November 19, 2015

8.00 am. Inbox defoliation, diary uploading, and a time of reflection before shipping out to the School to begin the morning’s Abstraction assignment pre-submission tutorials. A good turnout. But why have some folk not availed themselves of the opportunity to attend? How far should I go to wheedle them out of the woodwork? The boundary between a student’s and a tutor’s responsibility for their learning is always a fuzzy one.  10.50 am. On, then, to my troupe of second year painting tutees.


Some principles and observations that emerged from today’s discussions:

  • Economy is the watch word. A grand master chess player will attempt to win the game in as few moves as possible. Likewise, we should endeavour to resolve the painting as straightforwardly, strategically, and simply as we can.
  • Paintings should be interesting as paintings; in other words, in the manner of their construction, and in their qualities of colour, form, pattern, line, brushwork, and surface. Sometimes what a painting represents is a matter of indifference or, at best, secondary to how it represents.
  • One has to rise above one’s personal expectations. Because, often, we pitch them far too low. If we fulfil our low expectations, we’ll not be disappointed. (But that’ll be the only consolation.)
  • Just because making a painting is enjoyable doesn’t make it good; just because making a painting is painful, doesn’t make it bad.
  • Sometimes I arrive at the School with no heart for teaching. But when I start to teach, the enthusiasm returns. We must act according to duty, rather than from desire.
  • Don’t expect everything you do to be as good as, if not better than, the best thing you’ve ever done. This is unrealistic. Not even Rembrandt’s paintings are all equally great works of art.
  • The question is: What should I be doing, now?
  • Trust that the answer to your problem will find you. But it’ll be looking for you in the studio, while you’re at work. So don’t disappoint it.
  • Don’t be afraid to don the hat of another artist’s style. Try on many different hats; see what becomes you. This is what good painters have always done. We learn by, and from, imitation.


2.00 pm. Back into the fray until 5.10 pm, and the 14th Abstraction lecture. We’re on the homeward lap. In one respect, the module could end on this lecture which, itself, ends with the degree-zero of painting. As the discussion approaches Robert Ryman’s austere canvases, there’s a palpable sense of unease in the audience at the realisation that Modernism actually did achieve what it set out to do. I was reminded of the final lines from the original film of The Planet of the Apes (1968), when George Taylor (played by Charlton Heston) discovers the ruins of the Statue of Liberty in the desert and, in that moment, understands that the humankind had followed to a conclusion its trajectory towards annihilation: ‘We finally really did it … You maniacs!. You blew it up! Ah, damn you!’.

The last slide of the lecture was one of Ryman’s ‘blank’ white canvases. Works like this represent, for me, a triumphant moment in twentieth century art: the uncompromising commitment to the implications of an ideal; one that, furthermore, takes us full circle, and returns abstraction to Malevich’s own unconscious anticipation of the endgame:


Kasimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition: White on White (1918)

7.00 am. Following a fast dinner and brush up, I attended an NT Live performance of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (1937) at the Arts Centre. This is still on the GCSE English syllabus, and school children were out in force. 10.00 pm. What could not be done in the evening was completed during ‘the night watch’, namely, the finalisation of the 15th Abstraction lecture, for Monday’s class.

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