Friday, 29 November 2019

Research

I'm still being employed and have yet to hang up my educational hat, and although I now never post on pedagogic matters here because I have been too interested in drawing and how to teach it and have a separate blog for that, thought I'd just reflect on how research has become more and more important to those of us artist educators working in HE.
Coming up next year will be the first ever submission by Leeds Arts University to the Research Exercise Framework. This means that I will have to submit what I have been doing as research and also in my case prove that it has 'impact'.
Because this is the first time of asking there is a lot of uncertainty as to how it works, what is classed as research and how to measure its impact.
I have thought about it quite a lot but have yet to really nail what I should be doing.
The first thing that alerted me to a deep seated problem was that of all the various things I do, after our initial submissions were looked at only two of my various 'outputs' were considered 'ref-erable' . Both were written academic papers, one a chapter for a book on drawing and another for a journal focused again on drawing. As the majority of what I would consider I do as research is making things, either at the moment by drawing or ceramics, I felt that something was going wrong. When I'm writing about drawing I'm reflecting on what has been done as research, the writing is a type of documentation of what has happened, but as far as I'm concerned the actual research is the engagement with material thinking. The research is first of all about how graphite moves around and opens up possibilities for images to arrive or how clay forms itself into shapes because of an interaction between itself, gravity and my hand movements. It is also about how my conversations with people become kernels or grains around which can grow materialised ideas or reflections on what I understand people to be saying. My preoccupations with other humans become embedded into my preoccupations with materials. But the doing is not enough, something else has to be given to the collective academic mind that is not claying or imaging in pigments suspended in liquids. Sentences like these are needed, especially ones that state the claying or imaging had some sort of effect on someone. There is a desire on the part of the academic measuring machine for evidence of change. "I saw one of Garry Barker's ceramic exhibitions and it changed the way I understood my relationship with objects". "I encountered one of Garry Barker's narrative drawings and it changed my views about the role of migration in society." Well if people wrote things like that in those comments books that you put out in exhibitions there would be no problems. But instead they put, "Loved the work", or "Great stuff, really enjoyed the drawings". I have now realised that I should have been much more thoughtful about the way I collected evidence of how an audience is effected by visiting an exhibition. In particular by putting on workshops or soliciting reviews.
So I'll have to do some work trying to collect evidence and in the meantime carry on researching, i.e. making art and following my nose as to how materials are 'speaking to me' and wishing that I could submit a sketchbook to the REF rather than a form.
This is what we will be assessed on, "For each submission, three distinct elements are assessed: the quality of Outputs (for example, publications, performances, and exhibitions), their Impact beyond academia, and the Environment that supports research. The weighting of the elements is 60% Outputs, 25% Impact, and 15% Environment". As outputs are weighted the highest, I presume my job is going to be how to explain that the artefacts I make are worthy. But exactly how is the problem. For instance my sketchbooks enabled me to win first prize for SKETCH2017, the feedback stating that I was given the award because of the combination of imaginative imagery and beautiful observational draughtsmanship. However this is not yet enough, so I need to construct a more powerful narrative around my work if it is to be seen as good enough. 
If by chance you are looking at this post and want to see what I spend most of my reflecting time upon see: http://fineartdrawinglca.blogspot.co.uk  If you have any good ideas as to how to present artwork as ref-erable material let me know. In the meantime I shall see how my energy levels can stand up to being buffeted by the winds of academic measurement.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Thoughts on the life room


Yesterday I had to collect some work from an exhibition in one of the Dean Clough galleries in Halifax. I was having a quick look round at the art on the walls there when Doug Binder turned up and introduced himself as the artist in resident and informed me that he had been in this position for well over 25 years. We ended up talking and he took me into his studio and as is often the case with these meetings we began to work out where our relative paths had overlapped. 
He, like David Hockney who was in the year above Binder, had been taught drawing by Frank Lisle. Frank had moved on from teaching at Bradford School of Art and when I arrived in Leeds he was the principal of the Jacob Kramer College, (which was what Leeds Arts University and Leeds College of Art was then known as). During my early time as a teacher there Frank had sat in one of my life classes and had run the rule over my approach, praising and admonishing my various approaches to communicating to students how to cope with what was then a central plank in the art school curriculum. 
Binder still has a reproduction of Cezanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire pinned up in his studio and this is obviously still central to his practice. Talking to him reminded me of how central perceptual looking was to both art education and the practice of art itself. It was almost a religion and one that it would appear Binder still believes in. Cezanne was still, when I entered into art education, the key figure. The struggle, (and it had to be a struggle) to recreate how looking worked was somehow central to an idea of being both an individual and someone that could contribute to the common store of information about what looking could be like. This practice had somehow become merged with an idea of Socialism, it was something everyone could do, didn’t require a lot of money to do it and if you could crack it, it felt as if you as an artist would be able to break through into some sort of higher level of reality. Cezanne was like a saint that you needed to worship and if you didn’t you could be accused of being shallow, not able to see what was really there and lacking the stamina and vision to sustain yourself as an artist. 
In many ways it was refreshing to talk to Doug Binder, he had a clarity about what his work was about that must be now very hard to come by. If I think about the so many possible directions today’s students have open to them, I can already find my own mind getting lost in a fuzz of endless possibilities. I still have Cezanne in my head as I do things, but not the same one that Binder has. Cezanne opened a door for myself that led to the idea that art was about experience and that its main concern was to find ways to capture those experiences. But an experience might be gained from reading a book, falling in love, seeing something, hearing something, touching something, following a mathematical proof or realising the significance of a philosophical argument. All these things and many others could be part of my experiential world and it was how I found meaning in these experiences that was interesting, in particular how I had a tendency to turn experiences into stories in order to understand them. What for many artists was the worst thing to do, (to work with narratives), had become for myself a way into making art. This took me a long time to resolve in my own head and it is even after all these years something that I find some art educators don’t want to admit back into the fold as an accepted way of thinking about art practice. There are still arguments about media specificity that prioritise certain ways of thinking about making art that question narrative as a ‘proper’ concern of the visual artist. 
Once I had collected my work I had a further look around Dean Clough, a place that has a wonderful amount of wall space devoted to art work and came across an exhibition devoted to the life class that Doug Binder puts on every week. There were walls of life paintings and drawings, many of which were driven by those conventions of scanning the field of vision and building an image out of those ‘petit-sensations’ that Cezanne talked about. Within the very narrow range of possibilities available to these artists an interesting range of communication possibilities presented itself.  Paint could be thicker or thinner, colour could be more muted or less, brushstrokes longer or shorter and the degree of ‘finish’ more or less open. Composition and posture, detail or full view, on paper or canvas, horizontal or landscape, but rarely within a square; the images were 90% of women and nearly always unclothed.  The situation that was looked at was regarded as a situation within which looking was being practiced, it was an exercise in training the eyes to see. But what did these eyes see? Could they spot the first signs of illness or an inner anxiety on the part of the model? Could they detect the various changes in posture made as a result of listening to endless bad news? I found myself looking at the looking, looking at the compositions engendered by the various starting points and comparing them. Each artist had a ‘style’ or an approach. It was this that seemed to determine what was going to be ‘discovered’ in these various paintings and drawings. Each image becoming part of a number of images that when seen together told a story, not of the model, but of the person doing the looking. This it seemed to me was the problem, in seeking to uncover the mysteries of perception by painting and drawing, what was being uncovered was a series of short stories about people’s ideas of looking and art and the relationship between an artist and a model.  The ‘looking’ was indeed powerful, but more in the sense of control than true investigation, the imposition of the artist’s vision on the way that the models were represented was hard to accept, and a reminder of the problems related to solipsistic communication. I could see what they were getting at, but it had very little to do with developing an understanding of the situation of being in a stuffy small room with another naked human being. 

(Now writing reasonably regular posts on drawing; this particular blog is very rarely updated, so if interested in these things see.

Friday, 15 September 2017

A continuing tradition

I had thought of shelving this blog and then returning to it when I had finally left teaching. However I thought it worth recording that this year's new intake of degree students will be the first year to enter what is now Leeds Arts University. Leeds College of Art is no more. The college was awarded taught degree powers, (TDAP) last year and the senior management decided to therefore change the college's name to signify the fact that the college now had university status. My personal feeling is that the brand Leeds College of Art was a strong one; the Royal College of Art has never had a problem with the college of art moniker. However I'm sure the re-naming has more to do with market research than sentiment. Many people felt that the old Jacob Kramer name was a good one and resented the college re-appropriating its old name. From what I remember the college went from Leeds College of Art to Jacob Kramer College in 1968 and then round about 1990, to Leeds College of Art and Design and after a few years the word 'design' was dropped, and we were back to Leeds College of Art. Every change involved people arguing that the old name was the better one. I well remember a long and bitter debate surrounding the dropping of the word design and of course we still continued getting students applying for our design courses after 'design' was dropped from the title.
Numbers continue to go up. This year's new intake will be 130 and I shall be teaching 3 days a week on the new first year. This coming Monday is the beginning of freshers week and I shall be taking a group of students out to take photographs, make videos and collect detritus so that they have something to work from.
The biggest difference for myself will be that on Tuesday and Wednesday I shall be off to Loughborough to attend a drawing conference. Giving conferences papers and writing for journals and or books is now expected as part and parcel of a lecturer's job. The gaining of university status means that we all have to consider research as part of our role. Therefore there is far more pressure to exhibit, and not just get work shown but to have exhibitions reviewed or written about. This change has also affected the academic make-up of the staff profile. Many of the current staff now having PhDs or working towards one.
Going to conferences is therefore a prerequisite of the job. Conferences allow you to network and most importantly seek out opportunities for publishing or other ventures that can be seen as research outputs. One of the reasons I stopped writing this blog was that I have had to do a lot more writing this last couple of years, and not just for the drawing blog, which I have managed to sustain.
I do feel a little sad that the College of Art name is now a thing of the past, and perhaps that is because so many years of my life have been devoted to service in its name. I shall see if the Leeds Arts University name catches on and in the meantime shall continue to work part-time and follow the shifts and changes in fine art pedagogy from a position close to the coal face.
The dropping of learning outcomes and the introduction of expectancies is the latest news in relation to pedagogy, news that for once I welcome. I remember the introduction of learning outcomes in the 1980s, we argued at the time that they were bad for the pedagogic discipline and that they were reductive, simplistic and could not measure the reality of a learning experience that was unpredictable and designed to embrace the unknown. It will now take the profession of art and design education years to get over learning outcomes, they eventually crept in and during the 1990s took over, until every session was being driven by them. In a few years we might be able to get rid of the brief as well, and then we will have gone full circle. I'm not sure I will last that long in post, but you never know. When I started at the college what they looked for in a new member of staff was first of all an interesting personal art practice. Having a teaching qualification was frowned upon and there seemed little need for any qualifications beyond your portfolio. Patrick Oliver always used to tell students that his only qualification was a swimming certificate. The idea that you would trust your eyes still held water 40 years ago, but in the days of post-truth, it would appear that no one trusts anything any more and the higher the qualification needed to enter the profession the more it seems to me people distrust the value of said qualifications. Patrick Oliver had worked alongside Peter Lanyon in his studio in St Ives, he had then worked alongside Harry Thubron in Lancaster, these formative experiences alongside the fact that he had a painting practice, had shaped Oliver as a teacher and he is still one of the best art teachers I have ever come across. I am now preparing for next year's students and I hope to keep carrying the baton for a few years more, but will have to pass it on at some point. This is my 44th year of teaching and my bones are getting creaky. I am still keeping up my weekly blog on drawing and how it relates to being a student on the fine art course at Leeds, follow the blog from here. 

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Anne Baxter and the art college life models

