Sunday, February 01, 2009

Fine Arts and Professional Practice - First Semester

Having just completed my first semester on the Fine Arts and Professional Practice BA (Hons) degree course at Blackpool Art School I thought it may be helpful to those contemplating embarking on this course if I shared some of my thoughts and experiences from the first semester (15 weeks).

First thing I realised was the Art Foundation pre-degree course (FC), which I enjoyed imensly, in no way prepares you for what is involved in an academic degree course. Which is a pity really as with a bit of joined up thinking the value of the foundation course could be considerably enhanced. Considering that many of the Blackpool foundation students go on to the BA course at Blackpool there seems to be a large gap between the two courses.

Critical Studies
For example, although the FC includes Contextual Studies (history of Art) the way the subject is taught the subject does not prepare you for Critical Studies (CS) which is the degree course equivalent. CS is much more academic, in its approach, different vocabulary, embracing the philosophy of art and critical thinking. A prior knowledge of these concepts will be a definite asset in your first semester. They throw you in a the deep end and if you have no idea who Baudelaire is or the ranting of Marx, Engle's and the crackpot ideas of Jung and Freud you will be struggling. Particularly as within 10 minutes of the end of the first lecture the library will be stripped bare of any reference material. A criticism I have of the course at Blackpool is they do not provide a reading list prior to your arrival. This places great pressure on the library facilities. See my Amazon wish list in the right hand column for reading suggestions. No the list is not a hint to buy me anything.

Computer Skills
About 50% of the new students struggled with inadequate computer skills. Although help is available from student services, deficiency in this area will slow your progress at a time when you have many other things to cope with. If your computer skills are rusty or none existent. I would strongly advise that you spend your summer holidays getting to grips with basic word processing and the Internet. You will have to type up a weekly blog for CS from the fist week. And there is a 1500 word essay to write at the end of the first semester. This has to be presented in a very precise manner so you need fairly good word processing skills. You will also need to learn how to do searches on the Internet for contextual material both for all aspects of the course.

If you do not have a computer of your own I would strongly advise buying one. I am typing this on a Samsung NC10 Netbook which costs new (Christmas 2008) £225. You can buy laptops at computer fairs for under £100 or less. If funds are really tight try a request on BlackpoolFreeCycle ( If you are disabled or on benefits I believe there is a scheme through college for providing FREE computers.

An important part of CS is the completion of a blog or as they now prefer to call it an eJournal on the College Intranet, familiarly known as Moodle. Moodle is like a mini part of the World Wide Web which is private to the college. Moodle is an important part of both your course and of college life. It is used by the college and tutors to communicate with you by posting notices, sending you emails, reporting results of assessments etc. There are a variety of discussion groups on which you can share thoughts and experiences of such things as gallery visits, social events, trips. Ask for help and advice, from house shares, requests for models to where to find a retro 70’s suitcase! And there is a fund of other information both about the college and your course.

But the most important part of Moodle is your eJournal. This is the bit that most people struggle with and much to my surprise it was not the more mature students. The younger text messaging, Facebook, MySpace generation seemed to suffered most. If you have never kept a blog or online journal you should seriously find out how this bit of the Cyber World works. If you want to have a practice in advance I would suggest checking out Blogger on the internet. This is an easy to setup and use blog service operated by Google.

Although you are expected to file an eJournal entry at least once a week this is not a diary. It is an assessable part of your CS module and is supposed to take the form of a critical thinking review on an aspect of a CS lecture, seminar or may be a set piece. It can also include reflective thinking about other aspects of the course, particularly the relevance of the content to your professional discipline and/or practice (Oh yes I have not mentioned Professional Practice yet). It must not be a blow by blow of your daily life. Entries should be short and sweet. Ideally no more than a couple of paragraphs, on one subject. If you want to say more or cover more than one topic you should post separate entries. Posts should include references and key words and if relevant an image(s). They should not include slabs of cut and paste text! Neither should they turn into essays. Moodle contains detailed guidelines.

Professional Practice
The other modules on the course, Professional Practice, Drawing and Painting are slightly less demanding initially. Professional Practice covers aspects of becoming a professional artist in all its permutations, self employed own studio, to teaching. The module covers aspects of self employment, setting up a studio, looking for funding, self promotion, galleries, artist groups and networks etc etc. Useful things to check in advance are Lancashire Artists Network, the magazine AN, as many local galleries as you can find, the local art scene in general and within Blackpool in particular.

Drawing is split in two. Main part is "Constructs in Drawing" which is mainly concerned with Life Drawing which will be familiar to those who have completed the Foundation Course. The approach is traditional with emphasis on mark making. You will use a variety of media from pencil to paint but mainly a mix of compressed and traditional charcoal. There is also a more experimental module which is concerned with technical methods and process. It is usually based on the work done in the previous drawing class. Historical and contextual referencing is an important component.

The module explores spatial awareness through a wide range of technical methods and process combining drawing and other processes such as collage. The subject matter may be directed by the assignment or may be optional. Most students chose to concentrate were allowed on their personal project. This proved to be a sensible choice as it was possible to compare the results of using a variety of techniques on the same subject material. I personally found the approach very enlightening.

The general advice in both drawing and painting is to think "wild" the emphasis is on exploration and discovering personal strengths and weaknesses. It is

Mixed media AJP

important to be self motivated. You need to be able to discuss your work and motivation, be aware of current art trends and their relevance to your work. Our personal work, self directed study, embraced the subjects of Space and Place.

Reflective Diary/Journal
There seemed to be some confusion between individual students as to how this should be approached. Personally I used an A5 spiral bound note book into which I endeavoured to reflect on each lesson. There was an element of diary but on each occasion I made a point of considering the good and bad points of each entry. I received no negative comments at my assessment.

I have to say I have found the first semester challenging but very enjoyable. We have a good spirit in the group. The tutors are generally quite human and extremely helpful. There is a tendency for the odd one to forget that not everyone is 18 years old!

No comments: