Month: October 2014

October 8, 2014


8.30 am. The server issues had been resolved. My website is now fully recovered and findable. Lesson: always back up. Always! The company who hosts my site does so religiously, and saved their skin on this occasion. At 9.00 am, I began a full day of MA Fine Art tutorials with my own and another colleague’s (who has been temporarily ‘posted abroad’) charge of painters. Each student has to negotiate a new beginning in their own way. Some lessons and observations:

  • A student’s past achievements should inform rather than constrain their expectations about present and future practice.
  • Often, we procrastinate in the face of too many rather than too few possible directions for development.
  • We must learn to sacrifice even our best ideas, if they are insufficiently visual in essence.
  • It’s better to produce nonsense than nothing. Something sensible may emerge from nonsense. But, surely, nothing comes from nothing.
  • The painting should determine its format and scale, not the other way around.

1.00 pm. The gentle and soporific fall of autumnal rain:


2.00 pm. An afternoon of postgraduate fine art tutorials. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Mid afternoon: a phone call to our Vancouvan PhD student who’ll be exhibiting at the School in late November. The end of their degree is now in sight. After my final tutorial, I looked to tomorrow’s Art/Sound lecture and formatted the text.

Over the course of the day I’ve disposed enough ideas for artworks and potential projects to fill several exhibitions. Few of those suggestions will be adopted. Rightly so. At postgraduate level, a tutor ought not to be too prescriptive. Ideas should, instead, serve as models of ways of thinking and approaching problems, to be followed in spirit rather than to the letter. Teaching is like parenting: it’s highest aim is to encourage independence of thought and action.

6.30 pm. An evening spent further preparing the Workshop 1 PowerPoint and handout, processing sound files, and marking-up tomorrow’s lecture text. There was a thunderstorm over the horizon, moving away and sparking in the night sky.

October 7, 2014


8.00 am. I scanned my inbox at home and walked to the School. Autumn is a very present season, when it finally arrives. The chill-air cuts beneath the surface of the skin. Another, large-scale set up for the Art/Sound module, but now in half the time it took on the first occasion. The midi-keyboard(s), programmed with a less than convincing monastic-choir setting:


The lecture went over time by 5 minutes. So, while well within tolerable limits, it suggests that certain adjustments need to be made. The Vocational Practice group have found their voice already. In spite of the group’s size (twice that of last year’s cohort), it has an intimacy and internal coherence without which that number would otherwise seem cumbersome and unwieldy.

After lunch, I filed away the last two week’s lesson materials, updated registers, and held two PhD tutorials. The common theme was structure. It’s undoubtedly the hardest aspect of creative practice (be that writing or image making). Together, we gained insight into the overall construction of both projects. At some point during the afternoon, my web server went down:

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The reason:

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A nightmare! But the company always inspires confidence.

In the evening, I pushed on with the PowerPoint accompaniment for the the Art/Sound workshop and processing files for Matt. 20.23.

October 6, 2014

8.30 am. I cleared the backlog of emails that had accrued during my weekend away from the desk, and worked out my timetable for engaging the first few hours on the day and dealing with those matters that were screaming for immediate attention.

Over the weekend, I’d visited the Trafford Centre, Manchester:


This is a shopping mall overlaid by, what can only be described as, architectural pornography-cum-bling: crass, sensually vulgar, unfulfilling, exploitative, and manipulative; a mélange of Vegas, theme park and film lot. It’s what might be called, if it hasn’t already been called, Mannerist Postmodernism. Unlike authentic Postmodernism, which knowingly and purposefully alludes to and quotes from previous styles and movements, the Centre references Postmodernism itself. But it does so in an obvious, cack-handed, and trite, rather than in a clever, clever, post-Postmodern, way. Insufficiently intelligent to be either cynical or critical, the architecture is a cheat that betrays both customers and custom. Enough rant.

11.00 pm. Having begun and completed a long overdue peer review of a biblical reception article (How did I overlook that?), I organised the remainder of the working day, upgrading my ‘news’ section of the website and outlining several major research projects that need to proceed in parallel over the next year or so: The Pictorial Bible III/The Aural Bible I: The Bible in Translation exhibition; ‘An indexical-interpretive scope of sound documents at the National Screen & Sound Archive of Wales’, and the ‘Sound & Something Else’ conference. In the background, I continued processing sound files for the multi-worded Matt. 20.23:


After lunch, I continued with the late-morning’s work before focussing upon the performance element, ‘New Songs’, of The Aural Bible II.  One’s weaker instinct would advocate marching forward with specific artworks rather than pausing to survey the field before the battle. The former sense of imperative has little to do with intelligent strategy and everything to do with an overbearing stress that sees only the on-coming enemy of deadlines through the binoculars. My approach has always been to consider, consider, consider … then, act.

6.10 pm. Practise session 1. In the evening, I made final preparations to tomorrow’s Art/Sound lecture and began work on the PowerPoint of the Workshop 1 session.