Anne Baxter checking the time 

When I arrived at the art college in Leeds in 1974, there were three full-time life models; Anne, Mavis and Rosie. The principle Frank Lisle had decided that because life drawing was so central to the curriculum life models should not be treated as casual labour, but seen as professionals in their own right. This was of course a right and proper thing to do and respected them as people.
This meant that the Jacob Kramer College and Leeds College of Art and Design as it was to become, over a period from about the mid to late 60s through to the Millennium had a stable group of three women who would appear over and over again in ever changing years of students’ portfolios. They themselves would of course gradually get older, Terry Hammill the ex head of Art and Design, who was a student at Batley School of Art, remembers drawing Mavis Kielty when he was 17 in the early 60s and of course still drawing her when as a member of staff on the Foundation course we used to hold staff life drawing sessions.
How times have changed, the idea that the college could employ permanent life models would be unthinkable now, and so would the idea that staff would take a day off teaching to collect together in the life room and draw.
Life drawing was seen for all courses as essential, Laimonis Mierins, was in charge of the drawing for graphic design students when I arrived, and his focus on the body as a linear design element held sway over much of the college, except of course for the Foundation programme where the range of staff ensured that no one approach was accepted as right.
Frank Lisle used to check out new members of staff, but when I started teaching during the academic year of 1974/5 Frank was off on a sabbatical, so I didn’t meet him until the year after. I was asked to take a life drawing class and not long after I had started the class Frank arrived at the back and motioned me to carry on. He stayed for what it seemed to me an interminable time and then just disappeared. In those days there was a bar in the music college that adjoined the art college by an internal walkway, both institutions being under the same Leeds City Council umbrella. The seats were covered in a reddish pink velvety type of fabric, we used to call it the ‘pink plush bar’ and Frank used to preside in there over dinner time. If you wanted to talk to him it was polite to offer him a half pint for his time and he would give you the benefit of his vast experience and knowledge. I found him rather frightening at first and was really worried about what he would have to say to me about my drawing class. So after the class I went to the bar and there was Frank who motioned me over to sit with him. He gave me a detailed breakdown of what I had done wrong and what had seemed to him to be positives about my approach. He was very technical and his advice has stayed with me to this day. As principal he believed in the fundamental importance of drawing in the Art College and took it upon himself to check that his staff could teach it. As a sign of changing times, this was the one and only time a principal has ever sat in any of my sessions.  However I wear his inspection with pride, Frank taught David Hockney when he was at Bradford, and to be given the OK from Frank was for me a sign that I was all right at my job.
Each of the models had a powerful personality, they occupied their space with a certain gravitas that came with being in the same job for years. They had heard it all from young art teachers with new crazy ideas of how to refresh the situation, via the introduction of feminist deconstructions introduced after Griselda Pollock’s influence came through, to grizzled old men who taught in the same way that they had been taught and who were desperate to cling on to this last bastion of academic tradition.  However of the three, the one I had the most to do with was Anne Baxter. Anne was a constant smoker, never without a fag and she operated as a life model provider. If you needed a model you just went to see Anne and she always knew of someone who would be available. This was particularly useful for me because I was teaching adult education classes at the Swarthmore Centre and of course in those days drawing was central to what was taught and life drawing sessions were an integral part of what you did then.
Anne would always be prepared to step into the situation, from advising on poses, to the formal crit at the end of the session.  She would determine lengths of pose, advise on what markings to make before she had to move and generally ensure that the session went smoothly.
Anne never took off her glasses and in some ways their appearance in a drawing became a source of pride for her. She would criticise a student for leaving them off and engaged with the various debates on how to draw them. Terry reminded me of one time when all the staff were having a life drawing day and at the end of the session he was being critiqued by myself and Patrick Oliver, I cant remember the ‘fault’ we found in his drawing, but he clearly remembered the fact that Anne joined in and accused him of making too much of her glasses as a symbol rather than as a way to see the head in space. Terry’s tale is a timely reminder of how critiques can hurt if not done properly, we always remember the harsh things people say about us and not the positives.  Anne knew her opinion counted and was a good teacher, she would make sure you picked out everyone’s drawing, saying “You haven’t said anything about so and so’s drawing yet Garry”, just when you thought you had managed to avoid a tricky encounter with a particularly difficult student’s work.
All these memories have resurfaced because the new college exhibition officer has decided to collect together old drawings of Anne and see if it is possible to host a memorial exhibition. I have lost all of my drawings of her except one, but luckily it contains some important clues to what it was like to draw her. It’s a drawing that tries to capture the way a situation is perceived rather than render the look of something, but even so it reveals a lot about Anne as a person.


This must be from the late 70s early 80s

Perhaps a few details will help, as the photograph of the full drawing is pretty poor. Anne as I have pointed out never took her glasses off and so how you drew them became a particular conundrum to be solved. 

