April 29, 2020

What had I missed?

WFH: DAY 30. 8.15 am: A communion. 9.00 am: I held a Vocational Practice consultation before launching into the first of the day’s online PhD tutorials.

I’d first gained competence in conducting conference tutorials with our PhD tutees, some of whom studied from afar. Whether either exchanging typed messages or talking to one anothers’ faces, business can be done very effectively. I never assume that I’ll make contact with students. Reality sometimes gets in the way: WIFI ceases, the Internet ‘goes slow’, Microsoft Teams ‘acts up’, microphones and cameras fail inexplicably, and, periodically, we each fracture into a cluster of pixels before reforming, like figures on the transporter pad of the Enterprise. There have been times, too, when the student’s camera has frozen (unbeknown to me) and they’ve meanwhile moved away from the computer. When the camera returns to normal, what I see is them — suddenly and alarmingly — vanish.

10.50 am: My second tutorial of the morning. Each student brings with them a different set of circumstances, responses to the present crisis, and academic profile (questions, approaches, determinations, and challenges).

12.00 pm: The third tutorial. I appreciate being able to see into the students’ domestic interiors. It humanizes us, and demonstrates that we have lives and domains outside of our customary roles and habitat. ‘Tea up!’

1.30 pm: After lunch, and before the next tutorial, I began the process of transferring my digital sound files to tape. The transformation was palpable — like converting acrylic paint into oil paint. Beautiful.

5.00 pm: By the close of the afternoon, I’d completed two further PhD tutorials and one further Vocational Practice consultation.

7.00 pm: An evening stroll. Some of the gravestones have stood while two world wars blazed about them. They’ll survive this present crisis too. The cemetery looked even more forlorn, neglected, and in a noticeably bad state of repair.

7.45 pm: An evening of teaching admin, following up matters raised today and preparing for tomorrow’s discussions.

Reflections of this day’s engagements:

  • [On writing the PhD Fine Art thesis]: The hardest part is developing a succinct expression of the objective. The objective is the question that you’ve sought to answer. But, of course, that question may reveal itself only towards the end of the process of study.
  • Start by looking at the artwork, and ask yourself: ‘What have I achieved? What did I do?’ In other words, begin at the conclusion of the process. 
  • Ask yourself what questions would someone coming to your work for the first time pose.
  • The artwork is the answer … but to what question? That’s the crux of the matter. 
  • PhD Fine Art study is reverse-research: in a sense, you know the answer even before you search for the question.
  • You’re missing the obvious. You do so because it’s hard to see the wood for the trees at this point in the research. The obvious is mercurial. But its always about the most human aspect of the artwork: the thing that makes your endeavour art, rather than mere research. We can easily miss it. It’s the curse of PhD-dom, and the hardest part to write about. In fact, it’s better written by someone other than yourself.
  • Let your thoughts be as arrows speeding towards a precise target.
  • Spend your time and energies wisely. They’re not unlimited.

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