Writings and Proposals
The Grit in the Oyster
I teach for a variety of reasons. Throughout my generally
unremarkable school days and later whilst at the various art
schools I attended, I was fortunate to come under the wings
of several inspirational teachers, who encouraged my natural
curiosity and enabled me to stretch my imagination and my
aspirations. For them, as thanks and in homage, I teach.
A legacy of my education is a genuine concern for the ever-shifting
principles of culture in its widest sense, and in this instance
particularly, the possible ramifications for its betterment
dependent on prevailing theories and practice in art education.
Stemming from this preoccupation, I am committed to a role
that has evolved unconsciously over time, to that which could
be described as a Visiting 'guerrilla' Lecturer. In this role
I have been invited into many art schools in the UK and abroad,
and into a myriad of 'Departments' including Illustration,
Fine Art, Photography, Sculpture, Design, Printmaking, Multimedia
and Time Based Media.
In my visits to art schools, ironically perhaps, I aim to
constructively 'disturb' the status quo, questioning what
I believe to be the existing erroneously guarded philosophies
of cultural hierarchies, which pervade within and between
Departments and disciplines. These still tend to discourage
cross-cultural transactions in favour of an advocacy of invented
scales of intrinsic values, ranking some areas of cultural
practice as better than others.
Whilst it is rational that the Sciences have established
separate areas of research, requiring highly specialised knowledge,
accepted rules and specific tools, in which the 'known' is
examined, tested and debated, such segregation is an anathema
to the Arts. In the Arts there is no over-arching paradigm
guiding us, instead the ideal is the exploration of the non-prescriptive,
the unknown and the conjectured.
Following these principles, one of my primary concerns as
a teacher is to connect with students as distinct individuals,
no matter their apparent philosophical camp or their adopted
technique or tool-based discipline. I am interested in investigating
the possible within their intuitive and intellectual characteristics
and in encouraging them to acquire the appropriate skills
necessary for their ideas to be realised successively. Given
that an idea precedes its making, I attempt to emphasise the
need for a rigourous and critical approach in organising their
ideas and research whilst also considering the possibility
of materials used as being potential, signifiers, having a
meaningful correspondence to an idea, symbolically, metaphorically
Generally teaching or mentoring is extremely stimulating.
It is made even more rewarding when witnessing a student's
unfolding as s/he becomes thoroughly engaged in her/his subject,
with confidence growing, sparking with previously unseen and
unimagined energy, discovering a truly personal visual and
conceptual language. Being a part of this enabling process
is gratifying and on numerous occasions is an emotionally
As a practising artist who necessarily works alone for most
of the time, teaching part-time allows me to enjoy a healthy
symbiosis between students and their interests and my diverse
professional activities. Students' works naturally tends to
reflect their cultural milieu, which inspires and informs
me as much as I hope my work and ideas may galvanise them.
Making correlative links between the two encourages further
explorations through a dialogue of equality. Art schools,
despite some devastating changes imposed on them over the
last couple of decades, are still bastions of individuality,
innovation and real richness of choice. They are necessary
hothouses of cultural diversity, where experiments of surrender
to the possible can be fostered, bypassing the prescribed
of the everyday; where boundaries and rules may be shifted
or abandoned and where ideas, be they vague, complicated,
unknowable or not yet imagined, are allowed to flourish. To
this end, and as long as I am invited to teach, I will continue
contributing to this evolving of culture as does the grit
in the oyster.
Written for the catalogue of 'Meta Metier (Teaching and Practice)',
a touring exhibition by staff at the Department of Visual
Communication, Glasgow School of Art.
The Glasgow School of Art and New School University, Parsons
School of Design, New York. 10/03/01 - 11/09/01 - part of
the "UK in NY Festival".