October 3, 2017

Yesterday evening, I received news that an old school friend had passed away following a prolonged and difficult illness. Throughout her life Lisa had been, what an older generation described as, ‘frail’. In her early 20s, she contracted ME and was severely debilitated for several years as a consequence. Lisa and I were members of Blaenau Gwent Baptist Chapel, Abertillery, where we both found our way to faith. Of all the friends that I had back then, she was the most sensible and circumspect – a person in whom one could confide confidently. Lisa possessed a wisdom beyond her years and experience. She died in hospital surrounded by friends, representing the many stages of her life, singing with her Thomas Chisholm’s (1866–1960) hymn ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ (1925). (It sounds like a closing scene from a Frank Capra film.) Now she sings a ‘new song’.

8.15 am: A short communion (out of which emerged an idea for a sound demonstration to be presented at the Open Day on October 14.). 8.30 am: Off to School:

9.00 am: A tutorial with one of our new first year students, to whom I’d given a set of projects to undertake over the summer in preparation for entry this year. Their response had been exemplary: a credit to them and the virtues of home education.

10.00 am: The annual MA painters’ pep-talk was followed, at 11.10 am, by the first Vocational Practice class, looking at the ‘Elements of Higher-Education Teaching’ in Art. This was ‘Magna-VP’: the largest class that I’d ever taught for this module. And boy, did they engage. Good students bring out the best in a teacher:

1.10 pm: I took a very fast lunch before heading, via the School, to the Old College. There I met with my latest PhD Fine Art tutee and gave them a tour of the ‘house’. The porters at the Old College made themselves known. They bend over backwards for our students. An exemplary bunch. A university is built upon the foundations of such loyal and hardworking employees. We should honour them more.

3.00 pm: The first of two MA Fine Art tutorials. My tutee – who’s too curious and wilful for their own good – had discovered a wonderful old Bechstein upright piano, which appears have been lovingly maintained, in one of the practice rooms. I didn’t even know we had practice rooms at the Old College. They occupy a part of the building that was once the Finance Department. From bank notes to clef notes:

She’s a distinguished old ‘lady’. (Pianos, like guitars, are always feminine. Because they dispose grace and consolation.) 4.30 pm: My second tutee is at a turning point, waiting and working for the final push to get them round the corner. It’ll happen and soon, of that I’m confident.

West Classroom: homage to Jim Dine (b.1935):

6.30 pm: I was on ‘smalls’ duties. The rate at which I’m presently losing single socks in the wash now borders on a supernatural phenomenon. I strongly suspect that either the washing machine or tumble dryer is haunted, and that solo socks are being apported to another part of the universe. There can be no other possible explanation.

7.30 pm: I faced-down the skip-load of emails that had filled my inbox during the afternoon. The task was eased by the arrival of the John McLaughlin & the 4th Dimension, Live at Ronnie Scott’s CD. My elder son and I were at the performance on a Harvey Boys’ night out in March this year. What a memorable concert:


Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Life drawing is vaguely humiliating. At every class. you’re confronted with what you cannot yet do.
  • Draw in order to better understand, see, and articulate, visually, rather than to make art. Art will be the bi-product of that process.
  • The more you entrust to art, the more art will entrust to you.
  • True teachers are born to the task. But it takes many years before some realise that they’re alive to the role.
  • Parents are teachers of an incomprehensibly larger magnitude.
  • Some things need to be said. Some things must remain unsaid … for now.
  • Our most heart-rending losses and harrowing endurance, as well as our most rapturous joys and soul-satisfying contentment, together, create a chiaroscuro that gives solidity and depth to our personality and, thereby, to our work.
  • Risk taking is predicated upon the confidence either that things might work out well or that you can redeem the situation if they don’t.
  • The work is the dynamo that generates the energy, not the other way around.


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