Formative feedback, Part 3

For logistical reasons, it made more sense earlier to deal with written elements of the course after completing the practical work. Some of those conditions still pertain but seem likely to persist due to current lockdown conditions delaying delivery of materials, and so I’ll need to make some logistical and physical accommodations to progress.

One thing to emerge from this upside down and back to front way of doing things is a sudden realisation that following up the work of other artists is beginning to make sense in terms of my own practice, and another is that this has most likely arisen from reaching a small but critical mass of recognisable and retrievable information from the art world’s body of knowledge.

This is encouraging. It took me two full years in my first degree to realise that providing an argued and evidenced perspective on research and theory was what I was being educated in, not bland unquestioning regurgitation of whatever paper it was I had just read. That takes a reservoir of base material, the compost if you like (my favourite metaphor) of information that’s been poured in at the top and has to sit for a while, deconstructing but retaining its essence, until it’s needed to feed or influence some new input. I am beginning to feel this happening; my recognition of art works and the names of artists is improving, and my recall, although still quite circumscribed, is increasingly demonstrable in the too rare conversations I can have that allow it to emerge. The really good thing is that it’s there and that I know from past experience that it will grow. Critically, once it becomes possible to visit galleries again with my art group friend, I can see how those conversations in that context will help my thinking and memory to flourish.

So, and skipping from compost to a topical building analogy with cheerful disregard for consistency, I have moved through mud to foundations, swamp to the solid underpinnings of a floor and the emerging brickwork of insulated walls, and here I am at the damp course. With any luck, this will be good enough to support the new panels and roofing of Level 5, and with even more luck, it will be a place I can fill with the excitement, inspiration, and freedoms of Level 6.

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A note about memory. This is an evolving area of study and cognitive scientists are still not entirely clear on where memory is housed in the brain, if indeed it’s housed at all and not somehow contained within a dynamic network of active neural structures. At a very practical every day level though, and one that’s handy to think about when it comes to our handling of complex wadges of information, there are two sorts.

The first is the ‘telephone number’ kind where you remember something literally for a few minutes. Ask people to read a passage of text then ask them immediately afterwards to recall it and they’ll deliver chunks of it word-for-word, often the first bit and the last, but have no recall of other parts of it. It’s gone.

Or has it? Because ask them a week later and very likely (if they remember it at all, it must be said) they’ll give you the essence of it – the meaning, the gist – but not the verbatim word-for-word literality. Somehow in that time it has been reduced to its core value, the sense it was making, its message with the peripheral fluff of the actual words removed.

This isn’t perfect, people misremember or reconstruct what it ‘must have said’ because memory is a massive cheat sometimes, just ask the eye witness researchers, and it isn’t static like a recording, it’s constantly being reframed in the light of subsequent experiences. And sometimes it was never a memory at all, just something someone suggested might have happened.

Anyway – composting – this is how I frame that process of deconstruction from strings of words you can only repeat to meaning you can interpret and push forwards or against.

A note about resources.

As a beginner, I’ve gone for the easy wins and for me that means documentaries, podcasts, and books via Audible. Kindle has a text to speech function but it can’t do dates, it describes pages with images as having no content, and it treats each new page as a new sentence. Some of its efforts are totally bonkers. Still, I like humour so there’s that. Here are my wins.

What are you looking at? 150 years of modern art in the blink of an eye. Author Will Gompertz of TV and film critic fame. Packed with information and irreverent but never disparaging, this is a gallop through modern art and after some five repetitions, I’m almost ahead of the narrator now. Penguin, 2012.

Great Artists. Two documentary series by Tim Marlow dated around 2001/2003. About half an hour per artist and again authoritative without ever becoming either patronising or florid. On YouTube but if you just search there on his name you could probably finish your degree using his videos.

The Lonely Palette. Podcast on a mission to ‘return art history to the masses one painting at a time’. Short episodes, contemporary approach, authoritative and elegant, total absence of po faced intellectualisation and obfuscation. “Tamar Avishai has a voice like velvet. Flowing out of your earbuds, it will wrap around your brain like a spool of soft fabric and absorb your whole attention. This voice is the driving force behind The Lonely Palette, a podcast that unpacks the masterpieces of art history with style and humor.https://podcastreview.org/review/the-lonely-palette/

Steal Like an Artist by Austen Kleon. This is the Kindle book narrated by HAL just before he shut the pod bay doors on Dave. A nippy little book of advice, tips, ways of getting started, and ideas for keeping going. 2012.

Ninth Street women by Mary Gabriel and narrated with energy and conviction by Lisa Stathoplos, this is about the female partners of all those male artists we hear so much about – Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko and the like. Artists in their own right but often overshadowed by the men. Little, Brown 2019.

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