In this case as I was trying to establish that 'flicker of looking' I tried to make her glasses using the same nervous marks as the rest of the drawing, and I think Anne approved of this.
If you look closely you can just spot the rising smoke coming off Anne's cigarette. The marks are slightly darker as I was trying to build in areas of focus so that the drawing reflected my own moments of interest. Anne would prefer a pose where she could smoke, if not she would make sure a cigarette and accompanying ashtray were close enough to lean over and have a quick drag before the ash fell off the fag. Something we would watch for was how long the ash would get before she had to tip it off into the ash tray, it's interesting to remember how cigarette smoking was so engrained into daily life then.  Anne also liked a cup of tea.

You can just about pick out Anne's mug of tea, sitting on top of a stool close at hand and ready for a quick swig. The models' room was in the corner of the life room itself. There is a bridge that links Vernon Street with Rossington Street now, and it cuts straight through the space where their room was.  It was tiny and had three steps up to the life room, but cosy enough for three and the kettle was always on, so if you wanted to you could drop in for a chat and a cuppa. Anne would always be sitting in her dressing gown, as if ready to step into a life session at a moment's notice. Something that she often did, as students as well as staff could ask her to pose for them as individuals  if she was not timetabled for a particular taught session. It may well have been one of those moments that I took the opportunity of to do this drawing. 
The electric two bar fire was another key aspect of the situation. The rooms did not have the type of controlled heating with adjustable thermostat that they now have. Therefore these little electric heaters were vital. However they did have severe drawbacks, the main one being that they were only adjustable by moving them closer or further away. This often meant that Anne's leg closest to the heater would gradually get redder and redder  as a session progressed. At the end of a life class she would scoop up the heater and take it back into the model's room, she knew the value of a good two bar heater. 
One other memory this drawing brings back is that of Anne's footwear.

Anne always wore slip-ons and rarely took them off. This was because of the state of the floor. The life room floor consisted of old wooden floorboards, the ones that are much wider than today's. There were lots of gaps between boards and the floor was quite rough. The main hazard for any walker though was drawing pins. At the end of the day my shoe's soles were speckled with them and for a model with naked feet they were really dangerous. All the students used drawing pins to fix their paper to boards and during a drawing session these pins could easily spin off somewhere and disappear from general view only to be found again when trodden on. 

Anybody reading this post who has an old drawing of Anne and wants to contribute it to the forthcoming memorial exhibition contact me and I'll sort out a link with the curator. I can't guarantee that she will use your drawing as I suspect she will find herself inundated with them, but whatever the result of this initiative it serves as a reminder of how important life models were to the life of an art college and of how so much has changed over the last 40 years.




Monday, 13 July 2015

I was busy

No posts for months a sure sign that I've been busy. Once again my phased retirement went on hold and I was asked to cover the third year Fine Art. This meant my weeks were again full and my idea of spending time on reflection went out the window. However I shall return to this blog at some point, so won't be closing it and there are significant changes being made within the college. The main one being the move towards degree awarding powers. We have been heavily scrutinised over the past two years, our systems and procedures in particular have been tested for their validity and student numbers have during this period continued to climb. When I started this blog Fine Art BA had an intake of about 25 students, this year we had a group of 44 graduating and the incoming first year will be 100 strong. 
It was wonderful to have the opportunity to see the third year through to graduation this year, and I was asked by them to write the text for their final year catalogue. 
This is the text:


440


In a time of global warming, unsustainable economies heading into chaos and world-wide instability, why are these Fine Art students doing what they do?  Is it because they have their collective heads in the sand? Is it due to a lack of awareness, a basic dumbness that many people believe artists are somehow ‘blessed’ with? Perhaps; but perhaps not.

The artist Anthony Gormley had this to say recently, “Short termism is the way capitalism works and the way politicians work. We have to find another form of defining value that is not market value. Nobody wants to face the truth anymore.”

