November 7, 2017

7.45 am: A communion. Occasionally, in my study, when my mind is tired, I hear my late mother shout ‘John!’. I ‘heard’ it again this morning. Usually, the ‘sound’ appears to emanate from the foot of the staircase leading up to the top floor of the house. It reminds me of the times, when I was young, that she’d call my name from the bottom of the stairs at home in Abertillery, to summon me from my bedroom to the dining table. It’s an auditory hallucination, no doubt. But no less consoling for that.

8.30 am: Into the ‘tamping’ rain:

The wind inverted my umbrella. The sea filled my ears with brown noise. (Wonderful!) The waves churned and agitated; the waters were inconsolable:

9.00 am: At the Old College, I began the first of three MA Fine Art tutorials. There are always contrasting experiences at this point in the degree: sudden new departures that need to be reckoned on; a loss of nerve and indecision; painfully slow progress, even after an investment of determinate hard work; and moments of crystal clear insight.

11.10 pm: Vocational Practice. The class critiqued examples of professional lecturing. 12.30 pm: An MA inquirer’s interview. This year I’m nurturing students through the year of application by setting them projects designed to confirm and extend their skills and ambitions. 1.00 pm: A time for catching up and drawing breath before I launched into the afternoon.

2.00 pm: MA Fine Art tutorials continued. Bridgette introduced me to her hand-made drawing tool. (My mind gravitated to fly fishing):

Objects finding themselves. Obliterated edges. Trying to be playful. Naked representation. The vessel/the body. ‘Should?’ ‘What do you mean? ‘And what of desire?’ Covering up/obscuration. But also confronting. What’s authentic? Excavation/burial. An energy held back in reserve. That knowledge is accessible with time and effort. Art is so full of metaphor. Hot pink. Whispering painting. Each painting – like another voice in the choir (Tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (November 7, 2017) 275-6).

4.45 pm: A brisk walk to the Old College again, as the sun began to set, for the final tutorial of the day:

6.30 pm: Back at homebase, there was much to catch up on. The hospital radio had to cancel tomorrow’s interview, so this was one preparation that I could shelve for now. However, tomorrow’s meeting with the Commission beckoned.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagement:

  • What we’ve done, are doing, and plan to do can turn out the same, if we aren’t careful. Habit of mind and action is fundamentally conservative and debilitating.
  • Sometimes (most times) it’s impossible to conceive of an artwork’s outcome in advance of the process of making. Thinking and doing as best engaged in unison.
  • One should not underestimate the fulfilment factor. A work may receive praise, be awarded a good grade, and be technically and conceptually impressive, and yet fail to fascinate you, the maker. It has to touch your heart and imagination too.
  • Don’t presume what the work should be, or how it should develop, or the way it should end up looking. It may have ideas of its own, and draw you towards a way of working and a conclusion that you couldn’t have possibly conceived at the outset.
  • Is the exceptional and unexpected work an anomaly or a breakthrough? Only the work that follows it can decide that.
  • When we begin university education, we’re apt to abandon many of the interests that kept us buoyant while in school. Perhaps it would be useful to reinvigorate some of them. After all, both you and art must be fed on something other than art alone.
  • The weaknesses and idiosyncrasies of our work and personality can sometimes be part of their charm.
  • ‘You are first a human being, then an individual, and then an art student’. This is how I’ll regard and respond to you. This is non-negotiable.
  • In art we try to resolve what we cannot reconcile in life.
  • We cannot do this on our own. No one ever has.
  • Painting is not about the length of time invested in the work but, rather the intensity of our application over time (however short).


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