Month: December 2015

December 10, 2015

8.40 am. Off to the Old College in a heavy downpour and a driving wind. It was miserable. But we are comparatively well-off here, for the moment. Elsewhere in the UK, the weather has been a matter of life, death, and considerable loss. I held my final third year painting tutorials for the semester. The emphasis was upon preparations for the January assessments:

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10.20 pm. I made my way back to the School to fulfil the same agenda. Some principles and observations derived from today’s tutorials:

  • The best things happen somewhere between intent and accident.
  • To see the way forward we need to look backward — at the work that we’ve done and the life that we’ve lived.
  • There’s an uncomfortable middle ground that all dedicated art students have to walk over; it lies between where they’ve been and where they’re going.
  • There’s no going back; one cannot return to either a subject or a way of doing things other than by encountering it again in the future and further down the road.
  • Self critique: weigh up the credit and deficit, determine the strengths and weaknesses, and establish the head and tail of your work before you get the feedback assessment. Demonstrate your awareness. Be in command of your studentship.
  • Modules are merely containers; it’s the content which the student pours into them that’s important.
  • Bless your limitations. Better to be remarkably good at one thing than merely competent in many.
  • Better a modest success than an overambitious failure.

2.00 pm. More third year painting tutorials …


… the, finally, the last Abstraction lecture. (Note to self: This should be spread over two lectures, next time around.):


The lecture highlighted one of the principles that emerged from today’s tutorials, namely, that to determine the way forward, abstract painters often look back at, and learn from, earlier artists’ practice. We can grow only when planted in the soil of a tradition.

7.00 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. I finalised some teaching admin, closed the books on the Abstraction module, and posted off my good wishes to the bunch:


Winding down a term is a slow and deliberate business. And this has been a particularly heavy, complex, demanding and, yet, an encouraging one.


December 9, 2015

8.30 am. Emails and appointments for the day dispatched, confirmed or otherwise redirected, I used the first hours of the working day to completing the text for the public ‘talk’:

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An interesting comment was posted to the dairy from one of our former PhD Art Historians related to my feeling and experiences and the events of yesterday:

Dear John, interestingly I too felt at odds with the day 08/12/2015, I too had Christmas lunch with my art students, I too had problems logging onto search sites … perhaps this was a day of synchronicity? 

10.30 am. Off to School. 10.45 am. I made a Skype call to a temporary withdrawree from the PhD Fine Art degree. 11.10 am. An MA inquirer arrived a little earlier than anticipated, which helped my timetable enormously. It’s always encouraging to encounter folk who have had the courage to return to education later in life and against the odds. Many get to this point because, beyond this point, there is no the point. The decision may be a matter of necessity and urgency, often.

12.00 pm. A School of Art Management Committee. 2.10 pm. I returned to homebase to take a flying lunch and complete the ‘talk’:

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6.30 pm. Practice session 1. 7.20 pm. Off to see the annual Winter Show at the School. The blurb:

A one night, pop up event of twenty seven interdisciplinary student projects that have been selected by Miranda Whall and Greg Bevan via proposals. Teaching rooms, offices, studios, corridors, corners and cupboards in the beautiful Edwardian Edward Davies building are transformed and illuminated for two hours only by projections, audio and video installations, performances, drawings, sculptures etc. Over the weeks leading up to the exhibition students have carefully considered how their projects can subtly and dynamically intervene with the character and architectural features of this elegant building. The result is a magical evening of exciting creative work from across the school of Art and TFTS.




This show always has an edge to it — a sense of danger, daring, and unrest. It’s more in the spirit of Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitables than, say, a Fluxus event. It was good to see some of the School’s alumni back under its room once again. They’d come home, if only as visiting members of our extended family.

December 8, 2015

8.30 pm. I tidied up and printed the conclusion of the last Abstraction lecture before heading for the School. One wakes, occasionally, feeling instinctively at odds with the day. It’s as though the world and oneself has slipped marginally out of sync overnight. This is such a day. 9.00 am. There were networking problems effecting the whole university. My Dropbox was unreachable, SAMS (the online register database) behaved uncharacteristically, and, eventually, all web searches proved futile. I pressed on with postgraduate admin — corresponding with PhD inquirers, reading and commenting on draft proposals, and looking ahead.

10.30 am. The first MA Fine Art tutorial of the day followed by the final Vocational Practice class of the semester. After which, we headed as a group for Le Figaro for a spirited Christmas lunch together:


2.00 pm. I reviewed a PhD Art History resubmission (which had only minor amendments to be made) and, thereafter, caught up with my second MA Fine Art tutorial for the day. The tutee had arrived at the School later than intended,  having been redirected through North Wales from Welshpool in order to avoid the floods. In between bouts of admin, I held two undergraduate dissertation tutorials. They’ll need to submit a draft by late January:


4.30 pm. The final appointment of the afternoon: an extended pastoral tutorial.