The truth is that it’s getting warmer, and the old answers don’t cut it any more. That’s why these art students are out there prospecting for new values, looking for ways to re-vision our world, hoping to find images that will resonate with meaning and asking questions of us all about worth. Our values have for too long been defined by the wealth we create, but an increasing proportion of the wealth produced by ordinary people now swells the pockets of the superrich. We are told to grow the economy, but with what? Are we to use up more and more of the world’s dwindling resources? Or are we to once again find real value in sustainability, co-operative effort, creativity and unselfishness. These are old values, values forged in the dim pre-history of humanity, and the artist, shaman like can tap into these values and find new forms to express their worth.

Some difficult questions need to be asked, one of the most important being how can we break the mould that has shaped us all into believing that there are no other answers to our problems? If we cannot shift our thinking, we are sleepwalking into oblivion. What use is an art student’s blue-sky thinking, what possible value can all this striving for meaning have? Well hopefully it stops some of us in our tracks. For once all the answers are not ready made, they might be unfocused, unshaped and struggling for coherence but at least they are not simply playing the everyday game. One or more of these students may go out into the world and find a vision for us all that works. All it takes is one person to define a new way of measuring value and the rest may follow.

44 degrees Celsius is 111.2 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature unheard of in England over the last 100 years. However 2014 was the warmest year since records began in 1880. 38.5 degrees is the hottest temperature ever recorded in England, but it is predicted that we will experience highs of 44 degrees by the end of the century.

I remember some time ago being asked to draw the angle of naked pain, a question that would only ever have been asked in an Art College; I have been trying to find that angle for the past 40 years and perhaps I’m beginning to get an idea what the answer is. 5.5 degrees, a very narrow angle, but a huge difference in temperature, a rise that is predicted to happen in the next fifty years if we don’t change our ways.

Art students if they do nothing else seek to change our perceptions. They ask questions that hopefully cause us to stop and think. Let’s hope the sensitivities they foster can be harnessed in a desperate need for change, because if we carry on as usual, the next generation of young people will not have the luxury of going to art school, they will be too preoccupied with basic survival.

Garry Barker 2015

The writing reflects my wider concerns and feedback from students was that they thought I had articulated something that worried them too. 
The other area that has become more important is research. As we head towards degree awarding status we are also heading towards research accountability and this means verifiable research outcomes, i.e. publishing or having exhibitions that are nationally or internationally significant. As a move towards this I will be having an exhibition next year in the college gallery, but no longer will it be simply a case of putting work up, I shall have to get the work written about and make sure that the show has 'impact'. In many ways this is a good thing as I have always strayed away from that aspect of making. No longer will I be able to report on simply making things, I shall have to ensure my practice is both contextualised and disseminated. 
The move into TDAP (taught degree-awarding powers) will change many things, and because of this I have decided to stay on a few more years. I will be able to experience the change and perhaps benefit from it. I have already, because of the need to ensure all staff have a proper level of qualification, had to apply for and become a senior fellow of the HEA. The process was a useful one as you had to reflect on your experience and what you had contributed to the college, and I realised as I wrote the application how much I have put into the college over the years. Most of my blog posts this last year have been for the Drawing Blog http://fineartdrawinglca.blogspot.co.uk as I also work on the Drawing Strand of the Fine Art programme. The concept of strands is also fairly new, starting for the first time last year. This year's incoming first year being the first year to have gone through the system with drawing available as an option from the second semester of the first year. Strands to some extent takes things back to an older format, when I did my DipAD I was in the first year to receive a Diploma in Fine Art and much current practice seems to work between disciplines rather than to be focused on particular specialisms. However there does seem to be a backlash against media and web based experiences, they are not perhaps 'authentic' enough and our course still emphasises 'skill' as a vital component. This is our 'USP' and the steady rise in numbers, it could be argued, is the reward for holding on to a more traditional format. I have my worries about this but it's early days yet and we tell students that the strands are very open and that you can operate in a variety of formats, the areas simply being various foci from which to work. The best students treat it this way and we have had drawing students making films and sculptural environments, but weaker students can I believe, use the strand concept to narrow their thinking. This year was however a very good degree show and the proof of the pudding is always in the quality of the students' final portfolios. 

