I’d otherwise have done had I not been galavanting about this evening.



November 4, 2015

8.00 am. Soul searching. Resolution. 8.30 am. A little website management before my ambulation to the School on a bland, still, and overcast Autumn morning:

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9.00 am. I had occasion to prepare for the the today’s and tomorrow’s teaching, chit chat with staff (the busyness of our lives makes theses exchanges too rare), and a chance answer correspondence. 9.30 am. A BA Dissertation tutorial on the topic of Abstract Expressionism and Bebop, followed by a PhD Fine Art tutorial with Eileen, who is nearing the conclusion of her extensive tapestry based on the troubles in Northern Ireland:

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12.00 pm. The School of Art Management Committee. During the next three hours, we trawled through a consideration of most every dimension of the School’s activities: research, teaching, and administration. 3.15 pm. Un déjeuner tardif. 3.30 pm. A tedious but necessary scrutiny of my CV, websites, and university profiles in order to discern what needed updating in terms of publications and such like. The remedial action will take some time. 

6.30 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. I made a start on a sample art history lecture, to be delivered at Saturday’s Open Day:

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I need to kill three birds with one stone: 1. Explain the nature of the discipline, 2. Demonstrate the discipline in action; and 3. Enthuse students about its study. And, in tandem, I turned on the propaganda machine — issuing Tweets and FaceBook posts in advance of the day. I received, from one of our alumni in response to the advert for the sampler (above), a lovely anecdote about what must have been my lecture on ‘Minimalism in Art and Music’, from the old Contemporary Art 1 module:

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November 3, 2015

8.00 am. The necessary preparations of the heart. Because the heart is, so often, the root of our problems, one should check its motivations, disposition, and inclinations daily. 8.45 am. Off to School for an initial hour of catch-up painting tutorials with those who were, for one reason or another, indisposed last Thursday. How does one explain the process of abstraction clearly and succinctly? It’s like sucking juice out of a slice of orange and throwing the remainder away. 10.00 am. An MA Fine Art tutorial with Sarah:

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11.10 am. The weekly Vocational Practice class was on the topic of professionalism — a concept that has long evaded any consensual definition in relation to the practice of art. 12.45 pm. A lunchtime conference with Mr Monaghan, one of our MA Fine Art alumni, over a particularly delicious (as ever) and well priced lasagne and salad. It was good to catch up on his busyness. Now, Pete is a (no bones about it) professional artist, in a way that I’m not:

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Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Not being able to articulate what you’re doing should not be confused with not knowing what you’re are doing. Some ideas and intentions begin below the level of words.
  • Sometimes, you know what you’re doing only because you’re doing what you already know. There’s no merit in this.
  • Begin modestly, proceed cautiously, and end ambitiously.
  • ‘Woe unto you when everyone speaks well of you’ (Luke 6.26). Good art will always have its detractors, just as surely as insipid and unaffecting work will always attract a large audience.

2.30 pm. A second MA Fine Art tutorial, followed by two advisory sessions on honing a PhD Fine Art proposal. One cannot underestimate the difficulty of the task. The student doesn’t want to give the impression of knowing the end from the beginning; at the same time, they need to demonstrate an awareness of where they’re going. That’s a very narrow tightrope to walk, indeed.

6.30 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. My trio of random 10″, 78 rpm records arrived today, intact. They were 60p each; a bargain:

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Onto  the surface of these, I’ll adhere each of the three pieces of the My Heart is Broken into Three record. In theory, and with a little deft balancing of the record player’s tone arm, the stylus will to remain in the air after it leaves, and when it returns to, the edge of the record’s segment, rendering it playable once more. On, then, with refreshing the next Abstraction lecture’s PowerPoint and scraping away the day’s deposit of emails.



November 2, 2015

8.00 am. A time for centring, comprehending, anticipation, regret, and resolution. 8.30 am. Finalised the PowerPoint presentation for this afternoon’s Abstraction lecture, checked colour nomenclature for a limited but rationale range of paint hues on the Liquitex site (which I recommend students to buy), and reviewed weekend emails. (I rarely respond to emails over the weekend, unless they’re urgent; to do so would give recipients the impression that I offer a 24/7 service … which I don’t, and won’t.) 9.00 am. On with the weekly adjustment, confirmation, and notification of teaching classes and tutorials, and chasing up absentees and varieties of correspondence to which I’d not yet received replies.

10.00 am. I returned to the sound studio to hear again the new Amen Amen mix that I’d produced on Saturday, and to tweak the clarity of The Family Bible Floats Through the Living Room track (both of which will be included on the new CD). 11.00 am. After making my replies to this morning’s broadcast of emails, I edged forward with my long overdue endeavour (inevitably, something goes to the back of the queue) to complete the photographic record of the three The Pictorial Bible series projects. I’d made a start photographing the third project’s painted works, out-of-doors, yesterday — taking advantage of an even afternoon light. However, there was a small fluctuation of light intensity across some of the images, which proved unacceptable. It’s not that I’m a perfectionist. Far from it. If I were, I’d have painted all the works again. (In my experience, ‘perfectionism’ is used by some artists and writers to excuse themselves from finishing anything — as though this was some kind of virtue.) In the pre-digital days, when the output photograph was a 35 mm transparency, you had to get the colour, tone, light distribution, focus, exposure, and angle of view correct, in camera. Picasso, on one occasion, had 90 photographs taken of each of his works, from which he picked the defining one.

