Study Skills – Theo Humphries: Handling History and ‘ism’s, and the Close Reading of Texts

Theo told us that the problem with history is that it is linear, based on facts and chronology. However this is what we believe to be fact by looking at and trusting the evidence that we are provided. What is presented to us is a fact is actually, when you think about it, just a weight of opinions alongside a collection of evidence.
This idea provokes a lot of thought, about the years of having those ‘facts’ rammed down your throat at school and college etc., you realise that they really are just someone’s opinions, if very well supported ones.
Theo told us that all histories are constructed: someone has taken the chaos and you are being presented with a fraction of that. ‘Ism’s are moments which emerge from that chaos and naming it give a sense of stability and permanence. (E.g. feminism, fundamentalism, radicalism etc.)

Theo raised the point that when we look at an image, our brain processes the pixels of an image instantly in order to work out what we are seeing as the bigger picture.
Likewise a flock of birds are connected; they all move and change direction at the same time. There is no leader, no choreography, but they all form one body in perfect synchronisation.
As an artist, you must take in and be aware of what other artists and designers are doing and move along with that. It is all very well working in your own bubble and not caring about the others, but this wouldn’t get you very far.

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Mark making and Abstraction: Morag Colquhoun

“You can find inspiration in everything. If you can’t, then you’re not looking properly.”
Paul Smith

I definitely agree with this quote that Morag showed us, in the fact that you can find it everywhere, however I don’t think that it is something that you should necessarily look for. Obviously if you are given a brief and sent into a museum to ‘find inspiration’ then it is quite likely that you will succeed. However in an everyday sense, I think it is important not to be looking for inspiration, but to be constantly looking around you, with an open mind that something may inspire you. I think that it should come naturally and although this is likely to take longer, it will be more useful in the long run and will show up in your work.

This quote is from an interview that Paul Smith did with Alexa Chung for Vogue Festival in 2013 which I have now read and was very interested by.
(http://www.vogue.co.uk/special-events/vogue-festival-2013/news/saturday/paul-smith-and-alexa-chung)

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Morag raised the question: why draw? She then showed us her answers:
– To help relax into a creative state
–  It can allow us to explore our self world
– Drawing can help us to understand space and spacial awareness
– It helps to explore light in relation to matter and space
– It develops art work from initial idea
– It gives evidence of your thought processes
– To present ideas to others and give clarity and credibility to proposals

I especially agree with the last point, having always been very much a visual learner, I like to see pictures or examples of what people are explaining or talking about. Drawing is a good way of doing this because it comes straight from the mind.

Morag gave another Paul Smith quote from the same interview: “The world doesn’t need any more designers, so you need to find something that makes you stand out.”
This is so true, I am constantly stressing about how much of a difficult and competitive industry I am planning on getting into, but as long as you have something new to offer, you will always do well. In my opinion, you need dedication, passion and a fresh idea to succeed.


Study Skills – Dr Mahnaz Shah: Identifying a Question

“What is a Question?”
“There’s no one answer, but that hasn’t stopped us from asking the question.”

During today’s study skills session, I found it hard to understand a lot of what Dr Mahnaz was explaining, even after asking her to explain to me individually. However I did get some useful information that I think will help me in my working attitudes in the future:
She told us that the common art abstractions include line, plane, colour, form, structure and volume, but that they can all be redefined and altered according to each artist/maker/designer. She stressed how important it is for each of these abstractions to be played with, and told us to use our imagination, thinking outside the box almost. This is something that I struggle with. I tend to play it safe and stick to my comfort zones so am hoping that as this year progresses, I can become more confident in thinking freely.

I had never heard of the principles of accessibility before today, but I learnt that we add these to the above abstractions, underscoring everyone’s right to access everything. I have never really had much of a chance to learn other skills and medium, after a very fine art based foundation course with very little opportunity to try new things such as ceramics and photography. I am therefore very much looking forward to the field module next year where I am hoping to learn some new skills and come out of my little sewing machine comfort zone.

The main thing that I learnt from today’s session is not to limit myself to my own pathway, and I will keep this in mind for the rest of the year to see what I can learn,


Discovered through Translation – Endangered Textile Traditions: Dr Keireine Canavan

During the lecture this morning it was really interesting to learn of all of Keireine’s achievements and research and it reminded me of how lucky we are with our lecturers: these people who we see nearly every day have seen some amazing things and have so much knowledge to give.
Keireine spoke about the Iban people in Malaysia, who each have a blanket called a Pua Kumbu, which was made for them at birth and stays with them until death, when it is destroyed. When the person passes away, it is layed on top of the body while it is being burnt. This therefore means that these blankets are very rare and hard to come by. This struck me as a huge shame: that these beautiful pieces of art are being destroyed and at first I thought that it is a waste. After thinking about it however, I realised that the cultural tradition is more important and it actually strikingly beautiful that one piece of textile is so personal to that one individual, that it should perish with their body. It is a strange difference to our society, which has such a ‘recycle, reuse’ mantra, that we would be shocked to hear that, for example a person’s blanket which they have had since they were a baby, was destroyed once they had passed. We would either want to keep it for sentimental value, or to give it away. This made me realise that this is probably why we have no equivalent rarity in our culture.

This blanket will always have a border, which they believe to keep the good spirits in and the bad ones out, and a resist dye is used to achieve a pattern made up of very spiritual imagery.
Looking online after the lecture, I noticed that almost all of the blankets pictured were red/orange but was unable to find out whether this was for practical reasons (availability of natural dyes?) or for some sort of cultural meaning. The method that Keireine described sounded extremely difficult, but in my opinion completely worth it, because the results are absolutely beautiful.

 images Pua Kumbu

Keireine also spoke about Tradiional Salvi Patola silk weaving in India. We learnt that the Salvi weavers were traditionally only weavers for royalty and therefore used only silk and certain colours. It takes 75 days to prepare the silk (which is the job of the women) and then it takes two people over 5 months to weave. These are the only two remaining weavers in Patola, India and this made me again this about this in comparison to our own culture: techniques and methods are so readily passed down and people are constantly being trained in new skills, it is charming to see that they value the skills so much, that they would rather it die out that just teach anyone.
These designs seem much simpler than those on the Pua Kumbu, with bigger, bolder shapes.

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Al Sadu woven textiles are a Bedouin tradition in the Arabian Peninsula and is used to create textiles for utalitarian purposes e.g. tents, floor coverings, camel bags, screens/dividers, cushions. There are 8 remaining weavers and nothing is recorded: the method is passed down through person to person.
This tribe’s banking system is through jewellery and they wear is as a way of showing their wealth. At times of wealth they will buy more and at poorer times, they will sell what they have.

They use dyes from things that grow around them such as flowers fungi spices, although occasionally chemical dyes are used.
Figurative symbols are used and inspiration is taken from their surroundings, for example a platter of food, a snake’s path in the sand, a water pool. In their culture, water is precious and valuable due to the rare, short rain falls. Once it is there, the water will quickly disappear into the ground.
Tassels are used as decoration of these textiles and they help to decipher which tribe it belongs to, as each ties them differently. They are put on the outside of the textile to protect it: the tassels can be discarded and replaced and the weave is unharmed.

I am very interested in symbolism and beliefs of different tribes and cultures and how one thing that is so normal and everyday for us (for example water) can be so precious to another.

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Keynote – Dr Natasha Mayo: The Sensorial Object, The Curation of an Exhibition

During this keynote, it was really interesting to get the opinion of a maker about the curation of an exhibition because, as Natasha said, hearing it from the point of view of a gallery employee or an academic, you are unlikely to get the same passion for materials, which I think is very important for the viewer/listener.

I am looking forward to January, when the exhibition comes to the gallery in the bay because it will be interesting to see some more ceramics, which are never really something I have come into that much contact with, nor did I think I was very interested in them. However after stating at CSAD, meeting ceramics students and discussing their discipline with them (and now listening to this lecture in which Natasha showed some examples and video clips of ceramicists in practice) I have realised that before I wasn’t being very open minded to the medium, thinking it was just ‘pots’ and not much more. Now I am very keen to try it out and it may be something that I explore during the field module next term.


Study Skills – Jenny Godfrey: Visual Literacy

I had a lot of interest in this study skills session in the library today because I enjoy research and analysing found images and sources. Jenny gave us some handouts with a number of questions to ask yourself while reading an image and I took note of some of these which I feel will be very useful in the future, and soon for the controversy essay. I learnt that visual theory is knowing how to:
-find images
-interpret images
-evaluate images and their sources
-use images
-create new images
…which, in my opinion are some of the most important aspects of any art subject.

I enjoyed learning of the huge amount of online resources that are available and had a go at using the Google Cultural Institute, which I found very user friendly and gave a useful amount of side information without being too wordy or difficult to read. I will definitely be using some of these resources, starting with the ‘baby cage’ essay.

Jenny also listed some advice for when thinking critically about an image and again, I think these will be very useful for this and all future analytical essays. These included: consider more that just the obvious; recognise that your own prior ideas may be colouring your response and pay attention to assumptions.

I will definitely be visiting the library again and having a more in depth look at the resources they offer after this session.


Set Work

Today at home I was experimenting with mark making with everyday, utilitarian objects that were lying around my flat. Using objects such as a fork, sponge, coins, scissors etc I managed to achieve some really interesting marks which I don’t think I would have otherwise thought of trying to create.

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I was also trying hard not to just make one mark with the item and then move on to the next, so with most of them I managed to create at least two different marks. For example, with the fork, the different ways I used it were: putting paint on the page with a brush and then dragging down the excess with the fork; putting paint on the ends of the prongs of the fork and making dots and dashes on the page and also painting the whole of the back of the fork and rolling it onto the paper as a print.