8.45 am: Visiting Day 2. One applicant and his mother were waiting at the School’s entrance even as I arrived. Keen! Saturday ‘VD’s are somewhat slower than the weekday event. That’s fine. The course of the interviews can be more leisurely, and there’s more occasion for staff/student interaction:
Before each interview with the applicant, I engage in an empathetic mind game. I try to imagine what I felt like when – as a naive and hapless seventeen year old from an undistinguished, backwater comprehensive school in South Wales – I made first contact with ‘proper’ art education. That was in March 1977. I turned up at the Emlyn Street annex of the Faculty of Art and Design, Gwent College of Higher Education, Newport to sit an all-day entrance examination for the Foundation Studies course. The morning was taken up with a three-hour life drawing test. I’d neither drawn the figure (let alone a seventy year old nude woman) nor on an easel before. Edna was the model. Earlier in her life, she’d posed for several distinguished London artists. Her repertoire of bodily positions was extensive and challenging. She really new her craft. After lunch, I wrote an essay in response to questions about art history. Proving one’s worthiness shouldn’t be a push over. Having to jump over those hurdles made me value my place on the course all the more:
The former Emlyn Street annex, Faculty of Art and Design, Gwent College of Higher Education, Newport, Gwent (August 13, 2004)
Today’s applicants are so much more together than was I, then. The best secondary school teachers have taken time to prepare their pupils for the interview, write an illuminating reference, and guide them in the composition of their personal statements. And the applicants and their parents or carers have done their research too. Such assistance is an enormous help to us, the adjudicators. I don’t know what applicants expect when they enter my room for ‘the interrogation’. What they experience is an open and informal discussion about themselves, the work that they’re submitting, and their educational profile. In short, the conversation aims to discern whether ‘we were meant for one another’, as they say in pulp romantic fiction. In other words, we seek to come to an agreement about whether the School of Art is best suited to their aspirations, needs, and abilities:
What the applicants aren’t shown on the tour: the padded cell, where distressed staff are sent in order to come to their senses:
High on the parental agenda are questions about the cost of accommodation (which can be a deal breaker for some families). Aberystwyth University is good value for money. I know that because I’ve visited many halls of residence, offered by other institutions, on Open Day tours with my own children. In 1982-3, when I was a first year MA Visual Art student, I lived in room 37, H block, Cwrt Mawr, on the main campus. (Non-Welsh students pronounced the hall’s name ‘Kurt Moore’ — which sounded like an American B-movie actor.) There was no such thing as ensuite bathrooms in those days. But I was within two-minutes walk of the library, the hall’s social and amenity hub, and the supermarket. What was not to like?:
Cwrt Mawr, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth (March 1983)
Choices. As staff, we choose who’ll be appropriate for the degree schemes. But the applicants have a much more difficult task: deciding which of their A-level paths to pursue. Some applicants could succeed at anything they put their minds to. My advice to them: consult many counsellors (parents, teachers, and people who know you well); and don’t just go with your strengths – follow your heart and proceed with your passion too. You are likely to do best in the subject that you most love.
4.20 pm: Over and out.