Friday, 2 January 2015

THE HIRSTIAN PACT; BOHO OR BOOHOO

Glyn Thompson’s exhibition at the Tetley Educating Damien*, continues into January and he is giving a lecture “where Thompson will ask whether Hirst is merely the personification of the bohemian stereotype, since he just happened to be in the right places at the right time, having first encountered the archetype of the post-romantic tortured genius Patrick Oliver at Jacob Kramer College”. I did think about going but hadn’t realised it was ticket only and of course when I eventually went to book the event was full. However Glyn’s thesis is interesting as it raises several questions that relate to this blog and its posts.
In one of the rooms in the exhibition Glyn has had a quote from this blog enlarged and wall mounted. I went to the opening and Glyn pointed it out, he said that he wanted to use it because my words were public and offered a verification of his own position. That was fine by me and I still stand by what I had to say about his lectures at the time. However memories are always selective and we construct narratives to fit our own very self-centered world-view. (A reminder of this situation to myself is therefore needed and to readers of this blog)

Terry has been to see the show with Colin Cain, apparently as they looked at the drawings Colin was laying claim to working with students to produce the very images that Glyn had used in the exhibition to illustrate his point that Damien had been introduced to the museum collections by Glyn’s drawing sessions. Glyn however claimed a special relationship with the museum because of his then friendship with the curator, so who was it did the deed?
My own view has been partly already expressed in my post of Wednesday, 21st November 2012 entitled Still Life
In some ways you could say we all did it, but there were subtle differences in our approaches. 
When drawing from observation many of the staff would follow the “It’s not what it is but where it is” mantra. Choices of objects were for several staff more often than not made on a formal basis and as I pointed out in my earlier post, to quote myself, “On the one hand there were concepts related to the types of things available to make images from and on the other hand it was a controlled situation whereby you could explore how to approach image making itself.”
Glyn’s point is that he was adopting a less formalist approach to the museum objects and was reversing the perceptual focus, recognizing that all vision is socially constructed and that, “It’s what it’s social context is, not how you see it that counts”. I did at the end of that old post mention that in complementary studies these issues were being discussed but that they had yet to really enter the studio floor.
The pedagogic point is that at the centre of all of this was the then primacy of drawing as a ‘training for the eye’. The ‘museum’ object and its cultural significance in levering forward a post-colonial awareness or being a centre around debates associated with the ‘gaze’ and museology or a more technology focused reading of art history, were always secondary to getting students to look. When artists working in this territory started to re-visit the museum they rarely drew, they photographed and re-presented. For many artists drawing took attention away from the cultural significance of objects and moved it into the arena of more subjective art processes. I would suggest that most of the time spent in these sessions when students were drawing from museum objects, that the conversations would revolve mainly around looking and its accuracy. My memory of the module Glyn mentions was that if you were asked to work on this you were asked above all to get the students looking. How you did this was up to you, and each member of staff had a different focus. Kate’s growing awareness of what was going on over at the university was also something to factor in here as she was working through her own growing awareness of Feminism and its reassessment of the ‘male’ bohemian stereotype and the art associated with that. 
Thinking of Patrick and  Glyn’s assertion that Damien has modeled himself on Patrick's persona, well I’m not sure, but I am sure Glyn will have a very well argued thesis for this. Perhaps Damien modeled himself on Glyn, or his old art teacher Mr. Bell from Chapel Allerton School or John Thompson when he went to Goldsmiths, or a black and white picture of Frances Bacon in a bar. My own feeling about this is that you are given rights of practice by some staff you come across and prohibitions by others. Some people affirm your existence and other don’t. When I meet ex art students, some remember the staff that held them back and others remember those that helped them move forward. Sometimes the pedagogy of art education is all to do with damage limitation. 
Art education changes with the years and the focus on 'perception' at the then Jacob Kramer was already behind the times and had already been debunked in several DipAD Fine Art programmes, not least at Newport where Keith Arnett was teaching us the post linguistic turn. The focus on a 'gestalt' of seeing was though powerful and it fostered a less intellectual approach, perception is though at the end of the day a cognitive process and as Goodman put it, "conception without perception is nearly empty, perception without conception is blind". (1987)

