Assignment 2: Tutor feedback reflection

1/3/4 September 2017.

Note 1.
For my tutor: I am very happy to be your student. What follows is nothing personal, but what I guess may be a general communication issue between the OCA and its student(s). I noticed and mentioned some of that in earlier courses also.

Note 2.
When I wrote my feedback reflection for Part 1 of UPM, I did so immediately after the video tutorial to then supplement it by the summary provided by my tutor in written form. I noticed weird discrepancies between study guide instructions, the oral and the written content of my tutor feedback. As this repeated itself for Part 2, I decided to pay particular attention and compare the things said and written. I found it very difficult to make this blog post a “compare and contrast” exercise, because my observations are virtually impossible to separate into isolated entities. Still I hope to have described my issues clearly enough to allow them to be discussed in depth and hopefully solved, because far too much of my limited study time is still going
into making sense of what is expected of me.  

Video tutorials with my UPM tutor I perceive as very lively and encouraging conversations. After about 4 or 5 video talks so far over the course of my OCA studies I believe, however, that despite the great advantages of immediate feedback and getting to know my tutor personally there are severe limitations to video communication for a number of reasons. A lot of information needs to be passed in what I feel is far too little time via a sometimes poor skype connection. I find myself unable to ask relevant questions during the tutorial, because I can only pinpoint inconsistencies I feel during the talk after having digested the more complex subjects covered. The above issue is made more difficult by receiving follow-up written summaries which I think sometimes are not completely in line with the oral information. This effect does not concern all of the advice given, but mostly affects my tutors’ remarks regarding the intentions behind my work.
I have to admit that trying to make sense of both confuses me. Therefore I will probably not go for a video tutorial next time but for a written-only statement. The latter I experienced, in Drawing 1 and Practice of Painting, as clear analyses of all the submitted pieces as compared to the more general overview provided by combined video/written feedback. For many of the reasons stated above I also decided that I will need to contact my tutor at shorter intervals while working on the exercises.

The main discrepancies I stumbled upon in this case were the following:

  • study guide instructions and tutor comments on respective work:

    I cannot help the impression that often tutor and study guide may be at odds.

    • Written tutor comment on photographic collections: “tension between your work from working with unpredictable diluted paints and the ordering of your objects” and “you have thought about the arrangement of them in grids and boxes”
      This combination was owed both to my tutor’s previous suggestion to keep working with inks and to the prescribed preliminary research on artists working with and presenting collections – they all came in grids and boxes. I even wrote a note in my sketchbook stating that I do not like to work in grids for several reasons.
    • Written tutor comment on exercise 2.1: “continuing with the ordering of objects, your work is showing your interests of regularity and design- does this emulate your life style?” and “However avoid twee subjects like the teddy bear and necklace, as it does not match the inventiveness of the affects.”
      I do not embrace regularity, neither in my life nor in my work (although we as a family are going through a very long-term challenging period and sometimes I would wish for a little more peace and quiet). I experience myself as excessively inquisitive with spontaneous interest in everything and I will order my work only because it is expected from me. If I do so, however, my scientist’s training will probably create an impression of wanting to bring “a field of ideas into fenced areas”. I believe that fences hinder development, both at the personal level and in society as a whole.
      Both teddy bear and necklace were parts of collections of household items the study guide instructed us to produce. I mentioned in both sketchbook and blog that I did not like any of the two choices and would never think of working with them on my own. However, I was happy with the quick palette knife caramel study of my teddy bear, which made him look fierce and aggressive (I like playing with contradictory elements, also in my work as political caricaturist). As I recorded in my sketchbook, after further experimenting the caramel painting exists only as a photo now.
    • Written tutor comment on exercise 2.2: “Your sources are wide ranging to start this project. Sometimes less is more.”
      We were required to select several from a long list of sources and use these to experiment. I did exactly what was required in the study guide. On the other hand, in the video tutorial, my tutor asked me to continue doing what I like best and experiment to the full.
    • Written tutor comment on exercise 2.3: “Do you like to collect? You work with multiples and more than one object.”
      No, I don’t like to collect, but this is what we were supposed to do, it is the basis for all of the work required in Part 2.
    • Written comment on assignment: “your panels started off by being too decorative and literal”.
      I don’t understand this, because at the outset I had no plan that I would create fields and many of my finished scenes travel into the next panel on the umbrella. The scenes themselves, evolving from a very quickly produced background of roughly mixed acrylic paint, were purely intuitive (e.g. “I want to address anxiety, can my inner eye see something in the swirls of colour that might transport this emotion?”). I never even thought of a literal translation, let alone decoration. The way I chose for creating the persons acting on the panels I felt to be extremely rough, both in testing them on my printouts (without which I would have been unable to see the patterns in the original) and the nylon support of the umbrella.
      I was surprised that my tutor called the use of an umbrella “clichéd” and then added “However, if the umbrella is intentional …”. I explained the background to my – of course intentional – choice of an umbrella as my support widely in my blog. Besides that, at level one I firmly believe that I should not be overly concerned about clichés really, in the same line as my tutor’s suggested not to worry about a personal voice at this level.
    • My tutor emphasizes the necessity to show continuity, e.g. by returning to the same materials (“Be careful you are not starting again in each assignment”, “It is easy to forget what you have already done without celebrating the successes. I think this is why you can be a little frightened each time- because you feel you are starting again.”).
      While I will very happily celebrate what I think was successful, I think that either it is me misinterpreting or the study guide failing to explain clearly. I still do not understand how we are supposed to show continuous development throughout the course, because parts/exercises read very differently regarding the required outcome: e.g. “curating” and painting collections of household items in Part 2 and learning how to make monoprint portraits in Part 3. For me these two have very little in common and I am not sure yet how I am to combine study guide requirements and tutor suggestions.
  • technical aspects:

    In her pointers for the next assignment my tutor suggests that I need to make my results more sophisticated by thinking about a coating for my results. This I thought odd, since I had added protection wherever I thought a piece finished. Some of them, as e.g. the aluminium cans, I have left unsealed so far, but only because I want to keep the option of working on them again at a later point (this I mentioned in my blog). The suggestion by my tutor also confuses me, because in her feedback on Part 1 she mentioned that I must not worry about leaving things unfinished.

  • analysis of development:

    In the video tutorial I received the impression of a considerable step forward. The written feedback, which arrived a day later, was far less enthusiastic in that respect. It contains the remarks “There has been a change in direction” and “Previously- you worked with shadows, monochromatic applications, atmospheric work and looking at shadows as traces, footstep and legacies to extend your context.” I certainly did not intend any change in direction and continued to work with shadows as planned. I expanded on my work from Part 1 in e.g. my sketchbook, set of cans, large scale drawing and Assignment 2 and continued to develop my work with shadows, traces and legacies, all of these combined in my umbrella project. My tutor however identified a change insofar as a new subject of mine appears to be “ordering the chaos”. This is not so. My interest in multiples is owed to study guide instructions, at least at the moment. The addition of mind mapping as an invaluable tool has purely organisational reasons and I am positive that I do not want to make it part of my work at this point in time.
    My tutor advised me also to shift my attention from focusing on shadows as a main course theme to what has started to show in my recent work, which is the use of a large variety of unusual surfaces and painting materials, working with found objects and working with multiples, but again I only followed instructions here. A comparable experience I had in Part 1, where I believe that my tutor received the wrong impression that I had set myself the goal of painting 20 squares for assignment, as she mentioned a certain lack of inventiveness in repeating same-sized paintings.

  • analysis of written work:

On p. 2 of her written feedback my tutor mentions that “I say my work is unprofessional because I am repeating”. I cannot remember saying such a thing, I rather wrote that by a lack of organisation “I still find myself working intuitively, which results in “discovering” the same things over and over, which is not just annoying but highly unprofessional.”. Which is something altogether different (Lacher-Bryk, 2017a). What I mean is that by having no structure in my approach to experimenting (at the time before mind mapping!), I do things again and again without realising that I am repeating myself and without making a working connection between the repeated parts. I know that the conscious and comparative repeating of techniques and subjects is absolutely essential in developing a better understanding of the respective outcomes. Mind mapping will however help me organising this part of my studies better.
I am not sure whether sometimes the way I express myself may lead to misunderstandings.

Apart from the above contradictory observations I received a number of invaluable pointers for development:

