Month: January 2018

January 18, 2018

8.00 am: A communion. 9.00 am: The beginning of third year painting assessments with Dr Forster. Some of our MA Vocational Practice students were in attendance as observers. This is an enhancement exercise, to induct them into the practical applications of the methods and criteria of assessment to which they’d been introduced in theory in class:

The MA observers, all of whom were in the assessee’s shoes this time last year, contributed astute, mature, balanced, and justifiable advice to those under scrutiny. Many of the questions that they posed will no doubt rebound on them. We learn by teaching. Elevenses:

There’s been a growth of interest in abstraction among the students over the past few years. Each generation has to redefine this process in such a way as to extend beyond the achievement of its predecessors. Every time it returns to the centre ground of art (which it appears to be doing, in a modest way), abstraction’s complexion is a little different, having either absorbed, reacted to, or rejected other styles of art that have emerged since its last appearance. By this means, it remains contemporary and combative:

2.30 pm: A conclusion. Home for a late lunch eaten over the computer. The reports of the morning’s engagements needed to be written up. The process continued into the evening, amid responses to a backlog of emails. Some Henry Cow in the background.

On this day, ten years ago, I wrote in my diary: ‘I feel fudged and smudged’. At the time, I was experiencing a bout of ME that matched my present experience. Thirty years ago today, I acknowledged: ‘I’m at the heart of the thesis’. I was currently undertaking a PhD in Art history. At the heart, I discovered an idea that has served as one of the mainsprings of my endeavours in art history and art practice ever since. Throughout my doctoral studies (1986–90), I maintained the disciplines of drawing and small-scale painting. The artworks dealt with some of the themes – such as chapels, the South Wales valleys, and religious visions – that I was exploring in my thesis:

Angel and Devil Fighting Over Llanhilleth
(1989) pencil on paper, 8 × 6.4 cm

Some principles and observations derived from today’s assessment tutorials:

  • Don’t make assumptions about what you aren’t capable of doing.
  • Ask much of yourself.
  • Natural talent is never enough, and certainly not something that you can be proud of. It’s a given.
  • Art sometimes necessitates a troubled spirit.
  • Acquire only the skills that you’re able to deploy.
  • You must find not only a subject but also yourself in relation to that subject.
  • Don’t aim for either greatness or originality. If these attributes are to be yours, then they’ll come as the consequence of hard, thoughtful, conscientious, and consistent work over much time.
  • Somethings you do are worthy but not necessary.
  • The tradition of the subject should be subsumed within the personality of the artist, and not the other way around.
  • Take one idea and explore its permutations.
  • Don’t chase marks. Instead, pursue quality, integrity, and authenticity.
  • So far, you know what you’re doing. Now, seek to know what you don’t know.
  • Do as much as you can with as little as you can.
  • Don’t be over concerned about the shape and content of the final exhibition; all you can do is the next painting. And that is enough.
  • Stay funky!
  • There’s the painting of something, and there’s the painting as something.
  • Buzz words of the day, beginning with ‘D’: direction, discernment, determination, dedication, decisiveness, and dutiful.
  • Never give up on anyone. People can prove to be outstanding in the end.
  • Who a student was, is, and will be, may bear no resemblance to one another.
  • Some students’ work makes me want to paint.
  • Class distinctions in relation to a sense of direction: 2.1 (Feeling towards it); 1st (Found it).

January 17, 2018

I had the most dreadful night’s sleep. (Did I sleep at all?) I felt plagued by an intractable problem that had no precise definition – an abstraction of a dilemma, in other words. My mind was racing (as though it’d been excited by too many expressos) and turbulent, like the gales that pressed upon and rattled the casement windows of the bedroom. (This might have been the vaguely hallucinatory bi-product of my active ME.) What should be done with regard to the problem was self-evident. How the solution ought to be executed was quite another matter. ‘Decide upon a course of action and stick to it ruthlessly’, the voice in my head said. ‘Bend your heart to your mind, and your feelings to your reason’. (The charge comes from that icy shard at the centre of my being.)  Sometimes these pairs are incongruent. It takes an iron will to reconcile them. And not just once; its a perpetual endeavour.

8.15 am: A communion. 9.00 am: I returned to the Old College to conduct several MA Fine Art Portfolio assessments with Dr Forster. The high winds, which had bullied the town throughout the night, didn’t deter me from walking the seafront and soaking up the airy ions:

Moods and states of mind find their metaphors; the world is full of correlatives, if only one is receptive:

All the students acquitted themselves well. It’s always a joy to see significant maturation in self-awareness, confidence, dexterity, and vision. They’ve earned their success. Emma’s flower painting/palette:

11.30 am: Back home, I attended to incoming emails, assessment reports, and bits and bobs. I pushed on, briefly, with my ‘spring clean’ of redundant email accounts and webpages. Some of these accounts hadn’t been opened in years. I suspect that, as such, they’d been automatically deleted by the provider. Those that I’d scheduled for closure are now defunct. Some have taken up to 90 days to terminate. Why should anything be deferred for so long? I suspect that providers give their users more than ample time to repent of their decision. I’m left with one new account for purchases, and another, that’s yet to be set up for family and friends. This takes the burden off my professional account which, hopefully, will no longer be plagued with so much non-academic spam.

1.30 pm: I returned to the School to set up the seminar room in preparation for the afternoon’s Research and Process in Practice presentations. Dr Forster and I were the examiners:

The students each gave an account of their studio work to date, and an anticipation of what could be expected at the close of the year, when they’d hang their final show.

Evening. Back to writing reports on assessments undertaken through the day. It’s advisable to keep on top of this activity on a day-by-day basis.

Qualities that I value most in others, and would wish for myself:

Graciousness, imaginative and spontaneous kindness, gentleness, wisdom, thoughtfulness, sensitivity, diplomacy, an uncritical spirit, empathy, candour, caution, honesty, self-control, an even temper, a listening ear, reliability, consistency, integrity, humour, self-deprecation, intelligence, sophistication of thought, ambition, a commitment to a cause, an openness to new ideas, an awareness of the issues of the day, an appetite for reading, a passion for culture in its broadest sense, and the desire to grow in all directions, constantly. 

January 16, 2018

You have the knack of posting what I need to read. Something that suggests an answer or perspective without being conclusive.  Others have commented on this too. That is an art in itself, to write something that is meaningful and yet open to interpretation, much like a painting (Reader, January 16, 2018).

Gracious words. I replied: ‘You find in the text what you need to hear’. The aim is not to provide the reader with readymade solutions but, rather, to furnish them with principles by which they may arrive at their own. Meaning and significance arise at the intersection between the writer and the reader, between intention and reception. Often people testify to having benefited from the Diary in ways that were entirely unexpected and undesigned. Thus, we speak more than we know. And, moreover, we know more than we can speak; and we know more than we know we know. 

Prevarication is one of the most insistent weaknesses to overcome. It intervenes, usually, when a demanding, tiresome, or an otherwise unpleasant undertaking presents itself. Its positive benefit lies in a capacity, when acknowledged, to expose our cowardice and lack of fortitude, resolve, and foresight. Double-mindedness or vacillation is a fault that follows close on its heels. We fail (or refuse, sometimes) to choose between options because either neither one is clearly to be preferred, or both are equally unpalatable, or one is self-evidently right and the other, wrong; but it’s the latter that we prefer. And so we defer until we can persuade ourselves that the reverse situation might one day be true. (‘Good luck with that one!’, as they say.)

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Postgraduate admin in preparation of a coming PhD Fine Art viva voce. 9.00 am: Back to the paper with Arvo Pärt in the background. Pärt and other composers, such as Górecki and Tavener, are sometimes referred to as Sacred Minimalists or Holy Minimalists. The latter term has that pejorative ring associated with ‘holy rollers’ – those Spirit-inspired movers and shakers of the Pentecostal movement. My own visual work, in The Pictorial Bible series, has received a similar appellation:

Sanctuary I
(Ps. 134), oil on board, 81 × 81 cm (King James Version)

It’s not that I’d any particular ideological allegiance to Minimalism at the time. The style was incidental: the outcome of an imposition of a system of codification upon, and a set of strictures implicit within, the biblical texts. In other words, I recognised that the source material had the capacity to contribute significantly to the realisation of its own form. This conviction has undergirded pretty much everything that I’ve been committed to: creative work, teaching, pieties, and friendships included. The ideal is to assist the subject to discover and yield its/their inherent potential and character. In this vein, this morning, I wrote in my paper, in relation to The Aural Bible series:

The aims is to interrogate and interpret the source material with a view to eliciting meanings and generating significances that are not evident therein, but which are, nevertheless, congruent with events and ideas associated with the material’s history. Beyond this, the ambition is to create sound works that have integrity, ambition, and a measure of merit.

I’ve often wondered whether there were other artists who’d allied religion and Minimalism.

Lunchtime. On the bench today: my belovéd ‘Strat’, which has an ailing jack socket. A replacement unit had been procured. I proceeded in a ‘manly’ way – soldering on, as it were:

2.00 pm: Back to the paper. [He bit into his daily square of dangerously dark chocolate, having failed to remove the tinfoil adequately: ‘Aaaaah!’ He also wondered why his mug of tea was growing progressively stronger, until he espied the teabag at the bottom.] The introductory paragraphs are among the most important in a conference paper. They need to contextualize the topic under discussion sufficiently, succinctly, and swiftly. (Don’t front-end the background!) In order to change gear and break with the routine, I began originating PowerPoint slides to illustrate the ideas that I’d generated:

Evening. Bits to begin. Personal, medical admin beckoned. These days you have to do so much more to keep your health on track. I never knew I had a NHS number. I’ve vowed not to upload another photograph to Instagram until I’m up-to-date with tagging, and to review my Junk Mail box more carefully and regularly. The system is misdirecting legitimate mail.

8.00 pm: I proceeded with the conference paper and its PowerPoint until the end of the evening. Strong winds buffeted the Velux and roared through the trees beyond my study window.

Reflections and recognitions:

  • In principle, one should not walk away from someone without their knowledge and consent. To do otherwise represents an act of cruel abandonment.
  • On balance, a situation may be deemed inappropriate because it doesn’t present a sufficient number or range of benefits.
  • A right decision should have a good outcome for all concerned.
  • The rationalisation of a wrong is an evil act.
  • One’s happiness and fulfilment should never be at expense of another’s misery and disappointment.
  • The best of friends seek to out-do one other in expressions of kindness, care, and attention, without thought for reciprocation.
  • The strongest bonds of friendship are forged in the fires of trial.
  • Follow your heart, but only if it knows where it’s going.
  • Whoever shows me my folly, vanity, hypocrisy, and excess will be welcomed with open arms. (‘The wounds of a friend are faithful’ (Prov. 27.6).)
  • Fools seek the counsel of fools.

January 15, 2018

The weekend. On Saturday, I experienced a moment of clarity (a heightening of awareness) when several issues, which I’m working through currently, presented themselves in terms of incipient resolutions, for the first time. In order to embody my response to the unfolding ‘revelation’, I wrote notes to myself that variously mapped thoughts; discerned principles; conceived of, what for me were, radically alternative ways of thinking; and sketched plans. In essence, I became conscious of a necessity to, at the outset, position myself outside of my life – to look in upon it, rather than out from it (as I do at present; as I’ve always done).

Quite how this reorientation will be achieved has no definition presently. I’m not surprised; what I envisage is a substantial overhaul – the mental and spiritual equivalent of moving house. Of one thing I’m sure: the Diary requires a termination point. This is the 824th post. Its 1000th will be the last. By then, I’ll have written as many words as there are contained within seven Humanities PhD theses. That’s enough. The new perspective will require a different mode of rumination. I know not what. No doubt there’ll be other aspects of my life which will be either cast off or replaced in the process.

On Sunday, I lead the morning’s intercessions [click on arrow, top right] at Holy Trinity Church:

Today. Last night, as I fell asleep, I saw inside my eyes (this appeared to be an unusual optical phenomenon) an ill-defined fluorescent lime ring, exactly like a donut-shaped nebula. Around it were free-floating and irregular monochrome shapes bearing abstract linear patterns. I remembered that, during my early years battling with ME, I sometimes saw in the darkness of my bedroom three-dimensional geometries with primary coloured facets, slowly rotating.

And, in a ‘dream’ on the boundaries of sleep, I alighted upon a poem called ‘O Jericho’. I recall only its sense. A people were divided by a wall that they’d to set up by mutual agreement. It stretched to the left and to the right as far as they eye could see. As the weeks, months, and years rolled on, it grew taller and thicker – more formidable, impenetrable, and unassailable. Every so often, the patrol guards manning the checkpoints were doubled and then redoubled. But no one knew why. Eventually, the people forgot why they’d built the wall. Was it to keep them in or the others out? And was there, any longer, anyone on the other side?:

‘The Fall of the Walls of Jericho’, Dalziel’s Bible Gallery (1881) (courtesy of WikiCommons)

9.00 am: I attended to my timetable for the weeks ahead and some of the weekend’s incoming emails. Then, it was on with preparations for a paper on the ‘I. Nothing. Lack.’ project. As is my habit, I began with the design of the PowerPoint (the container). Once I’ve established the lecture’s graphic sensibility, other things follow. The event poster was my point of departure:

Mid afternoon, I was in a position (while still batting away incoming emails) to begin writing the conference paper proper. I paced myself through a disciplined pattern of work, with short periods of rest in between. There are times when my body went cold and I began shivering, regardless of the ambient room temperature. I feel as though I could sleep for a week.

In the evening, I did battle with the university’s dippy research database before conceding defeat and returning to my conference paper.

Some hard realities and difficult resolutions:

  • Do what’s good rather than what feels good. They may not be the same thing.
  • It’s a mistake to confuse what’s natural with what’s right. Our natures are imperfect.
  • To my mind, I don’t have the right to be either fulfilled or happy. If these rights are enshrined somewhere, then I relinquish them. But I do have an obligation to help others to realise those conditions.
  • If you make a wrong turn, don’t reverse. Rather, carry on until you reach the next junction and re-join the right road there.
  • Not all betrayals can be healed; the evidence, patience, and time required to re-establish integrity and trust can be too enormous.
  • New words offer new possibilities, ways of thinking, prospects, and connections.
  • Sometimes intuitions become evident long after an event. Likewise, instincts are not necessarily formed in the moment.
  • One must cast off in order to either take on something new or else take back what was cast off, at a later date.
  • It’s possible to live without hope in relation to specific aspects of life, but not in relation to life as a whole.
  • In the absence of physical proximity (‘real presence’, to adapt George Steiner’s term), our sense of reality becomes increasingly unreliable, unverifiable, and liable to be fictionalised.
  • Some situations are too volatile and hazardous to engage in comfortably and confidently, whatever the benefits and possibilities they may seem to offer.
  • Some problems require solutions that are constantly contingent, flexible, adaptive, mutable, and under consideration.

January 12, 2018

Around 3.00 am I had the first of two consecutive bad dreams. I witnessed a televised broadcast of a devastating earthquake that was centred upon Hong Kong and extended into the South China Sea. It was appalling, both visually and audibly. So loud! The second dream occurred between 6.00 am and 7.00 am. I’d arrived at a sound workshop to give a presentation, sans power and line cables for the PA system. (A disaster on an entirely different scale.) Rarely do I have bad dreams. Let’s hope they weren’t prophecies.

