Month: May 2016

May 17, 2016

8.50 am. Off to School to retrieve another batch of marking, and to return processed items:


On my return to homebase, I began a review of the MA Vocational Practice teaching experience submissions. These documents are always encouraging to read. I was impressed by the maturity, tact, discernment, and supportiveness that the students demonstrated in their engagement with undergraduates in one-to-one tutorials. As a School, we have a responsibility to train-up the next generation of tutors. The following is an extract from my comments upon one student’s first attempts at teaching. (For my part, it’s like witnessing a birth):

A very good account all round. You dealt with your tutee with a combination of circumspection and authority. As you’ve realised, you have to be in control while at the same time allow the student room to manoeuvre and the freedom to reject ideas that have been offered to them. Your account balanced a very good descriptive outline of the tutee’s work (which I can vouch for) with a sound appraisal of the dynamics of the interaction on both occasions. Your advice was well conceived and appropriate, and your assessment of their strengths and weaknesses, spot on.

At 2.00 pm, at the School, several staff convened to decide the outcome of double marking for the undergraduate art history dissertations. There were a number of excellent submissions among the batch. At home, I completed assessing the one-to-one tutorial experiences of the Vocational Practice group, and entered dates for final board meetings into my calendar. The end is nigh!


After dinner, during my practise session, I centred my attention on one effector pedal — the Zvex, Vexter Series Fuzz Factory. It’s a ‘demon’ of a device, one that takes patient attention and much experimentation to bring to heel. But the effort was rewarded:


Evening. Before returning to the Vocational Practice marking, I responded to a general issue, which was raised by one of my esteemed colleagues, concerning student expectations about marks. Every semester, a few students will feel hard-done by. In most cases, they’ve not received the mark that either they expected or else was comparable to, or better than, one that they’d received last semester in the same subject. Even though, by their reckoning, they’d worked just as hard, if not harder. My conviction is thus:

  1. Hard work is foundational, but it’s not enough. Indeed, it’s the least of it. (Although, I think some students’ understanding of hard work and my understanding of the same are qualitatively different.) It’s neither the hours that one puts in, nor the energy that one expends but, rather, the prolonged intensity of one’s application over time that reaps the reward.
  2. ‘I really wanted a first’; ‘I needed a first’, are familiar pleas (to which tutors must turn a deaf ear). But what they really need is an equitable judgement that reflects their true ability. That’s what they should want too.
  3. What is demanded of a student increases incrementally within the study program, semester by semester, level by level, and year by year. It’s a shifting exchange rate between challenge and achievement. Thus, a mark of, say, 72%, received last semester, may equate to one of only 67-8%, this semester.
  4. An explanation as to why they’ve received the mark awarded is provided in the assessment tutorial and on the feedback form that follows. That they often don’t recognise the deficits highlighted therein is at the root of their problem. Delusionalism is a stubborn weakness.
  5. How may they improve their performance? Generically, through developing: a) an increased understanding of the discipline, b) a greater cognisance of what they are determining to achieve, c) a far more critical attitude to their own work, d) a commitment to immersing themselves in those qualitative precedents and practices bearing upon her work, from which they might learn, and e) humility.

No doubt such comments will cause offence to some. But ‘faithful are the wounds of a friend’ (Proverbs 27.6). On with assessing the small-group projects.

May 16, 2016

9.00 am. Email correspondence dispatched, I continued the weekend’s review of the British Landscape exam scripts and recording marks, in general, in readiness for second and external examiners. Close to noon, my vicar sent me sad news about the, not unexpected, death of Bill Williams. He was 95:

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© Jenny Lovell / Royal Society of Chemistry

Bill was a lecturer at the Edward Davies Building when it was a Chemistry department. Indeed, he was the last man out of the building when the department closed, only to reopen again as the School of Art. He was member of the congregation at Holy Trinity Church, Aberystwyth. I’d often sit next to or near him, and serve as his human walking stick as we shuffled to and from the communion rail. He’d sometimes be seen playing the piano in the double gallery as part of his informal quartet. (Bill was an accomplished pianist.) He took every opportunity to return to his blesséd ‘EDB’. And, in one sense, it had belonged to him. His efforts, during his time as a lecturer in organic chemistry, to ensure that the building was fit for purpose were legendary. He was a gentleman of the old school: private, unassuming, courteous, gracious, and a with a memory and intellect that had remained intact to the very end.

12.30 pm. I needed a distance (a pause) from assessing, and returned to my CD booklet’s text. It’s not intended to be a long document. But it requires me to step back from the project a great distance in order to see the whole, summatively and succinctly. This was a hard slog.

Over lunch, I made a few modifications to Pedalboard III, replacing a fuzz and a tuner pedal with something at one and the same time different and the same in each case:


After lunch. ‘The Wilderness’ section of Image and Inscription had been bothering me for a long while. Something … one thing … was amiss. Sometimes it takes an age for the mind to articulate a problem that either the ear has been hearing or the eye, seeing. As with many aspects of life, discerning the answer is relatively straightforward; determining the question — now, that’s the challenge.

By mid afternoon, I’d returned to the CD text. It had begun to move again. Now, I’d more of an instinct for what needed to be left out. The excised material will form part of the extended discussion and conference paper, further down the production line.

Evening. I returned to ‘The Wilderness’ to finalise my modifications to the internal track balance. Would the casual audient be able to recognise the improvement? Probably not. That’s irrelevant. What mattered was that I could hear the deficit as clear as though it was a cracked brass bell:


So the first composition to be made was the last to be finished. Which is so often the way with things.

My alumnus audient had, some weeks ago, conveyed their initial responses (‘feedback’) to the completed suite of compositions. I’d been tardy in my reply, and determined to remedy my discourtesy in an email:

Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. A period of busyness has prevailed. Your remarks were neither known to me nor obsolete. Indeed, they were very fresh, pointed, and much appreciated. I knew you could be trusted to read the programme notes. The match between the narrative and the sound is only partial. Not all the incidents in each passage of text were sonified. The tracks would have been too unwieldy and literal had I not focussed on the key features only. I desperately tried to avoid illustration. My approach was to create metaphors. Evocations. (You’ll recall that this was the advice I gave you in relation to your own work, last year.) 

You can listen to the compositions on either headphones or loudspeakers. The tracks are balanced for both. Your practice of listening to them with your eyes closed is worthy. That’s the best way of ‘seeing’ the landscapes, internally. I guess the ‘futuristic’ quality of some passages is, in part, due to the technology of transformation. Nevertheless, you’re right. It’s also the result of appropriating the past and casting it into the forms of the present. But that’s always been the case with biblical art. Look how Gustav Dore re-imagines the biblical texts describing the Mount Sinai episodes; he presents his vision in the vesture of 19th century engraving techniques. 

I’m astonished that you can still attain an alpha state while listening to this stuff. What goes on inside that head of yours? I liked your observation that the compositions blur ‘the lines between image and sound’. I found that to be genuinely illuminating and encouraging. 

May 14, 2016

The Day. 9.30 am (running late): mop cut at Richard’s:


Home. I returned to the British Landscape exam scripts, responded to emails and social media posts, and communicated assessment marks between assessors and the School’s office. In the background, I played the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Visions of the Emerald Beyond (1975). My esteem for the album continues to grow. When I first heard it, as a teenager, I was floored by its ecstatic, spiritual intensity and the almost supernatural quality of the musicianship. The compositions are a coherent and cohesive fusion of jazz, rock, funk, and classical traditions. It almost shouldn’t work, but it does … magnificently.

2.30 pm. Off to School and to the show. An opening. The crowds drifted in more slowly than in previous years, but arrived, nevertheless, in great numbers, and more consistently too. (Newcomers entered from beginning to end.) The ‘hubbub’ felt positive, enthusiastic, and accepting. One of the great virtues of the School’s achievement is quality in diversity.  It was in evidence again this year. I heard many admiring comments from the visitors.

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It was good to reunite with some of the School’s old friends and alumni. They’ve remained enthusiastic and genuinely encouraging supporters. This was the last opportunity I had to enjoy the students’ work as art only. From Monday onwards, it becomes output to assess also. Around 5.00 pm, the first tweets and FaceBook posts were issued:

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This is the beginning of the ‘goodbye’. A departing. An emptying. A closing:




May 13, 2016

A mysterious semblance on the School’s staircase. Signs and wonders:


8.50 am. I made a tour of the studios with a view to identifying anomalies, minor deficiencies, and troubling uncertainties in both the general presentation and particular contributions. Given the number of students exhibiting, it’s astonishing that we achieve such a degree of consistency. Afterwards, I made a start on my third year Research and process in Practice submissions:


Then, on to the second year equivalent for that module — Professional Practice — and an assessment of several of the students’ weblogs. One has to be market savvy from the outset of one’s career these days. In my day, we were clueless about such things … and remained so. On completion, after lunch, I returned to my Research and Process in Practice project assessments.


