Month: February 2016

February 4, 2016

8.30 am. Off to School to set up my day’s lectures and prepare for second year fine art tutorials. 9.00 am. kick off!:


Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Attend the studio. You’ll never again be surrounded by so many likeminded people.
  • Does your studio space project the identity of a busy, committed, organised, professional-in-the-making?
  • If, this semester, you are studying a medium that’s new to you, begin by developing some aspect of the medium that your explored last semester and with which you are familiar: its subject matter or style or process, and so forth. In other words, rather than erect an entirely new house in another place, build an extension onto your existing house.
  • If you can imagine the outcome of what you’re about to do, then don’t do it. It’s over before you’ve even begun.
  • Step out onto the ice without knowing whether It’ll support you.
  • Commit yourself to the implications of your work.
  • Attend to the process and the outcome will probably take care of itself.
  • Occasionally, you’ll be exceptional. However, you should aim to be always at least good.
  • Laziness is far more likely to prevent you from achieving your potential than any lack of ability.

11.10 am. The British Landscape lecture, on ‘The Natural and the Supernatural’, focussing on the works of Samuel Palmer and John Martin, and their pals. 12.00 pm. Back to fine art tutorials. I’ve a quick switching mechanism these days.

2.10 pm The Art in Wales lecture was on antiquarianism and archaeology. The subject is very remote from where my head is presently. I had to work hard to blow the dust off it:

3.00 pm. Two further and final fine art tutorials. All of my students are still trying to develop some initial traction that will allow substantial works and a definite sense of direction to emerge. So often the experience of fine art feels like swinging one’s arms around in the dark in the hope touching something that can be then grasped with both hands:


4.30 pm. An essay feedback tutorial, followed by module admin. 5.20 pm. The close of the School day. There’s a comforting melancholy that I associate with this time. The students have departed, but the scent of their energy still lingers. These rooms are never completely empty in this respect. Whoever or whatever else putatively haunts this building, I sense, at every turn, the wraiths of many former students who had, in their day, impressed themselves upon me:


6.15 pm. Practise session 1. 7.15 pm. A final evening on undergraduate dissertation reviews. The task was completed (for now).

February 3, 2016

7.00 am. I awoke from another interrupted night’s sleep with a Beatles’ song in my head, the title of which I couldn’t recall, and cramp in my right calf. 8.40 am. The weather was decidedly hostile. Having picked up my laptop from the School, I headed, face to the ground, for the Old College, against the driving rain, to begin a morning’s teaching of third year painters and PhD Fine Art students:


9.30 pm. Then, I thought of Rauschenberg:


11.00 am. Coffee/hot chocolate, followed by an introductory tutorial with another of our PhD Fine Art newbies, followed by a lovely lunch with the aforesaid at Medina, in town. (A first for me, and well worth a return visit.)

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • You need to have a vision for your life beyond graduation. That vision will help to motivate and sustain you on your journey towards the Exhibition.
  • You need a vision for your life that is bigger than art. That vision will feed and motivate your practice.
  • Sentences, like pencils, should be sharp and pointed.
  • Keep one hand clenched and the other open: determination and responsiveness are not mutually exclusive.
  • Produce/say far more than you need, then cut away the dross and the excess to reveal the essence.
  • You don’t carve and polish a sculpture at the same time. Whether in writing art history or making artwork, concentrate, first, on determining the content and the structure of the piece and, only after, on its refinement.
  • We can no more fully comprehend our work than we can ourselves.
  • The best teachers are the product of their students’ greatest needs.
  • Extrapolate/evaporate: focus the knowledge of your past and present successes onto your future anxieties, and watch them disappear.
  • Be more than prepared for the task ahead.

1.40 pm. Back to the mothership …


… where Julian Ruddock (Coleg Ceredigion), was waiting to talk to our MA Fine Art, Vocational Practice students about his experience of teaching in Further Education. How hard it is to begin a career these days:


2.10 pm. I had a telephone tutorial with our external PhD Fine Art student, who’s studying in Vancouver. They’re on the closing laps of the dissertation element. 3.00 pm. A further PhD Fine Art tutorial until 4.30 pm, followed by one more, via telephony again, during which we arranged a follow up conversation on Skype, to be held later next week. By all means and in all ways…

7.15 pm. On with BA Dissertation draft reviews (with King Crimson taking up the rear guard):


February 2, 2016

8.00 am. I dealt with the few emails that had arrived since close of office last night before the morning’s appointment with my soul. 8.40 am. There were still Christmas decorations in windows, and dead Christmas trees awaiting collection by the ‘bin man’, on the streets leading to the School. My amaryllis had begun to blossom over the weekend:


9.00 am. The cancellation of a Personal Tutor appointment freed up time for me to clear elements of admin that I’d been avoiding over the past week. One should face the worst first in the day. 10.00 am. An MA Fine Art tutorial.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • If you have access to the space in which you are going to exhibit eventually, get to know it as soon as possible. Place your work in that environment, and observe how it responds. It can be a very encouraging experience.
  • The unity of a body of work is related to its corporate identity, rather more than to the colour, scale, or even subject matter, particularly.
  • The best seat in the art school is always the most uncomfortable: the one that makes you squirm because you’re facing what you’ve never done before with too little confidence that you’ll ever succeed in doing it. Resist the comfy chair!
  • Get to understand the world and your times: their history, geography, politics, cultures, and beliefs. Read or hear the news daily. Otherwise, you’ll shrink to the size of your practice.
  • Develop a healthy suspicion of yourself. But always believe the best about others.
  • Do not make the work to fit the box. Instead, make the box to fit the work.

11.00 am. A postponed MA tutorial opened up a further space for postgraduate module admin. 12.00 pm. The first tutorial with one of our two new PhD Fine Art students who’re beginning their studies this month. At the beginning of a course of study, the choices in terms of the direction, scope, and foci seem bewildering. But there are only two fundamental directions or journeys that each student has to travel on this scheme: the one in outward, the other, inward. Strangely (and this is one of the wonders of it all), these two roads are moving in the same direction and will converge eventually.

2.00 pm:


More adminy, modulary thingy before another PhD Fine Art tutorial, at 3.00 pm. It was an encouraging, a wide ranging, but an entirely focussed discussion. I look forward to the next phase of this student’s research. This degree programme is now throwing up types of practice-based research that could not have been anticipated when we first launched it. Today, I recalled my initial conversations with the constructivist artist Malcom Hughes (1920-1997), in 1995, who supervised the first doctorate studies in Fine Art at the Slade School of Art, University College London. His wisdom and practical common sense contributed greatly to my own considerations, as I set up the programme at Aberystwyth. He was also my MA Fine Art external examiner.

5.30 pm. The opening of the Stanley Anderson: Unmaking the Modern, at the School’s galleries.  A good turn out for a a rip-roaring show:


6.45 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. A little Facebookery before returning to my week’s PhD and undergraduate submissions review (with a little fretboard training in the background):


February 1, 2015

8.10 am. A time for heart-searching. Always a messy affair. 8.45 am. A little teaching admin, correspondence, and listing of this week’s ‘to dos’ before pressing on with the last part of the conspectus. Out of the blue, a line from the Beatles’ song Eleanor Rigby addressed itself to me: ‘Father McKenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear’. I was drawn to its implicit notions of the absence of an audience; the enforced redundancy of the genre (which is normally written to be spoken, heard, or, in its literary form, read); and to more poetic ideas, such as those of a silent sermon, a sermon that God alone hears, and a sermon as mode of prayer. I didn’t know where this concept might lead.

11.00 am. Occasionally, I hummed musical tones, and tested my sense of pitch against the keyboard:


Sheffield Phoenix Press — the most prolific publisher of contemporary Biblical studies — has announced that it’ll cease commissioning new titles. Bloomsbury Publishing will, henceforth, take up the mantle. This could herald a rejuvenation of the not only this discipline but also the interdiscipline of the Bible, art, and visual culture …

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… to which I returned, after lunch. The fleshing out of sections had begun (and so also periodic fretboard training exercises). The discussion, engaged in the first half of the conspectus, had to be parcelled out into categories which were, in turn, filled with topics dealt with in that discussion. During a period of respite during the afternoon, I dug out some of my own fretboard pattern maps, which I’d drawn when I first returned to guitar playing after an over thirty-year hiatus:


Realistically, you have to memorise every note on every string at every fret. However, there are recurrences such as pairings of consecutive notes (B C, E F) and intervals (D G, A D (each pair a 4th apart)) — which, once mapped onto the fretboard, provide some bearings  — but no repeating patterns of significant length, such as would provide a less bitty mnemonic. (Learning the notes on a keyboard is a doddle in comparison.) I should use the fret markers more, and localise my learning to one string at a time, and in the vertical scale.

6.15 pm. Practise session 1. 7.15 pm. The beginning of a week of evenings dedicated to PhD Fine Art and undergraduate art history dissertation submission reviews: