October 5, 2017

These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other … (Zech. 8.16).

‘Just out of interest, John, what’s the Internet bible verse for the day?’ Like the Oblique Strategies, these randomly chosen extracts from the scriptures aren’t difficult to apply to some aspect of one’s life. I’m committed to that precept. But not all truth can be spoken to everyone on any occasion. Some truths are too fearful and hard to bear. There’s a time and a place for telling. The hearer need to be in a frame of mind to receive it. And you need the empathy to deliver it compassionately. (Truth isn’t a weapon; it’s a key that unlocks and liberates.) Never confront someone with a difficult truth by email or letter (let alone Twitter or Messenger). Meet them face-to-face, if at all possible. You need to be there to support their response.

8.30 am: Off to School to, first, test out the lecture theatre’s audio-visual equipment:

Then, I prepared for the first painting workshop/surgery, which Dr Forster and I presided over. We never had anything like this when undergraduates. It’s an essential provision. In this context, all of us (tutees and tutors) recognise our obligations to each other to share insight and encouragement, engage critique, and offer challenges. Here, truth is spoken with tact and understanding. It’s a truth that winnows, builds, focusses, and enables:

Some principles and observations derived from today’s workshop/surgery:

  • The acquisition of skills and techniques should never be an end in itself.
  • Practise and execution proceed in parallel; never one before or after the other.
  • A way of working that fulfils the demands of the artwork, and a way of working that fulfils you. Ideally, these two ambitions ought to be congruent.
  • Some artworks proceed from content to form, others from form to content, and yet others present the form as the content and the content as the form.
  • Choices have to be made and sacrifices, endured.
  • The genre is not the subject. Rather, it’s merely the domain in which the subject may be found.
  • It takes more than art to make art. Therefore, look to your life.

11.15 am: A dash to the newsagents to add to my arsenal of cold and flu remedies. (‘I can’t afford to be ill!’). The first few weeks of term represent a critical period, within which far more than welcomes and well-wishes are exchanged. (I’ve also a bottle of anti-bacterial hand wash on my desk):

12.10 pm: The Abstraction module was launched. The first lecture had to be taken on trust. We went, as the old mission-hall chorus proclaims, ‘deep and wide’. The last thing I wanted to do is either play to the students’ expectations or deny them difficulty. After all, education is not entertainment; it’s endeavour and endurance:

Fuelled only by the half-bag of crinkly crisps, that I’d discovered in the bottom draw of my desk, and drinking Lemsip, I ploughed through two consecutive hours of lectures. But listening is harder than delivering, even when the lecturer’s resources are taxed. 2.00 pm: The finishing line. My voice held up.

2.15 pm: Homebase. There was a great deal of admin either pending, or dormant in my inbox, or resulting from the morning’s teaching. Tomorrow will be my day.

7.30 pm: Postgraduate admin, project publicity, micro-messages, and the finalisation of an MA dissertation assessment. I can now draw lines under some things.

An aside: ‘Perhaps you shouldn’t commit these things to writing, John, even obliquely!’:

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