After a spontaneous dinner at ‘Spoons with my wife, and a little TV respite watching a programme about the digital preservation of the deceased’s consciousness (I despaired), I brazened the British Landscape exam scripts for the remainder of the evening. The seen paper is a rigorous test. Its sorts out the exceptional from the good, and the good from the less able student like nothing else. While the preparation may not be all, it contributes significantly to securing success.






May 12, 2016


A full morning of assessing students who’d had taken a combination of painting, illustration, and life drawing modules, followed by one student who’d completed the MA Fine Art Portfolio module. Some reflections on attitudes to assessment in general (rather than those that were necessarily evident today):

  • The fear of failure can be a cause of failure.
  • Don’t think that you’re doing anything new.
  • If you think you’re something special, then you really do have a problem.
  • Rejoice in the strengths and graces that others possess.
  • The close of the second year is the last opportunity for a genuine reform that can lead to unfettered success. Take it!
  • Self-reform is an act of the will; it cannot be taught, insisted upon, or undertaken by anyone else.

At 2.00 pm, the external temperature topped 23 degrees centigrade. It was good to be working in the cool of the School. By mid afternoon, with a very few exceptions, the students’ exhibition spaces were either resolved or close to being.


3.30 pm. A second MA Fine Art Portfolio tutorial. Then, more manoeuvres around the studios and galleries. I daren’t think how many times I’ve ascended and descended the central staircase over the past two weeks. Over the past week, I witnessed some consternation among the students as they’ve realise that they’re finally leaving. ‘I want to take my third year again!’, one exclaimed.

In the evening, I wrote up my critique of the day’s individual assessments. One cannot distil into a small text box everything that was said in their presence. The efficacy of advisement, however, comes not in its record but in its delivery.



May 11, 2016

My first day of fine art assessments/feedback. The ‘interrogation’ room was prepared:


The students gave reasoned and passionate responses to the question asked by their tutors. One of our current MA Fine Art students sat in as part of their teaching observation for Vocational Practice. We assessed from 9.30 am onwards, with a short tour of the upper studios in between. Some reflections on attitudes to assessment in general (rather than those that were necessarily evident today):

  • Poor students are rarely unconfident, because they’ve never heartily engaged a challenge that they’ve failed to overcome.
  • Good students are rarely surprised by adverse criticism, because they’ve discerned their weaknesses themselves, prior to the assessment.
  • Poor students react adversely criticism; good students deal with it constructively, and improve thereby.
  • Poor students will find someone or something else to blame for their poverty; good students berate themselves.


Assessments for the day were completed by 2.00 am. After a brief, late lunch, it was back on the shop floor to help oversee the penultimate day of finalisation. From this point onwards, the remaining pieces of the jigsaw will fall into place very quickly. Even the most proficient fine art students are foxed by the relatively simple task of preparing label captions.


The students are visibly weary now; they’ve no longer the energy to be anxious and stressed. One more day is all some of them have left in them for this task. They’ve worked very hard and diligently.

An evening of writing reports articulating this morning’s discussions with the students.



May 10, 2016

What would be the best university one could either attend or work for? One where people (students and staff) were valued for who they were, and not only for what they achieved. In this day and age, such a university would be radical, against the grain, and redemptive. The heat after the rain gave rise to a tropical-like humidity and odour. The trees and grass smelled like a rainforest (I imagine).

Back on the shop floor: the ladders had congregated; they were up to something:


In between forays to the studios, and periods of advisement, drilling, measuring, and lifting, I carried on marking the Art in Wales essays. There’s a virtue in physical labour that’s entirely absent from mental work. The making of art enables one to engage both, often simultaneously. It is, in this respect, an ideal of labour.

After lunch, and a rather sluggish start in the studio this morning, the energy level began to build. There is an impressive carefulness evident in the students’ approach; this has been there since the screens were set up. It’s a testament to incipient professionalism. This environment provides no nourishment for indifference and diffidence.


On with Art in Wales project assessment, in the spaces between studio visits. I find it increasingly difficult to suddenly change my mindset from a focus on fine art to one on art history, and back again. The disciplines’ respective approaches to advisement and assessment are so unalike.

