February 27, 2020

It’s nearly March, but it feels as though Winter just won’t let go.

7.20 pm: Morning-tide:

8.00 am: A communion. 8.40 am: Against the wind, towards the School. On route, I rehearse what I wanted to say to those students that I’d be teaching today: the third year painters, from 9.00 am to 5.30 pm. I arrived early enough to fortify myself with a mug of tea. The rest I’ll leave to providence.

9.00 am: Kick off! (And I’d only drunk half of my tea.) I must go up and down these stairs between my office and the studio at least 20 times on a Thursday. Integrated aerobics:

My objective today is to ensure that all students see the path ahead and are committed to following it. It’s hard to develop a vision for what will go up on the exhibition wall. Nevertheless, the fog must be cleared, and now is as good a time as ever to begin that process. At the very least, each student must determine just how many works they need to produce in order to fill their allotted space. Otherwise, the danger of overproducing are just as possible as that of underproducing. Thus ‘realism’ has been one of today’s governing words.

12.00 pm: Off to the Old College for one further tutorial before lunch at my usual watering hole. This time last year, 1940s-50s Bebop seeped out of the speakers: Miles Davis, Dizzie Gillespie, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans. The place felt ‘cool’, in that period sense of ‘sophisticated’, ‘high-brow’, and ‘intellectual’. Now, I hear only youth-orientated music: predictable, soporific, and pushing no boundaries. (Is this the beginnings of grumpy-old-man syndrome?)

1.30 pm: After my brief lunch, I returned to the mothership and caught up on the admin implied by the morning’s email delivery. 2.00 pm: Back on the studio floor. These days, tutoring is one among of many roles that academics have to assume in dealing with the students’ ‘experience’. We have to be friends, carers, support workers, intermediaries between them and medical professionals, surrogate parents (on occasion), amateur counsellors (when there’s little hope that an appointment with the professional ones can be arranged soon enough), and clerics (sometimes). Few professions demand such a broad range of non-contractual skills and an all-embracing emotional commitment.

3.30 pm: Various and reasonable absences gave me time to talk with students who I’d not ordinarily have either the occasion or responsibility to meet. And there was physical mail, which had been dormant in my pigeon hole all week, to deal with. When I began as an academic, in the days before email, my pigeon hole was choc-o-bloc with envelopes and pink committee minutes and agenda on a daily basis. Perhaps some things are better these days. 5.30 pm: Homeward.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • If I can be on time for the tutorial, why can’t you?
  • When you don’t know whether an image is fully resolved, leave it for a while and move on. Subsequent works may provide you with an answer.
  • I sometimes prattle-on for up to four minutes about an issue with the student’s work, for them to respond at the end only with ‘Yeah!’ (Sigh!)
  • Define the emotion that you wish to articulate as precisely as you’re able, and then amplify it.
  • As a painter, you should look to sculpture, cinema, photography, and theatre, too, for answers.
  • T: ‘Exercise and don’t eat too many pizzas. A way of life that’s good for the body is good for the mind is good for a sense of well-being is good for the work.’
  • T: ‘Do fewer things better. Over production necessarily impairs quality.’
  • T: ‘In art, the only rules are those that you discover for yourself.

6.45 pm: I attended another ‘pop up’ opening of an exhibition by Hannah Mann at the School, briefly, before heading to the Arts Centre’s cinema for a rare night out.

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