*and others

Goodman, N (1987) Of Mind and Other Matters London: Harvard

Monday, 8 December 2014

No posts these last few months

Once again I have been removed from my proposed phased retirement and thrown back into teaching virtually full-time. Hence the lack of posts and the fact that I could give no notice of returning back into the fray.
I did deliver the life class and I feel managed to do this whilst not quite descending into the worst of what these classes offer. Some sessions were challenging and enlightening and the final three sessions which were much more student led, began to hint at possible ways to actually work from the model and not simply repeat what had gone before.
The key sessions were perhaps mid way through, once I had covered measurement, tone etc. I started to look at perceptual problems, one in particular being the problem with eye scan and size constancy. Students were asked to build images of the model, starting by looking at the feet and then moving up and using a new sheet of paper for each field of gaze. These were fitted together, to build large-scale images, which were themselves big enough to stimulate a more ‘phenomenological’ engagement. Each session following took on another aspect of looking, including a session on portraiture and how we gradually become aware of ‘likeness’, using soft focus techniques to gradually shift the face into view.
The collaborative sessions were fine and the mobile phone portraits in particular were fascinating glimpses into how quickly groups of students can work with this technology to make convincing pieces. Tiny videos were synchronised across lines of mobiles, or played off against each other when blue-tacked into geometric shapes on the wall. One piece in particular worked very well, students miming an idea that parts of their bodies were trapped within metal cages, then when run on a stack of mobiles new composite bodies were made, bodies that were banging and bumping into the ‘frames’ of the mobiles. The head bumping and bouncing off the sides of the mobile frame, creating a very physical presence in such a small series of linked frames.
Some of the small-scale joint work made for the miniature galleries was surprising and fresh and the invention levels were high and continued on into the construction of the galleries themselves. So perhaps I needn’t have been too worried about this module. The first mobile phone ‘concert’ was a great success and has already been used as part of an external event ‘icebreaker’. However these were just small drops in an ocean of teaching, once more having to support all first year modules, as well as taking over responsibility for third years on Fridays. The Friday work is however one to one tutorials and small critiques with usually highly engaged students who are well into what they are doing. This is nearly always a rewarding thing to do, just exhausting, because at the end of the day you feel as if you have given out just about every idea that you have. It takes a full day to recover and then another morning before I can start to think up some new stuff that I can use on myself.
This working almost full-time will continue and I have just been asked to carry on doing so until the end of this academic year.  So my idea of a gradual reflection will have to be put off once again. Perhaps next year will be less frenetic.
In the meantime Glynn Thompson has been showing his Damien Hirst inspired show at the Tetley and Terry and Colin went to see it. I’m not sure what they thought, but I presume they enjoyed the story. Terry contacted me to let me know that the experience had reminded him of another couple of stories, and so it goes, one story sparks off another and so on. Frank Lisle had told him a story about Jacob Kramer, Kramer not just giving his name to the art school, but providing a romantic role model of the artist/drunk, a role model, (according to Glynn’s story) apparently one that Patrick Oliver could have been responding to when he was a ‘wild young artist’, one of the ‘Teddy Boys of British Art’ as Patrick liked to remember. Tales of Kramer would have of course circulated around the Oliver house from the time when Patrick’s father W. T. Oliver was art critic for the Yorkshire Post.  Then of course according to Glynn, a young Hirst bumped into Patrick, a man who had refined his wild man artist image to perfection, and who would thus be an inspiration to said young man, and so it goes, and on we go into an eventual art history. I’m not sure, but a good story is a good story, myths are always better than reality, they strip out the dross and boring bits and leave us with what we need.
I am now of course part of the art college story myself. I’m not sure what role I take anymore, perhaps one of the old codger, or the historian or maybe it’s a bit like ‘Goodbye Mister Chipps’, O’Toole’s role in that film cementing another Patrick connection into place. Patrick used to say I was a good translator, working to help students understand all the things that were flying over their heads. Perhaps I was worried about bad teaching. I still want to see the business done well, I still want to see students fired up by excitement, but putting out stuff too far above their heads can mean they look up for a moment and miss it, but of course it can mean that some will look up and keep their eyes posted, these are of course those blessed with good eyesight and they will go far, but others need someone else to get them to look up again, and to help them focus, because if there is nothing there when they first look, they might not do so again.
Patrick’s wife has contacted me and wants to house his old notebooks somewhere, luckily the college has an archive now and they can go there, however I'm pretty sure they will need the services of a translator again if those old notebooks are to make sense to anyone.