Month: May 2016

May 5, 2016

Ascension Day

Each morning has begun with listing ‘to dos’ and ‘to don’ts’. Maintaining an unwavering sense of one’s priorities, day-by-day, is of the essence, in order to remain on top of things during this period. At home, I reviewed a Research and Process in Practice submission and responded to incoming mail before shipping out to the School.

On the shop floor —  a wall awaits:


I sense that we are all ahead of ourselves this year. The students have distinguished themselves by their application, time management, and communal commitment. This is one of the few times in the year when the fine artists do one thing together. At such times as these, the School feel most like a family.

11.10 am. The final class of the final run of the British Landscape module. I can’t determine the year of the module’s inception. I suspect it was sometime during the late 1980s and early 1990s. So, it was long-overdue for retirement. RIP:


On the shop floor — students were proceeding with due diligence, speed, and attention. The MA students led by example. Their spaces in the studio are so much more serviceable for large paintings than those in the galleries. How quickly this annual event seems to come around. The banners bearing the names of last year’s exhibiters were still stuck to the back of several screens.  Happy remembrance.


After lunch, I began my review and correction of the penultimate draft of a PhD Fine Art thesis, periodically climbing to the studios with audio recorder and camera in hand to capture and advise (when asked).

In the evening, I reviewed the recordings of sounds captured from today’s excursions into the studios and a Research and Process in Practice submission. I returned to the PhD review for the remainder of the evening, thereafter.

May 4, 2016

I completed dissertating, with Samuel Barber’s Cello Concerto Op.22 playing in the background, and packed my bags for School. What’s happening!? Melissa is now completing the final painting for her carefully conceived MA show, and has procured the requisite grey paint to cover her exhibition boards:


Mr Garrett was working his magic:

Me? I had moved onto MA Art History Project assessment. Designing a website to articulate a defined area of art historical research is a ‘big ask’, as they say. Besides subject knowledge, the student must learn web-development skills, have an instinct for design, and be able to anticipate how a broad public might might wish to access the material.

Throughout the day, I held occasional pre-assessment/feedback tutorial discussions with those students whom I’d not been able to see on Monday. Feedback, in my opinion, is as much about the student feeding the assessors a self-evaluation of their credit and deficit as it is the assessors’ evaluation of the same.

On with the MA Art History Research Project assessment, while Phil ‘the Porter’ goes far beyond the call of duty, as ever:


At this is a time of year, we all exceed our employment contracts, and for good reason. Do what you can, rather than what you’re paid for.

During the day, I began recording samples of sounds in the studios: scraping, hammering, sanding, and painting were among today’s extractions. I’m endeavouring to accumulate and combine these into a collage of some sort. Mr Garrett, hammering:


The evening was taken up with student references, the completion of project assessment, and preparations for tomorrow’s British Landscape, exam class.

May 3, 2016

8.40 am. A tour of the upper studios. ‘And the words of the prophets are written …’:


I was reminded of the following sage reflections on the same:

My freedom thus consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned for myself for each one of my undertakings. I shall go even further: my freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. . . . If the modern artist is no longer subject to external restrictions, then this simply means that he has the freedom to set himself limitations, to invent, so to speak, his own sonnet form (Bridget Riley, Paintings 1982-1992).

The positive benefits of pluralism go hand in hand with its negative or disintegrative character. For one thing, allowing unlimited freedom of expression undermines the importance of what is being expressed, and the sheer over ability of options actually lowers the degree of innovation possible (Suzi Gablik, Has Modernism Failed?

Today we are in the unfortunate position of having no order or canon whereby all artistic production is submitted to rules. They – the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians – did. Their canon was inescapable because beauty, so called, was, by definition, contained in those rules. But as soon as art had lost all link with tradition, and a kind of liberation that came in with Impressionism permitted every painter to do what he wanted, painting was finished (Pablo Picasso).

Some principles and observations derived from today’s encounters and reflections:

  • If you stand still in the midst of the forest you won’t find your way out. Likewise, you’ll not solve a problem with your work by ceasing to work. Work through the problem.
  • The pursuit of fun is not a reason for doing anything. But if what you’re doing is never fun, then there’s something seriously amiss.
  • We may fret about the small things and yet be entirely oblivious to weighty matters. It’s so important to develop a sense of perspective and proportion.
  • The best students bring out the best in teachers.
  • A desultory effort in the first and second year of studies may yet lead to a triumphant outcome at the close of the third year.

I’m both humbled and encouraged by those students who, having been the bane of one’s life in the past (Bless them!), have taking themselves to task, discovered the dignity of learning and a worth in their work, and escaped the gravity of their past.

The morning was dedicated to my two MA fine art tutees and, at 11.00, refreshments at the Cabin and a tutorial with one of our PhD fine art students in their studio space at the Old College. Before I left for town, I looked over developments in the studios:



After lunch, back at the mothership, I caught up on emails, fed-back on an application, and began my final advisory sessions with the exhibiting postgraduate students:


I returned to dissertation marking in my office, in between periodic tours of the studios and occasional responses to the needy and fretful.

In the evening, I maintained my commitment to dissertation assessment. I’ve a tight marking and preparation schedule this week, and every morning, afternoon, and evening session are accounted for. Woe-betide anyone who asks me to something out of the blue and quickly:


May 2, 2016

Bank Holiday Monday. 9.00 am. It has begun: the main studios are now being dismantled and ‘re-mantled’ as galleries. Watch these spaces!:



A morning of final, second year fine art tutorials in preparation for the feedback tutorials, which begin next week. Some principles and observations derived from today’s encounters and reflections:

  • Failure is part of an art student’s/artist’s normative experience. Failure is part of an art student’s/artist’s normative experience. Failure is part of an art student’s/artist’s normative experience. One cannot say this too often.
  • The essence of ‘sketchbook’ is defined by the essence of the work for which it is a preparation. One size will certainly not fit all. The essence of its function, for the tutee, is to anticipate, encounter, work-through, and visualise possible responses to problems and challenges that’ll be more fully engaged in the finished work.
  • Read aloud what you wrote in silence. Your ear will tell you whether sentences make sense.
  • What you’ll achieve in one’s years time may bear no comparison to what you can do now. Be prepared to astonish yourself.

In the toothy gaps of absenteeism, I posted tutorial notifications for the week ahead and began undergraduate dissertation review.

The weather improved significantly after lunch:


The first call of the afternoon was to present the rescheduled and final Art in Wales lecture, on Welsh collier-artists. The remainder of the period was set aside for an essay consultation and varieties of advisements and assessments. Good progress had been made by today’s teams of undergraduate helpers, under Mr Garrett’s and Phil ‘the Porter’s’ efficient and no nonsense supervision:


An evening off, enjoying the remains of a Bank Holiday.

April 30, 2016

9.15 am. Back to it. The season of marking begins in earnest: essays, dissertations, and research projects have to be bagged and dispatched this week, so that, next week, I can devote my attention solely to the BA and MA fine artists as they finalise their show. This is the best time of the year: the harvest after the sowing. On with marking essays from Dr Pierse’s module on aspects of British art:

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 11.31.56

In the background, I remastered the recording, made on Tuesday at the School of Art, of Liz modelling the paper. The ambient recording, captured on an iPad placed at a distance from the event, wasn’t appropriate. Too remote. The handheld recording, on the other hand, places the ear at the point of action — as though inside the paper as it was being ripped and crushed. Does the recording sound like paper being torn and crumpled? Yes. In part, because I know what the sound represents. (I was present.) But aural content can evoke things that it is not: waves, static electricity, and foil — associations that were summoned when we were recording the performance:

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 11.47.55

I’ve not marked a first-year essay in years. It came as a bit of a shock. Secondary schools don’t prepare the students for the challenge of constructing a substantiated arc of argument. I doubt that renaming them all academies will help in this or any other respect. Beyond saving money, demoralising teachers, and exhausting pupils, this country has a no philosophy of teaching.

I decided to reinstate my Sony Net MD Walkman MZ-N910 recorder, which I purchased in the 2002. This mini-disc player is one of the most compact, finest sounding, sexiest digital recorders ever made. The quality of an iPod pales in comparison. In my opinion, this period in Sony’s production was the high watermark of digital hardware design. The device, while digital, is very physical. It feels engineered. The only drawback is that Sony didn’t allow files to be transferred to and from the device and a computer other than in its propriety format, which cannot be either converted to standard codecs or edited. (Nor was the device ever compatible with a Mac.) An analogue line-level connection is the only alternative:


After lunch, further essaying. I’ve read some promising and encouraging responses. So, I ended the working day on a high.