6.30 pm. An early return to work. I’ve a 20 minute ‘talk’ on the theme of ‘The Nativity: Image and Reality’ to prepare for a Sunday afternoon congregation:

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It’s one of the few occasions that I have work at the boundary of my professional and ecclesiastical lives in the public domain. In part, the talk explores the ways in which artists imagined the context of Christ’s birth prior the opening up of the Middle East in the nineteenth century.

December 7, 2015

Saturday was a sabbath for diary writing. One must break a routine in order to demonstrate that one is in still in control of it. A productive day. I found solutions to playing all three of the record’s fragments, but at 33 rpm rather than their intended 78 rpm. Any faster, and the tone arm skidded off the disc. Therefore, the speed of the recording I made was condition by the limitations of the medium (the record) in relation to the technology of playing (the turntable) (see video: My Heart is Broken in Three: Piece 1):

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The length of the composition will be 6 minutes and 18 seconds, being the extent of original track when played at 33 rpm. I’ve not yet heard the original recording of the song, sung by Slim Whitman. Nor do I wish to, until my chance re-composition of the source is complete.

8.30 am. For the last time until the new year, I set up the week’s tutorial appointments. There were quite a number of last minute requests to fit in. Weather-wise, I enjoyed a more optimistic start to the day. The storm that hit Aberystwyth nearly two years ago is hardly to be compared with what folk in the north of England have had to suffer recently, in the wake of Hurricane Desmond:


11.00 am. Time to invigorate the final Abstraction lecture PowerPoint, for Thursday. 1.40 pm. Off to School to set up for the penultimate Abstraction lecture — something of a heavyweight (and certainly not for late Thursdays):


This was followed by an early feedback tutorial with one of our students who’s returning to Norway to continue her studies. Her stay was for only one semester. We’ll miss her. ‘God’s speed!’


Before home, I put my nose around the corner of a a fine art student’s ‘stall’ to check on their progress in solving a particular vexing area of painting. 3.45 pm. Back to homebase to complete Thursday’s lecture.

6.30 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. on with the lecture and my contribution to the School’s ‘Save the Porter’ enterprise. Phil is one of the team. He makes the School tick, and he’s a joy to work alongside. Losing him will be for us — staff and students — a mini bereavement.The lecture has more slides than several of the other’s put together. A late night was in order in order to resolve it.

December 4, 2015

8.45 am. The sound studio required a little reorganisation before I could set up the turntables and mixers to begin recording My Heart is Broken in Three. This would not be the focus of the day’s endeavours. Once set up, the project ticked over in the background. I’d no idea whether anything of merit would emerge from it, or indeed whether playing the fragments of record was technically possible, once the needle hit the groove. Which is why, in part, the project seemed eminently worth pursuing. (I like not knowing.) From the outset, I appreciated that the task would not be achievable immediately. Persistence and innovation were required. One unexpected realisation, which arose from my struggles, concerned the sonic potential of records’ painted surface. I discovered that it’s possible to play paint. (For the future.)


11.00 am. In between disc wrangling, I reviewed the opening section of Image and Inscription. I was discontent with the ascension motif and its position in the section. In the text, Moses’ initial climb up the mountain is a bridge between the description of the wilderness and the first account of God’s voice. More properly, the ascension belongs with the second section and verse 3 of Chapter 19. Removing the motif had implications for the composition of the whole section.

12.21 pm. Advice from IS has resolved my research database access problem, which I’d aired with them on Saturday. 12.30 pm. In the absence of the ascension motif, the first section gelled more tightly, its parts functioned for effectively and economically, and the overall length of the piece was shortened moderately. All welcome outcomes.

1.40 pm. I made few minor painterly adjustments to the three discs. Once dry, I tested each one again. I was gradually moving towards a solution:


What a I did know, however, was that the fragments couldn’t be played at 78 rpm. The force of the gyration unseats the tone arm and sends it spinning off the turntable like an astronaut cut loose from their ship in space. I’ll need to record the samples at 33 rpm and then speed them up, digitally, to the equivalent of 78 rpm. 2.00 pm. Section two began with the ascension motif playing along with the drones of the ‘mothership’. This proved to be a much better solution.

3.00 pm. I returned to the track called Weaknesses, Sicknesses, Diseases (Of All Kinds). The voice introduction needed to be pushed further back into the composition, and the tail of the piece, cut. Simultaneously, I set up my new record turnable to take it for a spin. Both turntables have exactly the same functionality. This condition is necessary for the work that’ll commence on The Talking Bible project, in the new year.


6.30 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. I rendered some paternal assistance to one of my brood who is applying for positions. How hard it is to get onto the first rung of the ladder these days. 8.30 pm. Back on the CD trail, and a reconsideration of voice rhythms on one track. Acute attention to the internal beat of the music is required. Stay on it, be a little ahead of it, but don’t lag behind it. Now, there’s a lesson in life.


December 3, 2015

8.40 am. Off to the Old College. Officially, this is the darkest November in many a year. I can believe it. The pervasive grey sky seemed to suck the colour and life out of everything and everyone it bore down upon:


The prevailing sickness is taking its toll on studentship. When good students who attend regularly don’t turn up, you know something serious is amiss. Found paintings in the West Classroom:




10.30 am. Back at the School, I readied myself for a day of second year tutorials. Some principles and observations derived from my engagements:

  • We should try on artistic styles like clothes: see what fits, what’s comfortable, what’s us.
  • Buy decent brushes and paints; painting is hard enough with them and too painful without them.
  • We are tested as much upon an ability to discern our limitations and the problems that underlie the work, as we are upon the work itself.
  • We each have too many abilities for either one life or one practice. That’s part of the problem.
  • In exercising either an ability or an intent we may also exorcise it; some facilities and ideas are for but one work, rather than for a lifetime.
  • Our greatest work will be inward and invisible: the deepening of conviction; the nurturing of the soul life; and the refining of the mind. The quality of the outward and visible work is intimately bound up with this.
  • The problem is not that we make mistakes (this is inevitable) but, rather, that we fail to understand, and too often repeat, them. We can learn much from the original mistake … next to nothing from same mistake again.
  • There’s a moment, a realisation, a possibility, that we need to seize as soon as it occurs, otherwise it’ll pass us by and on to someone else.
  • Two choices often present themselves: to do either the obvious or the most difficult. Always choose the latter.

Late afternoon, in a space created by one absentee, I took time to look in on another colleague’s student. (My previous attempts had been frustrated.) Her sound work was fascinating; captivating. 5.10 pm the antepenultimate Abstraction lecture on ‘The Postmodern Condition’. We’re now in a very different world. I found myself longing for what what had gone before. Occasionally, problems with my laptop interrupted the flow of the presentation. With the best will in the world, one can’t foresee such anomalous behaviour. No big deal! The show went on.

6.45 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. I finalised teaching admin for the week, prepared the PowerPoint for Monday’s Abstraction lecture, and examined my grants budgets.

December 2, 2015

9.00 am. A PhD Fine Art proposal-development consultation with one of our former MA graduates. The MA degree enables you to measure the breadth of the ocean, a PhD degree, its depth. But one must first jump off the end of the pier. The proposal is that leap. 10.00 am. An MA Fine Art tutorial with another colleague’s student on matters related to ‘thin places’, seeing the future in the present, seeing the past by means of deep-space telescopy, scrying, and John Dee’s obsidian mirror:


John Dee’s Obsidian mirror (courtesy of the British Museum, London)

11.00 am. A PhD Fine Art tutorial in which we constructed a sound sample based upon a stitch made in fabric. The aim was to manufacture a menacing  tonality, such as one might associate with the ringing in the ears and loss of acuity that follows a bomb blast (which this student had been involved in, many years ago). What other job would enable one to move between such fascinating and different worlds in the course of a morning’s work?

2.00 pm. Back to filling in/out the research database. So much of what I produce ends up in the ‘other’ category. To my mind, this demeans the outputs even before they’re considered by the reader/audience/audient. Projects due for completion between now and 2019 were added, finally.

Some good news: I secured an award for the production and release of the double CD next year. (‘I get by with a little help from my fiends’.) In the background, I sneaked a view at the on-going debate in Parliament over Syrian airstrikes. The outcome is almost inevitable, alas:

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6.30 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. I endeavoured to complete my final self-monitoring review form by the end of the evening. Too much navel staring is unhealthy. Blowing one’s own  trumpet is noxious. Parading one’s achievements is against my grain. ‘Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing’. 9.40 pm. I was closing in on completion. One more hour and I’d be home.


December 1, 2015

7.00 am. As soon as my feet touch the bedroom floor, the symptoms (headaches, nausea, congestion, and aching) return. Drug up! Push on! 9.00 am. The first hour of Tuesday morning is set aside as a Personal Tutorial drop-in. In between ‘clients’, I caught up with absenteeism (this task never ends) and began reinvigorating the PowerPoint for Thursday’s Abstraction lecture.

10.00 am. I held an MA Fine Art tutorial. Today, the emphasis was on pruning, distilling, editing, rarifying, and focussing. All terribly difficult stuff. 11.10 pm. The first of the year’s MA Forum sessions. Each practice-based student introduced a piece of their recent work and invited observations from the group.

2.00 pm. Because I cannot access the university’s research database outside the firewall, I’m forced to do so from my office at work. A suitably polite but off-putting sign was placed on my door:


I ought to like databases: they’re structured, outwardly rationale, easily accessible. But I deplore (some of) them. Possibly, because they’re inflicted upon me, or reproduce material that’s already on other, similar websites elsewhere, or else the data fields distort the nature of the input type. But these things have to be done … if grimly.


My prohibition notification has been solidly effective all afternoon. ‘Of the making of databases, there is no end’. The night descends:


5.15 pm. I quit the work and packed for home.

6.30 pm. Practice session 2. 7.30 pm. Another review form to be completed. It will hours to fill in; evidently, it took minutes to compose (and badly at that). The choice is to fill in the form either in an anodyne or acerbic manner. I honestly cannot imagine anyone asking me these questions to my face. My cold has taken hold again this evening. It progresses in an undulating fashion: peaks and troughs.

I’ve met all of my objectives this year, more or less. The ‘factors’ contributing to success included:

  • compressed periods of teaching during the week that allow space for meaningful periods for research and dedicated time for admin;
  • micro-managing every day and setting short-term deadlines for projects;
  • maintaining informed and courteous relationships with collaborators, and seeking advice from those who are better in the know, constantly;
  • a willingness to court failure, risk embarrassment and misunderstanding, and reinvent myself;
  • doing only what I really want to do, as far as it’s within my power.

By 11.59 pm tonight the Abstraction assessment submissions will be in.

November 30, 2015

Yesterday: the start of Advent; the beginning of the first ‘coming’ (Greek: parousia).

Today: 8.30 am. The days, these days, never seem to come to full bloom. My study is cast into perpetual gloom from early morning until around 4.00 pm (when it gets properly dark). And ‘the rain it raineth every day’. This day began, following Monday’s now established pattern, with tutorial admin, followed by PhD correspondence. Because so many of our PhD students study part time, and live away from the university, fairly regular exchanges of emails between tutor and tutee are common and very necessary.

A box, masquerading as one containing a guitar, had turned up:


It turned out to be the box which contained my new heavy duty record turnable … which is far smaller than the box, and squarish. I could hardly contain my disappointment.

11.00 am. Back to School, to pick up module assessment forms, set up materials for the afternoon’s lectures, and prepared for the day’s re-routed third and second year tutorials. 11.30 am. Off to the Old College, battling against the rain, feeling like Mr Turner strapped to a mast in the storm (only walking).

1.40 pm. Back to School (again), to set up for the Abstraction lecture. Three more to go:


3.00 pm. The remainder of the afternoon was set aside for micro-tutorials (15 mins), in order to make up for the regular ones that I couldn’t deliver last Thursday, due to my indisposition:


I went through the module criteria assessment sheet with each student in turn, to ensure that they understood the nature of the rope by which they’d be hanged in January. (Some found this to be a somewhat alarming metaphor.) By the end of this week, my aim is to have them fully aware of all that they must require of themselves by their return to studies. Some observations and principles derived from today’s classes:

  • Sometimes, it’s the things we do on the margins of our core activities (unselfconsciously) that prove to be sign posts pointing the way forward.
  • Failure is the necessary underpainting of success.
  • You might be a stranger painter than you could’ve ever imagined.
  • When looking at the work of an artist whom we admire and are influenced by, we see a partial reflection of our own visual identity. In other words, our influences are not arbitrary; they’re drawn to us by a principle of natural affinity.
  • When in doubt, do! (This is not a piece of advice for any other department of life outside of creative practice.)
  • Richard Diebenkorn grew as a painter by yielding himself, very conspicuously, to the influence of a great many other painters. They were the fertiliser to his soil. One must be influenced. To imagine otherwise is hubris and self-delusion.
  • Celebrate your eccentricities.

A new guest or an infiltrator?: Thomas Johnes, best known for his development of the Hafod Estate in Wales. (‘Don’t blink! Don’t even blink! Blink, and you’re dead!’):


6.30 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. modular adminery. I fielded eleventh-hour requests for advice of the Abstraction submission, which are due in tomorrow, and disposed recommendations to fellow sufferers, as a fellow sufferer, on how to deal with this darn cold.