In the evening, following my habitual post-dinner guitar practise session, I completed the final scripts for the Art in Wales module. I’m flagging, and my fine art assessment duties haven’t even begun. (They commence tomorrow.) But I have a mode of escape, if things get too much:




May 9, 2016

8.30 am. Sultry; overcast; leaden; slow. (Both the weather and I.) To begin, I set up a seminar room for the morning’s Vocational Practice presentations. These, I always look forward to with relish. It’s an opportunity for me to observe work in either progress or finalisation across the whole MA contingent, and useful in anticipation of the students’ assessments in the next few weeks:


A lesson to be learned. Always test your presentation software on the device that you’ll be using on the day. The morning was full of candour, illuminations, conspicuous confidence, and variety. Some students begin with certainty and journey towards uncertainty. Others travel in the opposite direction during this first period of the degree. But certainty and confidence are not synonymous. For one can be in an uncertain place and yet still be confident that a way forward will be found.

After lunch, I was back on the shop floor. The hang began at 9.00 am today. The temperatures in the studios will lurch from high to low during the course of the week, so fixing works to the wall, other than with screws, requires serious thought and application:


Would you trust your work to Velcro? Hanging is often a four-handed enterprise:


In between excursions to  the studios, I undertook varieties of correspondence related to finance, future research projects, and student affairs (of the non-illicit kind). Today has been one of small but certain beginnings for the show. Over the next few days, a colossal momentum will slowly build.

Evening. The dulling cloud bank above the town has persisted from dawn beyond dusk. It felt as though the day never really got off the ground. The Art in Wales projects beckoned me to mark them, like Sirens enticing a ship to the craggy rocks. I completed the upload of Show Sounds — the collage of last week’s sonic events in the studios — for release on Saturday, to coincide with the Opening.




May 7, 2016

First thing. Off to town, where I’d cash in my prescriptions, buy a ‘journal’ at Smiff’s and combustibles at the Farmers’ market, and dispatch a parcel at the Post Office:


The neutral sky, like a wet white bed sheet, dampened the colours, the sound, and the mood. Next thing. I wanted to get my mind out of assessment mode. The samples of sounds that I’d been recording in the studios during the week were equalised and entered into a simple compositional development: a chamber orchestration of scraping, rubbing, banging, drilling and sawing. Conceivably, this could be one of three parts. The other two being, next week’s sounds as the works are hung and, the other, the hubbub of the Opening. I determined to leave the possibility open:


While searching for a book (which was, oddly, not in any of Aberystwyth’s libraries) on my shelves, for two students undertaking one of the British Landscape exam questions, I came across another. It was the catalogue to the 1977 Hayward Annual.  (This was the year that I began art school.) Caro, Caulfield, Cohen, Hoyland, Martin, Denny, Hill, and Hodgkin — all of whom had a significant influence on my undergraduate development in fine art — are represented by tired, grey illustrations:


Mid afternoon, I opened again my CD booklet text file. I’d been away from this for too long. The problems in the writing were, now, clearly visible and readily solvable. Concision are clarity are of the essence.


May 6, 2015

8.30 am. Telegraph pole, Llanbadarn Road: felled along with the grass. Here was a metaphor in the making:


I paid a visit to my new doctor to initiate a series of check-ups and establish a health baseline. The surgery’s interior in weighed down by the burden of its own emptiness. It needs art on the walls in place of notices that, I suspect, most people don’t read:


On the shop floor, the students pushed on with painting the final layers of white emulsion. I pushed on with the review of the PhD Fine Art thesis element, which concluded at 11.30 am:


Back to the inbox, and on with postgraduate admin: late MA and PhD applications, discussion appointments, and notifications. Meanwhile, in another room, the gentle art of mounting proceeded in library-like silence:


No sooner than the unread emails were read, more poured into the inbox, like water through a leaky roof. On my way home for lunch, the following proposition came to mind — an ideal of sorts:

An artefact with formal integrity that alludes to something outside itself. 

Le déjeuner over, I hacked away at my ‘to do’ list for the week with the machete of determination, while batting-off the cruel balls of email requests that always seem to be lobbed in my direction, with increasing rapidity and relentlessness, during the times of greatest pressure. (Not today! Not now!) Studio wise, the Phils and their helpers, along with the student fraternity/sorority, met their Friday deadline with calm and professionalism. The studios are now like a blank white canvas waiting to be filled. the excitement in the air is palpable.

Evening: correspondence with the record company regarding the manufacture of the double CD project; a review of sound recordings made today; a response to the latest batch of Tell Us Now returns (which gave me a pretext to bellyache to the powers that be about the studio conditions at the Old College); an update of my CV; and responses to responses to emails that I’d sent throughout the day.