I’ve combined my academic career with my art and design practice since the late 1990s and I’ve felt that each informs the other. Some weeks I’ve wished there were more hours for one than the other, but the two occupations are, for me, valuable and complementary to each other.
My art and design practice is one of learning, journeying and discovering new ways to look, to draw, to interpret the world about me in a visual, drawn or printed language. I feel as if I’m on a really long adventure that won’t stop until I get put in a box. Each commission, or self-established project offers a small experience that builds the bigger lesson that takes me further along that creative path to who knows where. Facilitating the discovery of this excitement in creative exploration is what drives me to teach students in Higher Education.
I have recently visited the excellent Peter Green exhibition: Sixty years of printmaking, at Mascalls Gallery, Kent (the exhibition has just finished I’m afraid), which got me thinking… It was made clear in the design and content of the show (St. Judes and Emma Mason Gallery with Mascalls Gallery) that Peter combined his printmaking career with an academic one, and a high achieving one at that.
Printmaking is such a physical experience, and although simple in principle, the intricacies of a process and resulting prints can be hard earned. The exhibition of Peter Green’s work really demonstrated the pleasure of investigation, of material, colour and surface quality, not as passing ideas, but as a sustained dialogue between practitioner and process, and between ink and paper. The exhibition showed the drawings, the printing plates, the tools, the sampling and final resolutions. Peter’s vast experience and significant creative journey was evident; and through the exhibition I felt as if he is teaching us to learn from him, not for the technique, but for the commitment and value of doing and pursuing something. I believe that this is fundamental in teaching, whether in formal education or not.
It was interesting to read in the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition that he said, “knowledge is about common ownership […] we should learn from each other.” This is how I feel about my relationship with education. We should not be masters to preach the skills and experience, but instead we could share in the experience of learning together. That’s not to deny that someone needs the skills and experience in the first place, but the attitude of someone like Peter who clearly enjoys the creative journey will inspire those a step or two behind him. I think it’s important that those who teach are also those who do.
I strongly believe that there are no short cuts, or right answers along the path of art and design. There is no ‘one’ way of doing things. Sadly, so many students come through school thinking they are looking for the tick in the box, the correct result. We try at degree level study to nurture in them the understanding that you learn far more by investigating, questioning and journeying, rather than heading straight for one destination. This is again echoed in Peter’s investigative approach to printmaking – the finding out along the way is as important as the final state.
I read in the catalogue that Peter had moved away from wood engraving as a process as it required a more calculated journey and pre-determined images. I think I work like this too, looking to uncover the solution rather than to execute the obvious, not with wood but as a designer. This makes me think of new or less experienced teachers over-planning and worrying about the outcome of a session; what the students will achieve at the end, as a tangible result. Those with more experience and confidence in their teaching and the learning experience can take risks with that journey of learning and therefore participate rather than dictate. This sounds comparative to Peter’s more recent prints that evolve over time without the planning, but with an open-ended investigation. The exhibition celebrates sixty years of Peter printmaking [today in collaboration with wife Linda], so with such a busy and extensive journey the prints are an exciting archive of process and investigation, with common themes, colour relationships and familiar motifs in evidence during this time, as well as textile designs more recently in collaboration with St. Judes.
No doubt those of us who live with creative practices do so for many reasons, and those of us who teach will each tell of reasons why we do too. The combination of a creative practice and a teaching role is, in my mind, a really good combination, a two-sided relationship, where hopefully the give and the take work themselves out for the benefit of all! Thanks to Peter for reminding me of that good partnership as we embark on another academic year…
Thanks to Simon Lewin of St. Judes for permission and access to the images of Peter Green’s prints:
top: Welsh Landscape No.1 1960
middle: Red Night 1963
bottom: Evening Estuary 2013