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(Another plate caught and laid down gently on the table, another set gently turning)

When things were stressful and unacknowledged and unappreciated, I stamped my feet, said I wasn’t going to teach again, because I was an artist now. Sod bloody teaching, sod bloody school! It was an accidental career (that I stuck with for 25 years?) anyway! Teaching was a cruel bastard. I wanted nothing to do with it.
(This blog contains the commentary in the demise of my school based teaching career at the beginning of 2014…. If you are interested, and can bear it.)

But I acknowledge now, all by myself, that I have probably always been a teacher, and always will. And here’s why… I shall attempt to explain, as it is good for me. Self-knowledge and all that:

This week has been exhausting, even though for quite a lot of it I’ve been sat in a chair.

For the last academic year I have led the Artist Teacher Scheme to cover maternity leave. (For the next academic year I have the good fortune to continue) I had done the occasional guest spot in previous years, since being a student on it myself. As a student I found it brain changing… Leading me to completely change my life. On paper, or screen this course looks like a small thing. It isn’t. It can be, depending on the student, life changing.
So having done it myself I have been evangelical about this course that sits meekly and mostly unnoticed on the BCU website.

It has an unusual structure in that the first stage intense four day summer school overlaps with the previous cohort’s final intense exhibition installation week. The students just starting see where they are headed, while the students just finishing are reminded of their start.

My job is to get them from one end to the other. We have no real criteria or measurement of success. These are decided by the artists/students themselves. What I do is plan activities and encounters with people and materials and experiences that prompt thought. If we have selected the right students, the rest is up to them. They don’t really know what they want, they are generally dissatisfied, so are searching, open… Those are our only entry criteria. No qualifications required…. Just that they have/want/need an arts practice and that they have/want/need some sort of education setting in which they work.

Among a beleaguered arts education system, this unassuming one year part time course is a beacon of hope. It has the power to be transformative, and I get to watch.
Watching people potentially change their lives is a heady thing. I have been given gifts, hugs, kisses and thanks for being a teacher, but I find it hard to pin down what it is that I have done, other than observe a set of circumstances that I have had a hand in arranging. It is gradual, cumulative, personal growth that I bear witness to, empathise with, comfort, encourage, and occasionally poke with a stick or feed with something new if it gets stuck.

I get paid to do this! Proper serious money. But it is also paid in such a feeling of privilege, I can’t tell you how proud I am of these people that undergo such phenomenal personal change. It’s emotional.

My art concerns the effect one person can have on another. How can I deny teaching? These students affect me as much as the experiences affect them. I walked up the stairs at the New Art Gallery Walsall, pushed open the door to the gallery corridor on the first floor and a wave of that admiration and pride hit me…. Look at what they had done! The work is stunning visually, and deeply personal. They gave birth to it, were terrified by it, and did it anyway. The exhibition shows pieces of individual strength but also holds together as a good group show does.

I think I probably do give a lot of myself to these students, but this year, this year that I have felt they were all mine, I have been given so much in return.

I no longer deny the teacher. Art and teaching are like moons and planets held in orbit around each other. They both communicate, they both love, they both give, they both look to each other, they are both at their best when they look from the internal to the external and loop constantly between…
I now see this small island of teaching throughout my year as a part of my art practice. It reminds me of why I’m here, why I do what I do. It reminds me that human interaction is everything. My meaning of life.

Thank you Karen, Melanie, Chris, Lisa and Lucie… And not just for the flowers…


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The plate spinning was a useful metaphor. What I’m finding interesting is the smashed plate and how I end up seeing it…. And how others see it…
“Oh you must be terribly disappointed? No Jerwood selection and no studio!”

Well for one, I never thought I would get selected for Jerwood. (Although I don’t think the bra I entered made it out of the box.) But nothing ventured and all that. I was dreading the traipse back down to London, until Jill Hedges said she would join me. Trudging out to Wimbledon with her was my Not-Jerwood-Prize. We talked of life experience, childhood, issues of trust, the work, and the words… Each other’s, other people’s… Our practices and ways of going about things… We worked out a couple of things… Gave voice to barely formed connections… It was brilliant. The two hours or so on trains and the three hour lunch flew by. The journey home in the quiet coach allowed contemplation of our explorations and discussions. So instead of coming home weary, I was renewed and exhilarated.

Secondly, new studio: if I had got it, I would have made it work, it would have been a brilliant space to work in. But there were compromises that I’d thought about long and hard… So the “No” didn’t disappoint as much as I might have anticipated. Also, the process, much like the journey to London, opened up a side-line conversation that has resulted in an offer to share a space elsewhere. So having dashed a couple of my Sunday best plates to the floor, I find I’m happier with the resulting mosaic.

And then there’s the songwriting. I had a day songwriting with Michael Clarke. It was a privilege and an absolute blast to work with him. We are going to do it again. We wrote three really different songs with absolutely no purpose in mind at the time of writing, other than the joy of making. Organic, natural, follow your nose making… It is rare to find people happy to spend their time that way…. Trusting the process…. Another day sped by, even the lunch break was spent at a local bar/restaurant with paper, pen, muttering and humming. We would have been an interesting pair to eavesdrop on!
I’m about to start off teaching and mentoring another new group of artist teachers next week. We always talk of the toolkit of what they will need over the next year. I hope they find the joy of just making. I hope they find the knack of seeing what surrounds disappointment as a successful outcome. I hope they come to love and trust their process.

 


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No one told me that being a freelance self-employed artist would be a profession akin to circus plate-spinner!

I have previously spoken of that in-limbo feeling… this is a little like that, but active rather than passive. I’m waiting for things to happen, but this time they are of my own making. I’m the one that has applied for things. I am the one that has thrown all these plates in the air. I am the one waiting to catch them on the sticks or watch them crash to the floor.

The Jerwood plate has crashed to the floor… ah well… never mind…

The BCU teaching plate is spinning safely, the Artist Teacher Scheme officially runs from July 26th.

(You can join us still if you want, there is time!)

The studio plate is enormous, and I only have a tiny little feeble stick to catch it on, it feels precarious this one, anything could happen in the next half hour!

There are a couple of residency applications in, an open call thingy…

Someone else’s project waiting for funding so I can be a part of it too…

We wait with baited breath… the administration of a professional art career can be exhausting.

I am the Queen of mood swings at the best of times, and this isn’t helping really, but at least I feel like I’m working hard – even if currently for nothing!

Collecting my Jerwood submission was looking like a wretched task. All the way down to bloody London again – Wimbledon FFS! that’s not even really London it’s so far out  – or so it seems to me, the foreigner abroad. Why the hell didn’t I choose Cheltenham? Next time….

But, I have been rescued, by my friend Jill who will meet me there and we will travel and gossip together, we might catch an exhibition, but it is just as likely we will find a good place to eat and drink and stay there for a few hours before setting back home in different directions. My wretchedness and miserable mood has been turned around. I love my friends… what would I do without them?

I have a couple of other plates I’m attending to slowly, flicking the stick, keeping them going until crisis point… they will be ok for a while… their turn will come.

But one of the best plates I have, is whirring gently, self propelled it seems. I don’t need to spend to much time watching it…

I’ve booked a day in a music room at mac Birmingham to polish the 12 (ish) songs written with the band, I’m itching to do this… then we might get a gig or two…

I have also been asked to spend a day songwriting with someone I admire greatly. I am thrilled beyond belief that he should ask. I am far too excited for a woman of my age. It is unseemly! I have this butterfly thing in the pit of my stomach. This still relatively new art I have immersed myself in, has come up trumps. It appears I have something to offer! No one is more surprised about this than me. My words are currency, my lack of attention to the rules that I don’t know, is apparently exciting to others, and useful, and inspiring! … I am starting to have a little self-belief in what I can do in this medium. I can’t tell you how indecently exciting that is. I’m getting on a bit. I have a practice that is growing, and gathering momentum. I could sit back and stitch and I would be fine, but this…. THIS feels exhilarating. Bungee jumping can’t be as good as this surely?

You know why? It’s fast… A textile piece can take months from conception to hang… but I can get the bare bones of a song down in half an hour. I can hone it, record it and listen to it. I can even perform it and get people to tell me what they think. It might not be perfect, but it can be a thing… a new life… in a very short time! I am extremely fortunate to be able to work with musicians that make this happen. But even on my own, I can get something crude together in a day. Something recognisable, that has a form that can be worked with… Bloody magic! This plate is the one at the moment giving me energy, not sapping it. A deep and wonderful creative joy.


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….in another world….

 

I’ve been working on an Arts Council application supporting a friend in her quest to fund an amazing music project for young people with visual impairments. It is a stonker, and I hope it gets funded, because it will be great! The application form was testimony to her commitment to it, after weeks of preparation and dedication to its worthiness… she is focussed, connected and personally emotionally invested in it being a success. The ACE application portal is a bloody nightmare to me, with my full sight, my experience, fairly good level of IT literacy and a little bit of insight. To my friend (who is a force of nature, talent and intellect, perfectly able to express herself if given the appropriate “interface”) it would have been largely inaccessible. No doubt that ACE will have plenty of fall out to deal with over the changes they have made.

 

HOWEVER…

Where they have more than succeeded is in their handling of what could have been a disaster. I say this on the day we pressed the submit button… Firstly, they paid for me to help. We are exhausted by the process, but they have come up trumps. Their one-to one over the phone and email support of Nicki’s application has been speedy, full, unflinching, positive, encouraging. They have spent time hanging on the phone while we made adjustments, so they could check. They advised us of different ways to go about things, explained the differences and implications of each. They have done so with a high level of knowledge, experience and expertise, good grace and jokes.

Their portal is bloody rubbish, but their people are, in fact, brilliant.

Thanks folks!

 

 

 

 


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I suspect, but have no evidence to back it up, that this might be a gender thing. Or maybe men just do it and don’t discuss it so openly?

I’ve been having a conversation with a couple of people on and off, separately, for a while now about my new-found ambition. I’m not used to it. And until now, I never even had a work ethic. I’m 55 for goodness sake!

The task that has prompted this train of thought is my occasional habit of CV weeding.

About ten years ago, If I so much as showed someone a picture of my work on my phone in a pub, I called it a pop-up exhibition and put it on my CV, just so there was something on it, just so it looked like I was actually a real artist, doing something that counted as something.

As I went on, and collected slightly more professional looking things, the pub-type gigs got dropped (as much as anything, out of fear if someone actually checked, they weren’t that real!) So that was an easy “weed”. As I have collected events that are more widely recognised, it has become more difficult, a moral dilemma occurs. There are some things on my CV that, at the time of doing them, I thought were brilliant – they were – but now, they don’t really say anything about me, or my work, or where I want to be, or how I want to be seen. An artist CV isn’t like a clerical worker CV, or the sort of CV that requires an unbroken employment history.

I have likened this to the wardrobe sort-out. Get rid of anything that doesn’t fit, is the wrong colour, doesn’t suit you… even if it was expensive when you bought it, and went with those proper girl-shoes you bought for a special occasion. I’m grateful that I went to the special occasion, I have fond memories, but I’m not going to go to another.

My moral dilemma is this: people that I know and love are involved in the things that I am weeding out. I have to decide if this is misplaced loyalty… I still love these people, but my professional path I think, should be elsewhere now. I have never had a professional path up until very recently, so I don’t really know how to cope with this. I don’t want to piss people off that I am grateful to, and I don’t want them to feel I am belittling their work in any way, because that isn’t what it is about… but it REALLY looks like that… doesn’t it?

Ambition then: To be ambitious, you have to sell yourself, present yourself as the person you want to become… almost inhabit it beforehand in order for it to become true. Fake it to make it? Possibly, which is another dilemma, I have always felt I am an honest person in the way I present myself. This becomes, then, about self-belief. If I don’t believe that I can get somewhere, then the presentation is false. I hate that. I’m not blowing a trumpet that doesn’t exist. I’m even starting to think that writing this blog post might be a way of justifying my deplorable actions… I expect someone will tell me. They usually do.

I have a bunch of really close art-friends who are honest and open and we talk about each other’s work in an open and honest way. I know when I’m not doing a proper job, because, in case I hadn’t noticed, they tell me. Or at least steer the conversation in a way that I notice all by myself! Hahaha!

They tell me that it is OK to be ambitious. But other than the CV weeding, and the mad scramble to apply for things I will probably not get/win/participate in, I don’t know where the “somewhere” is that I want to get to.

When I took a leap of faith and threw myself back at my fine art practice about ten years ago, I had a list of things I wanted to achieve. At the time I thought them ridiculous, funny, mythical and totally unachievable. Unbelievably, I have done them all, and more. What I could do with now is a new list. This new list at the moment is cloudy and unformed, and I could probably do with some help forming the list, let alone actually achieving it!

I also feel that by saying all this, and publishing the list, that I’m really sticking my head above the parapet…

 

The new list involves:

*wider recognition for the work… across a range of platforms…

*a decent solo gallery exhibition, that gets a good review that people see…

*being able to earn a living…

*a sort of breaking-out… I don’t know what from, or to…

*a really big project that means something to other people, not just me, that might leave some sort of trace… fuck me… a legacy even!

*a bloody studio!

 

 

I have no idea how to get any of this. It all still looks ridiculous, funny, mythical and totally unachievable…The first list was easier… or maybe that’s hindsight talking?

 

 


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