October 2, 2014

8.00 am. Emails executed. Then — to the School, with plenty of time to set up the second Art/Sound lecture for 9.00 am. Never assume that just because the equipment worked perfectly on the first occasion, it will do so on subsequent ones. Reckon upon the principle of entropy. Anything that can can fail, inevitably will. Professional preparedness is knowing what to do when it does.

10.15 am: Off to the Old College, for a day of third-year painting tutorials, through the autumnal ‘front garden’ of the School’s grounds …


… and across the promenade:


The porters had locked the upper ‘Design Studio’ (as was) of the Old College, and mislaid the key (which was later rediscovered). The first tutorial — particularly with a student who I’ve not taught before — is also a quest for a key, and sometimes for a lock, and sometimes for the door. None of these are found during the initial encounter, necessarily. And rarely does the tutor ever discover them all. (Which is how it should be.)

1.00 pm. A brief jaunt into town to buy a sandwich, past an extraordinary phenomenon: transparency and reflection in equipoise:


I returned to the echoey and sparsely furnished Quad (where overseas applicant awaited their English language proficiency test). There I ate and ruminated upon the morning’s tutorials. Several principles and observations had emerged:

  • Students tend to pre-conceptualise their work far too much. As as result, the paintings that ensue merely illustrate an idea.
  • One does not require a ‘big idea’ to begin painting, only an intent (which need be no more ambitious than getting the paint off the brush and onto the support, in the first instance).
  • It is fatal to try and envisage a painting’s end (or outcome) even before it is begun.
  • Conceptualisation should be in tandem with the act of painting, usually. (Design and making must go hand-in-hand, as Ruskin and Morris insisted.)
  • Painting is a dialogue between the artist and the image that they materialise on the support. Ideas arise, and are negotiated, somewhere between the two.

2.00 pm. I completed my last few third year tutorials and gave an introductory tutorial to my second-year charge. Afterwards, I beat a path back to the School to meet the substitute external examiner of the MA show, and to discuss the background of, and marks given to, the students at the recent internal assessment.

7.30 pm. Materials related to this morning’s lectures (including their illustrations) were uploaded to Blackboard. It appears that copyright law may be sufficiently ‘soft’ and ‘woolly’ to permit the practice without legal ramifications. Unfortunately, one cannot upload or download folders (in which the illustrative videos and sound samples are stored and linked to the slides), so (I thought) it’s still not possible to represent the complete visual and sonic dimension of the lecture. Sigh! However, as I explained in an email to my students:

when I downloaded the PowerPoint, the video and sound samples were embedded with the slides. This should not happen. I suspect that the download is linking to those files stored on my computer. As such, I cannot test whether this is happening when anyone else downloads the file. Could you try, and let me know if the video and sound inserts are complete on your copy? The video pieces can be activated by placing a mouse on the image. A box with a ‘play’ arrow will open up beneath (email, 02 10 2014):

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10.30 pm. ‘The night watch’. One of my Art/Sound students responded immediately to my plea for confirmation and, later, sent me a helpful link explaining the difference between linked and embedded PowerPoint files. I replied:

I’d assumed that I had linked the files. But perhaps they are imbedded after all. Indeed, if you can see and hear the sound and video samples, they must be. With older versions of PP, embedding samples was impossible. But it does explain, too, why the PP file takes nearly twenty minutes to upload to Blackboard (email, 02 10 2014).

October 1, 2014

8.30 am. I returned to my teaching timetable, filling in available slots for the next few weeks. 9.45 am. The six-monthly visit to the dentists. I was commended on my disciplined tooth-brushing technique. Nevertheless, calculus (neither the differential nor integral type) is almost inevitable, and has to be removed manually with fierce and intricate tools by the hygienist. But that can wait. Back at the School, I completed my timetable, emailed appointments, and issued updates on lists and schedules published over the last week. Time invested in efficient administration is time gained for research and teaching — an enabling chore, in other words.

11.40 pm. A trip to the IBERS building (with its small café) on campus to attend a mandatory NSS discussion meeting:


I’ve never met anyone who trusts either the statistical significance of the responses, or the framework of questions, or the percipients’ ability to make fully-considered and informed responses to it. Every university in the UK is locked into this popularity contest; and no one can afford to opt out. 2.15 pm. I took a late lunch at home before adding a section to tomorrow’s Art/Sound lecture. I’d made a pact with myself that each lecture would be only finalised on the day before its delivery. In this way, each lecture can respond to fresh ideas arising from within its predecessors.

6.00 pm. Practise session 1.  In the evening session, I wrote text to accompany images to be posted to the School’s website, set my mind to consider the second and third year painting tutorials tomorrow, responded to an academic ‘head-hunter’, and commenced processing sound files for Matt. 20.23 — which is the longest verse of the set. It’ll take three days to complete, I wager.

An earlier night is in order. Tomorrow will be a demanding day. My current bedtime reading is Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (1852).