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John Harvey, Chi Rho (Christogram) (2015)

Today, Photoshop can correct a multitude of anomalies. On, then, with rectifying pretty much every parameter of the source photograph. It may sound too obvious to mention, but it’s worth having the actual work to hand as you proceed. 12.40 pm. Further emailation.

1.40 pm. Out into the sort of day that brings forth the best in the town. I can imagine how Ben Nicolson would have drawn the scene:

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2.10 pm. Prior to the commencing the Abstraction lecture, a student representative from the Tell Us Now campaign canvassed my class with a questionnaire regarding the content and running of the module:

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3.20 pm. Back at homebase, I finalised module admin before taking up a PhD Fine Art draft text for a close and annotated review:

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At over 6,000 words in length, my reading and commentary on the submission was a necessarily slow process. In this instance, the engagement was a pleasure. My critique (note, not ‘feedback’) either pushed the writer’s ideas further, or pressed home a point, or sought amplification. ‘Feedback’ is not a term that I much value; it’s merely means passing information back to someone about their performance. ‘Critique’, by contrast, is a disciplined and systematic analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of their endeavours. It’s become something of a dirty word that sounds too much like ‘criticism’ for comfort, perhaps. However, like ‘critique’, ‘criticism’ is not principally a pejorative term expressing disdain, censure, disapproval, and fault finding. (Although it can mean these things.) It, too, is about balanced, rational, justifiable judgement and a reasoned discernment of what is good and bad about a person’s efforts. Granted, it’s sometimes painful to hear an unpalatable truth about something that you’ve laboured to produce to the best of your abilities. But you’ll learn more from that than from any pussyfooting, soft-gloved, faint praise you may receive. ‘The wounds of a friend are faithful’ (Proverbs 27.6). Today, I can self-flagellate with the same unrestrained zeal as I received at the mouth of my teachers.

6.30 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. I concluded the critique. Back, then, into the sound studio, to listen again to my tweaks of The family Bible track. Critique: this was now the best it could be. Not perfect. But, then again, I’ve never striven for that. 9.45 pm. Practice session 2.



October 31, 2015

All Hallows’ Eve. 8.45 am. I ruminated on yesterday’s sonic efforts. In so doing, my mind returned to John Tavener’s Fall and Resurrection (2000). It was premiered at St Paul’s Cathedral on 4 January of that year. I was conducting research in London at that time. I recall hearing, from the balcony of a flat at Blackfriars where I was staying, the peel of the Cathedral’s bells drifting across the Thames, late in the evening (which was unusual). What I was also listening too, unbeknown to me at the time, was the closing moments of the composition’s finale, ‘Cosmic Dance of the Resurrection: All is Transfigured’. Inside the Cathedral, the orchestra and choir had reached an ecstatic crescendo — creating a wall of sound (noise, almost) — which ceased suddenly; and as the final note reverberated throughout the capacious interior, the ringing benediction was revealed.

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11.00 am. I returned to the composition entitled Amen Amen. For some time, I’ve been discontent with the two-tone drone (one semitone apart) that underlies the composition; it’s insufficiently forward in the mix. Unfortunately, the errant tones are sealed within a bounced track, and so cannot be amplified independently of all the other sounds embedded along with it. The only solution was to manufacture drones of an identical timbre and to run them in parallel and beneath the original bounced track. A heavily distorted note, produced by an electric guitar played through effectors, was digitally sampled, frozen, recorded, imported into the composition’s session, and further modified to match the fabric of the whole. (Invisible mending, of sorts.):

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1.40 pm. The additional samples were edited to match the pattern of oscillation formed by the two original drones. Finally, monaural copies of the adjusted samples, pitched one octave lower, were layered beneath, and the composition realigned to balance the stereo field:

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I never complete the master mix in the same session as the composition. I’ll need to come back to it, later, with a fresh ear.

2.30 pm. I returned to Image and Inscription and commenced mapping a timeline of events leading up to, during, and following Moses’ receipt of the Ten Commandments. While the composition is focussed upon the prohibitions of the Second Commandment, nevertheless the context is important. Not least because this in the environment in which the visual and acoustic drama takes places. The framework of the sound piece will begin with the first of many ascents and descents of the Mount made by Moses, and end with his destruction of the two tables of the law. The act was symbolic of the Israelite’s transgression of Second Commandment (and, thus, of all ten) by fashioning the golden calf (Exodus 32.4):

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5.15 pm. Glory (unashamedly). Pause (necessarily). Stop:

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6.30 pm. An evening with my wife.



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