  • The working with multiples/grids/fields ties in with some of my earlier work, including the charcoal animations I did as part of Drawing 1 (Lacher-Bryk, 2015). My tutor suggested that I try animations again, including simple ones like spinning my umbrella and making a film of that (zoetrope effect).
  • make anxiety part of my work (which I already do to a large extent)
  • select working textures from my sketchbooks and use them at a larger scale
  • continue working with unusual materials such as Coca-Cola and charcoal, caramel, beetroot juice etc. as well as unusual supports
  • try and work on a number of different pieces simultaneously to allow switching between pieces intuitively according to the communication channels working best at the time
  • regarding the issue of “putting order in my chaos”:
    e.g. use beetroot juice, make a mind map to set the scene, paint with a paintbrush (orderly) and then “let go” by e.g. painting with my hand only, always keep working quickly
  • do whatever I like best and continue experimenting to the full, putting imagination first, but now with my mind on “ordering the chaos”
  • Regarding the use of mind maps as means of artistic expression my tutor suggested that I have a look at the work of Mark Lombardi (1951-2000, USA) and the conspiracy theory surrounding his work and premature death. I did a quick search on the internet and instantly felt something familiar. Actually Lombardi’s cleverly devised mind maps, named “Narrative Structures”, remind me of some analysing tools used in evolutionary biology and ecology. Though static in appearance, his mind maps are in motion, both by the way the lines are arranged and by the way they indicate growth, and probably evolution. When doing some research on his intentions, it was not a biological background, but rather analyses of financial and political development (see e.g. Lucarelli, 2012). Although these subjects could not sound more different, they of course share similarities via emerging properties (which leads me back to an observation I made for myself when working on my Assignment 2 umbrella project (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b). It would both take me too far and be at the same time be short-sighted to consider making “evolution” a new focus of my course. The whole course itself is evolution and I must not use something I cannot know, because it lies in the future, to plan continuity with.

Besides, I am extremely happy to read that my sketchbook at last starts to take shape and research as well as blog meet the requirements. These points I was really worried about, because it took me felt ages to learn the basic requirements.

Overall, in order to gain the most from my work so far, I have started to sit down with my results for Parts 1 and 2 to do a synthesis and then decide, using mind maps, in which direction I want to proceed. This aspect is one of the aha-experiences I had during our video talk. So far I saw the parts of all courses as more or less separate entities with the main goal of introducing many different options of artistic expression. Tutor and assessors will however, despite the felt enormous difference between the subjects of each part, look for a continuity in artistic development. So, in Part 3, for example, where I had thought I would need to follow instructions on how to make monotype prints, I will also be expected to include insights gained in other parts, irrespective of their superficial dissimilarity. For example, although many of my subjects are figurative, I am semi-abstract in my use of materials. In keeping doing so I will be showing the required continuity over the parts of the course. This is completely new thinking for me and I will need to approach Part 3 with care to make this aspect a working tool.

Research on artists suggested by my tutor will be posted separately.

References

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2015) Assignment 2: “Ghost from the Past” – a stop motion experiment and the finished drawing [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA study blog, 17 June. Available from: https://andreabrykoca.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/assignment-2-ghost-from-the-past-a-stop-motion-experiment-and-the-finished-drawing/ [Accessed 1 September 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017a) Part 2, exercise 2.1: Unusual materials: collections – unusual painting media [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 14 July. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/07/14/part-2-exercise-2-1-unusual-painting-media/ [Accessed 3 September 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017b) Assignment 2: “An Umbrella Project” [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 17 August. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/08/17/assignment-2-an-umbrella-project/ [Accessed 1 September 2017]

Lucarelli, F. (2012) Mark Lombardi’s Narrative Structures and Other Mappings of Power Relations [blog] [online]. Socks, Paris, 22 August. Available from: http://socks-studio.com/2012/08/22/mark-lombardi/

Part 1 and Assignment 1: Self-evaluation

9 and 10 May 2017.

Note. – I was unsure as to whether I was supposed to write separate self-evaluation posts for Part 1 and Assignment 1, but since the two are inseparable really, I decided to combine them here.

Overall it took me a little while to settle into this course, which is quite different from the two I did before (Drawing 1 and Practice of Painting). In my case it would probably have been better to start my degree path with a course like Understanding Painting Media (UPM), because it teaches beautifully the expected way of how to use sketchbooks and develop a project, two aspects I am struggling with. After the first months with UPM I feel, to my own surprise and joy, much more at home now with both sketchbook and project development. The experience is enjoyable, playful and relaxed. UPM is my favourite course so far and I think that this one is the one I learned the most from in a very short time.
Here is my appreciation of my development with reference to p. 5, 42 and 47 of the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2015):

  • Demonstration of visual skills

Over several years now I have done a lot of continuous line drawing in my everyday sketchbook and elsewhere and I think that in this respect I have now developed a highly personal style (see e.g. Lacher-Bryk, 2017a). This skill has started to slowly become influential on my developing painting techniques, especially with the use of acrylic paint. I can do line drawings with paintbrushes quite successfully now, although the more painterly aspects of this skill need to be developed further.
My practical artist research, especially of Brian Alfred’s and Cecily Brown’s work and own derived experimentation allowed me to incorporate, with previously unknown confidence, the experience gained into my work for Assignment 1. This process has taught me some important initial requirements of how to approach the different aspects of a more complex project. Apart from the above this part of the course has given me, in a beautifully arranged way, the opportunity to get to become acquainted with some of the work of a considerable number of important contemporary artists and learn directly by engaging with it in a practical way, sometimes from surprising sources, which I would probably not have chosen for myself had I been presented with the opportunity (e.g. Jasper Joffe or Daniel Richter). Before I started this course I had never been sure of how to best accomplish this task, but now I feel in a good position to learn considerably. In a similar way my visual skills have sharpened. I am bolder, more creative and less afraid of “doing something wrong”. Years of drawing and painting in a figurative manner have given me some now relatively reliable knowledge of natural forms, which allows me to play with these forms to deliberately deviate from the original without having to give up the truth behind the changes any longer.

  • Quality of outcome

I am still keenly aware of the fact that I have had to relearn that one of the secrets of mastering the art of painting is in playing. This course has made this way of learning accessible to me once more. This means that I can start doing authentic things again, which I know from experience in a variety of other fields are the key to true communication with a viewer. Since I am by nature obsessively curious I do not think that I will ever be able to settle on a main area of interest, as there will always be a multitude of influences to consider and weigh against each other. This can be a very difficult task, but is also a chance to develop novel ways of seeing the world. This, however, also means that the quality of my work so far depends very much on how familiar I am with a subject, technique or material and whether I find a way of communicating my intention. In the past I found myself often struggling with tasks far too complex for my level of expertise. This course allows me to break down my subjects into manageable portions, so that I expect to be able to steadily increase the quality of my work. Along with this I noticed that my appreciation for the quality of work in the artists I come across has also increased and I feel more at home now with critically viewing and enjoying their particular contribution to the art world. My pieces for Assignment 1 I am very happy with in this respect. I think that the twenty paintings contain some of the best work I have made so far (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b).

  • Demonstration of creativity

Over the first two years with the OCA I have started to gain a different understanding of the meaning of the word creativity. Before that for me creativity was to have a ready-to-use idea in mind, which I then put into practice without further critical considerations. Now I am beginning to understand the difference in being creative while developing a project. I am more familiar now with the requirements set by the OCA in this respect and this allows me to come to more clearly appreciate the steps characteristic of creative processes. Over the first part of this course I felt that a self-sustaining development has set in and I hope that this is here to stay. In my experiementation, in particular with respect to practical artist research and painting response to their work I think that I made a large step forward, which I was able to carry over to planning and carrying out, in a consistent manner, the tasks for Assignment 1. In this respect I was glad to have taken with me from Assignment 5 of Practice of Painting my subject of shadows. This settling on an area of interest also helped me sharpen my view while not becoming overwhelmed by the creative possibilities open to me. I think that I am now relatively confident in selecting and using with (varying) success many different and creatively mixed painting and drawing media appropriate to the message I want to transport.

  • Context

I think that starting the course with a both theoretical and practical research project including a large number of artists was an incredibly efficient way to set the scene (Lacher-Bryk, 2017c). Now I am much better equipped for doing my own preliminary research, although I am aware that without the help of the OCA I would not yet be able to find the most important artists working today. I think that with respect to artist research it is always possible to do more, but to me it is an important first step to learn how to appreciate and use the invaluable contributions artists make for their respective work. For the first time I think that I successfully managed to incorporate techniques and ideas developed by other artists into my own assignment work (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b).
I also find that I have always intuitively incorporated ideas from my previous experiences, especially from my work as biologist and exhibition planner, as well as, and this in a largely subconscious manner, from my experience in fighting for our son, who is the victim of a massive hospital error.
My everyday life is highly demanding timewise and so I have to be very efficient at planning and carrying out my projects. This means that at least for the foreseeable future I cannot afford to let a project take its own pace, which may also have its advantanges. At times, for example, I need to spend several days in various hospitals together with my son. While this puts a halt to a continuous working process, it also helps me to step back from the work I have done and reappreciate it on returning from a completely different task. This helps me also to gain access to a set of possibly colliding viewpoints from which to observe and critically evaluate. What I do miss as compared to my previous two courses is some exchange with fellow students. As there do not seem to be many studying this course at the moment, my tutor contact is my invaluable resource for contextual concerns.

References

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017a) Everyday sketchbook: little May update [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 4 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/05/04/everyday-sketchbook-little-may-update/ [Accessed 10 May 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017b) Assignment 1: Twenty 15×15 cm Shadows [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 9 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/assignment-1-twenty-15×15-cm-shadows/ [Accessed 10 May 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017c) Part 1: Own experimentation supplementing introductory research point [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 9 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/category/research-and-reflection/ [Accessed 10 May 2017]

Open College of the Arts (2015) Painting 1: Understanding Painting Media. Open College of the Arts, Barnsley.