9.00 am: New day; elegiac, like a naïve painting:

On with marking (again). I don’t want any student to consider themselves unable to develop into at least a passably competent writer, even if they’re far from being one presently. Some lack a basic knowledge of the rudiments of grammar.  (Are these even taught in secondary school these days?) Once they’re grasped, the student will be away. Others are ‘tongue-tied’ in writing: they don’t know what to think and, therefore, what to say; which is why they don’t know how to say it. And yet others don’t persevere.  The skill of casting one’s thoughts into the mould of words is darned hard to acquire. This practice will require practise if they’re going to improve. In other words, their problems are often localised and can be overcome, in most cases, by dint of understanding and effort over time.

Quite apart from being an extraordinary artist, Vincent van Gogh was an exemplary writer too. To my mind, he used words to evoke images, much in the same way as he did paint. Writing and painting were analogies one of the other. They were two expressions, two facilities, with a common core. These letters weren’t intended to be great literature; his objective in both art forms was to be clear, lucid, honest, lively, and engaging. But great literature they’ve become, thereby.

Gardens in winter have a peculiarly consoling melancholy at this time of the year:

After lunch. In the background: Keith Jarrett, one of the greatest jazz piano improvisers of his generation, and a fine interpreter of J S Bach. In 1996, Jarrett developed ME (or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, as they call it in the USA). It stopped his career. But he persevered, effectively recovering not only his passion for music but also an ability to perform at the highest level. We fight for love of what we hold most dear. For artists, creativity is close to their essence. Lose it, and the soul diminishes. Django Reinhardt is a particular inspiration to me in this respect. He lost two fingers on his left hand in a caravan fire. But that didn’t stop him from becoming one of the most important jazz guitarists of all time. ‘Where there’s a will …’, as they say.

‘Continue!’ I can see the bottom of the pile for papers, now.

During the evening session, I completed the final Exhibition Report submission and began writing my intercessions for the Sunday morning service of Holy Communion.

Some ruminations from within the spaces between words:

  • The past is ever before us.
  • When something enriching suddenly and unexpectedly comes into your life and then, just as quickly, disappears, you’re left with is less than you had before it arrived.
  • Your success may defeat you one day.
  • A dairy is the story of a life. Not that the author will necessarily reveal everything through their writing. However, on occasions, what’s unsaid may be understood from what is said. ‘He who has ears to hear’.
  • We need love and friendship like bread and water. Without them we consume ourselves and wither like fallen leaves.
  • True sacrifice is made without any expectation of compensation. Sacrifice is not even its own reward. Its only return is the benefit that someone else will gain as a consequence.

January 11, 2018

Just before sleep last night, the bedside radio came on suddenly, and a voice spoke: ‘The Angel of the Lord’. Then, it promptly turned off again. I recalled, years ago, staging a performance of John Cage’s Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (1951), in the context of my Contemporary Art 2 module. On that occasion, 12 students operated 6 radios. The composition involved the orderly manipulation of the volume control and tuning dial of analogue radios, following a system of chance procedure. Whatever was played on the radio stations at the time constituted the music. The last words broadcast before the performance concluded were: ‘Is it art?’ Wonderful!

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Off to School, and into a crystal-glazed morning that was treacherous underfoot, to retrieve more marking:

9.30 pm: A telephone-based ‘pre-op’ consultation with a nurse at Bronglais Hospital. I’m now confirmed sufficiently fit and prepared to die (should that be the unanticipated outcome). I’ve a 0.01-0.016% chance of copping it on the surgeon’s slap. So says an article entitled, both alarmingly and reassuringly, ‘General Anesthesia is not Death’. However, it’s as close as one can get to the cessation of life and still be resuscitated. A ‘must try’, in other words. And I’ve got to go under three times this year.

10.00 am: Marking recommenced amid myriad other admin tasks that I’ve yet to catch up with. I need to be patient with myself … and so must others. Presently, I’m trailing behind by two days, by my calculation. The plumbers arrived late morning to ponder a radiator that really isn’t pulling its weight in the lounge. Heating systems are like the human body: all the parts need to be kept imbalance and regulated for the whole and the parts to function efficiently. Like the mind, too, it only takes a temporary deficit in one department for the entire system to falter. We have, to misappropriate a New Testament image, our ‘treasure in earthen vessels’:

I pressed on with marking. My backside, which had been pressed onto my seat all day, began to ache.

Through Autumn’s fall – a bed now shrivelled and made brittle by the hard frost – pushed the unfurling first fruits of the coming season: the harbinger of recovery following the crush and fury of these last months:

In mid-Winter, the consolations of Summer gone and Spring to come require a leap of the imagination to recollect and anticipate. ‘Things will be different soon’, I tell myself. People have told me that, this year, Winter has been particularly grim for them. And that not only in itself, but also because the season chimed with the circumstances of their lives.

After the Angel of the Lord had spoken to Hagar, she said: ‘You are a God of seeing … Truly here I have seen him who looks after me’ (Gen. 16.13).

January 10, 2018

8.15 am: A communion. 9.00 am: Bodily deficits have, over the last few days, been compounded by a recurrence of symptoms associated with ME. These make an appearance periodically, and can last up to a month. I feel as though I’m suffering from the perpetual onset of flu: limbs ache and are heavy, my eyes burn and stream, concentration requires a herculean effort on occasion, and I experience a lassitude that no amount of sleep can relieve. ‘Keep going, John!’, the voice charged. On with marking:

The term ‘Generation Snowflake’, which I heard most recently on the BBC Radio 4 news this morning, while derogatory and not applicable to a broad swathe of confident, robust, and well earthed young adults, does ring true of others, in my experience. I suspect that the latter (like the poor in the gospel saying) will always be, and have always been, with us. Today, however, they have definition. I belong to, what could be called ‘Generation SOS (Swim Or Sink)’. We taught ourselves to be self-reliant, have a realistic sense of what others either could or were obliged to do on our behalf, apportion blame to ourselves first, facedown problems without prevarication and grizzling, and not to allow the injustices, bad hands, and grenades that life threw at us to be an excuse for underachieving. We were (many of us) our own men and women. Maintaining that attitude involved hard work, focus, sacrifice, discomfort, and a great deal of soul searching. But that’s what we expected life would demand. So, there were no grounds for either disappointment or complaint.

I, late in the day, completed my response to the Module Evaluation Questionnaire for the module I’m currently marking. There was a 48% return only, which doesn’t provide an indicative response in my books. The process is dispiriting. Students are now tired of being asked to respond. (I sympathise). Why is my iPhone no longer ‘discoverable’ by my iMac? These devices boast of an efficiency that cannot be delivered with consistency. Who’s not recognising who here? One of them doesn’t trust the other … but neither are telling. Turning them both off, and then on again, sometimes re-establishes a reliable connection. We’ll see! Life’s rarely straightforward.

On with marking:

In the background: John Coltrane. Mid afternoon, I put down the red pen and tested an idea that had been bouncing around my brain like a ball bearing in a bagatelle over the Christmas period. I’ve wanted to capture the sound made by the movement of the cursor on the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software as it traversed the graphic interface. Using a live-sound capture software, overlaid upon the DAW, I was able to record its peregrinations in real time. It’s the equivalent of manipulating the DAW like a turntable:

I based my trails on MacMillan’s recitation of Psalm 23. Whether this will result in material towards another composition for the I. Nothing. Lack. suite remains undecided. ‘Never say never’, as they say. During my second year undergraduate studies, the bagatelle (fused with the interiors of a piano) was a regular subject of my drawing:

(1980) mixed media drawing, 34 × 43 cm

In the evening I extracted samples of beats, ‘silence’, and the spoken word from the Psalm 23 material. There maybe something in and between these recordings. (I hear new sounds.) But, then again, perhaps it all lands on the wrong side of obvious.

