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:


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 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


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