March 18, 2021

WFH: DAY 57/LENT 26. Yesterday evening, I opened an unexpected package.  It contained an egg flute (which is rather like a Xun) made by the cellist and maker of sound objects, Ecka Mordecai. There’s just one hole, at the top of the egg, across which the egg-flautist blows in order to make a sound:

7.30 am: Outwards. The town was waking. In the woods, a mist hung above the trees, dampening the air and the sounds around about. A communion, with thanksgiving.

9.00 am: The first of the day’s third-year painting tutorials. There’d be much business to cover before they ‘went down’ for the Easter vacation. Honesty was a necessity. There was too much to lose by holding back a difficult opinion. During the morning tutor turned technician, as I made circular crops of works by several students who’re making paintings in that format. These will be included in their PowerPoint submissions in May. The result sharpened the intensity of the works’ interior forms. As one recipient of my efforts remarked: ‘This looks really cool!’ 11.00 am: I’d time for a little admin catch-up. (In the background: John Coltrane’s Ascension (1966).) A good morning. It had drive, intensity, and a due sense of seriousness.

2.00 pm: The last lap, for this term. When I first came to — what was in the mid-1980s — the Art Department of the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, I was struck by how polite and civil the manner of teaching was. My art school experience had been characterised by confrontational tutorials, a ‘strictly business’ relationship between tutees tutors (which was fine by me), and a level of inscrutability when it came to expectations and assessment criteria. The lecturers were employed to be professional artists or art historians, primarily. They taught as part of that contract. (And that was fine by me, too.) We’d not have gone to our teachers for emotional support and pastoral advice. Most would’ve been constitutionally unable and unwilling to offer such. That simply wasn’t their job. How things have changed. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have wanted my undergraduate education to be other than what it was.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Aim for integrity in your work, above all else. Self-gratification, popularity, prizes, and the opinion of your audience and peers come a very poor second.
  • On the narrow path towards the exhibition, there’ll be times when you’ll lose heart; walk into a fog bank; be distracted by voices, to your left and right; and want to turn off and walk ‘the flowery way’. Stay the course; look ahead of you, doggedly; and keep putting one foot in front of another.
  • T: ‘Just because one painting took x-amount of time to complete, doesn’t mean that all the others will follow suit. Some works mature slowly; others, fall into place swiftly’.
  • T: ‘What is “finished”, for you?’ S: ‘When I can look at every colour and form in the painting without wincing’.
  • T: ‘There can be a breadth or latitude of contrasting approaches to paint application, even within a relatively narrow field of action’.
  • T: ‘In self-criticising your work, you aren’t supplying examiners with bullets with which to shoot you. Rather, you’re demonstrating a mature and professional objectivity, and a capacity for discernment’.
  • T: ‘Don’t finally put your brush down until you’re certain that you can do no better’.
  • Each one of my cohort is doing better than they did last semester, but not as good as they will by the close of this semester. They must all endeavour to peak right at the very end.
  • The students have been working in isolation; they’ve not had the benefit of a supportive community of peers, working alongside them. Nevertheless, they’ve persevered in, sometimes, conditions that are less than adequate. This is to their credit.
  • T: ‘A painting can be finished at its beginning’.
  • T: ‘Tell me why you did what you did, and why it is the way it is’.

5.00 pm: Concluded. 7.30 pm: The Thursday evening round-up: registers, desktop clearance, emailery, and preparations for Friday and Saturday.

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