As I mentioned a couple of weeks back, September is my favourite month. It brings a slightly slanted sunlight and cool air yet still warm days, and all of which seems to connect me back to every previous September. It’s the month when the art schools return to study and thus when people who have decided to take their artistic interests more seriously take the plunge and enrol on an art course, beginning a great adventure in life, a special and different way to live an entire life.
It’s also a time of year when my family, as children, would take a holiday, or, more often (more affordable) day trips out with mum & dad. Later in life I was able to drive my mum down to Cornwall in South West England, usually at this time of year. And there, I must say, and despite travelling as much as I can, I still believe I had the best holidays of my life.
This particular September is unlike any other, due to the health crisis gripping the world, but I’ve managed to use the unusually long summer break (lengthened by the cancellation of summer schools and re-jigging of the university timetable) to read a lot more than usual, and to think a lot about how to adapt my teaching, learning, writing and publishing to this new world. I think I’ve come up with some exciting solutions, thus turning – as we always must, if we can – a crisis into an innovative and constructive response to that same crisis. But I have often been here before, on the brink of a new college year, with some great ideas about how to conduct my self and use the coming months creatively, only to see my best laid plans shredded by the day to day demands of the highly demanding and responsible role of teaching.
But these kinds of conflicts have confronted me ever since I found my first job as an art teacher (for which I must thank some kind of deity). Right from the start, I saw that teaching was so demanding that it would wipe-out the long and hard-won dialogue I had built-up with my studio. But rather than let a conflict devour both my studio and my teaching I resigned myself to treating teaching as my studio. I can honestly say that I have maintained this ethos, never repeating a lecture in 20 years, and constantly inventing and innovating in terms of my lectures and seminars and studio projects, so that both I and the students always feel we are involved in a practice, even if that practice often involves working with words, ideas, images, history, culture and discussion, as our materials.
So, I have a great plan now for this coming year, about a way to respond to many changes in the world, in art and in education, that we are facing, and a plan that also incorporates, and does not in any way conflict with the trajectory of my own work. I’m hoping this year to roll all of this together like never before, so that everything compliments and feeds into everything else. The outcome, if it works, will be a new book, a new seminar, two new lectures, and new ways of teaching and learning, using both new and old technologies. And all of this allows me to both delve back into my archive of unpublished teaching, learning, writing and visual practice, at the same time as building on my most recent achievements.
But as the English say, I’m ‘keeping everything crossed’ that my plan will succeed and not become devoured by external demands and forces, and perspectives that are unable to see and appreciate what I am trying to do. Meanwhile I intend to try to enjoy every remaining day of this golden September, always wishing that I could see, once again, the wide-open beaches, rocks, rock pools and vertiginous coastal paths of the North coast of the Cornish peninsula, facing, as it does, bravely up and out towards the Atlantic; and ideally wishing too that I could walk there once again with my mother, immersed in September’s splendid mix of warm sun and cool breezes, on paths and beaches and days that never seemed to end.