January 9, 2018

8.15 am: A communion. 9.00 am: The Turnitin submissions for the Abstraction module behind me, I moved to the Exhibition Report element and commenced marking in the ‘old-fashioned’ way, so as to preserve my poor arms and hands. The first task was to redesign the School’s art history feedback form to better reflect the objectives of the project under scrutiny:

One student’s submission drew my attention to the plight of the American/Jewish artist R B Kitaj who, along with David Hockney, was considered one of Britain’s foremost figurative painters during the 1970s. Kitaj received an utterly savage critical response to the major retrospective of his work, held at the Tate Gallery in 1994. He, as much as the work, was vilified. (So called ‘intellectual’ painters are frequently the target of British press journalists who’ve a pathological disdain for learning and cleverness.)  He blamed the stress caused by the hostility for the death of his second wife, Sandra Fisher, who succumbed to a brain aneurism at the age of 47, two weeks after the show’s opening. His first wife had committed suicide. Kitaj never recovered from the trauma of both the public humiliation and loss, and took his own life, after a period of self-imposed hermetic exile, in 2007. Words can wound far more deeply than ‘sticks and stones’, sometimes. As the writer Philippa Gregory remarked: ‘Words have weight, something once said cannot be unsaid’. The impact of what we write or say can far exceed our intent, and may be unstoppable in its consequences.

Onwards. One must read the project brief before, during, and prior to submission in order to ensure that its requirements are met to the letter. Some students had neglected to do so. What was included is often fine. But what should’ve been there was absent. The temperature in my study dropped at the same rate as the daylight diminished:

Winter is like death before a resurrection. It’s a period when the world is pared back to its quivering skeleton; barren and comfortless (like an empty fire-grate), closed down and choked; a too silent time, too hard for the heart to embrace, lacking the redemptive, elegiac tone of Autumn. That season’s solace now gone, we wish Winter away like some matter that needs to be put behind us.

And, into the evening:

I continued marking, into the silence.

January 8, 2018

‘What’s with the “communion” thing you write about?’, someone asked. Well, here’s what it’s not: the sacrament of bread and wine, Transcendental Meditation, a period of self-admiration, positive thinking, mental detox, and mind emptying, or navel staring. Rather, ‘communion’ is my shorthand for a discipline of reading, reflecting upon, and praying through a passage of Scripture that extends back to the meditative practices of the psalmists. This daily engagement (and it needs to be, ideally) takes place within a triangulation of Scripture, God, and oneself. Out of this process may arise new insight into either one or all three. The outcome may not be uplifting, necessarily. Often, the heart’s dissimulations, hypocrisies, callousness, and perversities are brought to light. (This ‘spiritual selfie’ can be very unflattering.) That’s no bad thing. When the problems are identified, the work of repentance and reparation can then begin. We are, none of us, what we’d like to be or could be. But, mercifully, our deficits, conspicuous though they may be, don’t put us out of the market for doing some good in this world.

8.30 am: A communion. 9.00 am: Postgraduate and week-ahead-type admin, along with plans and telephone calls regarding impending medical procedures, took up the first hour. This is day one of the new term, as well as the continuation of Semester 1. (These two systems of dividing the academic year will forever remain unresolved, I suspect. Life is often messy.) 10.00 am: Back to Abstraction essay marking:

My pace was uneasily slow. The myriad mouse movements needed to mark up on-screen were the chief cause of my discomfort. I was aware of the muscles in my upper arm objecting. Ibuprofen and a mouse with a different ergonomic profile came to the rescue! What I’m suffering from is, technically, an ‘industrial injury’: a compound repetitive-strain caused by an over use of, and a dependence upon, computers. The problem is … the job demands it. My shelf-life is diminishing.

Following a light lunch (the diet has resumed after the festive interlude; not that I have the constitution to indulge), I pressed on with the essay marking. I downloaded Joni Mitchell’s Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (1977) – the second of her jazz-folk fusion outings. The late Jaco Pastorius (a troubled soul and a remarkable bass player) gave of his most considered on her albums. The music helped ease body and mind through the process of work. Sound can be therapeutic.

In between essays, I exercised my limbs and another part of my brain, looking in on the studio where a test of external digital processors, integrated into and in/out loop of a MacBook, was set up. I need to know whether plug-in software for modulation, delays, and reverb produce a more coherent digital sound than using boxes outside the system:

On this day, ten years ago, I was facing down essay marking for the, then, Contemporary Art 1 module. I also visited my GP to check on an ‘orrible e.coli infection of my bladder and receive a further course of antibiotics. A conference paper was being drawn up, too. So, a combination of assessment, medical, and research commitments that mirrored what I’m presently doing. (Tomorrow, my contribution to the ‘Digital Past 2018’ conference will be on the drafting board.):

Consistent diarists (especially those who, like me, re-read their dairies religiously) observe the regularities, routines, and repetitions that mark out our lives. What, for me, are the most memorable events and encounters (for better or for worse or for both), often occur outside this framework. As I leaf through the pages of my dairies – which go back as far as 1981 – I find myself, having alighted upon a surprising (and sometimes alarming) occurrence, berating myself for not having either anticipated it or dealt with the aftermath particularly well. The pattern of our failures is discouragingly consistent throughout life. And I’m a slow learner too. Forgiving ourselves is far harder than forgiving others. But forgive we must, both.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s assessments:

  • Without references in an essay, it’s impossible for the reader to verify your sources, and sometimes difficult to distinguish your views from those of other authors.
  • State ideas simply. Don’t try and dress them up in academic language unnecessarily.
  • A student’s intelligence is sometimes most conspicuous in their ability to recognise an appropriate structure for the essay.
  • As the irate film directors says: ‘Cut! Cut! Cut! Therefore, Edit, Excise, Economise ruthlessly when writing.
  • Don’t over use of same word in close proximity.
  • The more you’re taught, the more will be expected of you. You may plead inability but you can’t plead ignorance.

January 5, 2018

Yesterday. The postponed interview at Radio Bronglais finally took place. I was the guest on its ‘The Brunch Show’ [extract], from 10 am to 12 pm:

I’d little idea of how things would proceed which, for a programme such as this, is probably the best position to be in. Breaking down what are abstruse and complex art ideas for public consumption, on the hoof, requires considerable perseverance. I had an opportunity to play and talk about three pieces from The Bible in Translation album. Rarely, if ever, does community broadcasting give air time to this mode of ‘music’. To be competent with radio interviewing of this type, you need to be doing it often (like everything else in life).

After lunch, I too slowly proceeded with on-line essay marking. The process has become painful, due to the strain caused by a significant number of mouse movements required by the Turnitin environment. The module’s Exhibition Report will have to be submitted manually, as hard copy, if I’ve any hope of completing the task in time. One has to take control of a situation when and where one can.

Today. I’m pacing myself – marking, then undertaking non-computer-based tasks in between. There’s a way through this. (Necessity demands.) I pushed on against the obstacles.  Some principles and observations derived from today’s assessment:

  • Avoid introducing too many ideas and, particularly, those not  essential to the argument.
  • Read and revise before submitting.
  • The essay could work, but you weren’t prepared to.
  • Begin answering the question as soon as possible. Avoid discursive preambles.
  • Art historical writing is not journalism or blogging.
  • The nature of academic writing is to support your convictions by the deployment of argument and supportive evidence.
  • Use subheadings to indicate the transitions from one set of ideas to another.
  • Avoid appending a title to the essay. It can subtly skew the question.

Overcast and downcast: conditions of the weather and the emotions respectively:

There’s something disagreeable in the air: either a passionless neutrality or a sense of foreboding that beckons towards dismal events to come, perhaps. By the close of this day, people will have died, received appalling news, lost someone or something too precious for words, or fallen foul of their own folly to their destruction. If you aren’t counted among their number, then you’ve reason for gratitude. Your day will come.

A recollection: