YOUR ARTICLE ALLUDES TO THE FEAR OF STARTING A COURSE. HAVE YOU ANY ADVICE YOU CAN OFFER FOR SOMEONE WHO IS NEW TO STUDY?
Don’t doubt yourself. Adult learning classes are generally not competitive; everyone is more than aware of their own shortcomings (one of the few gifts of maturity?) Almost everyone I know who has taken Lifelong Learning Classes has returned for more. You might not feel best in the class but what you achieve is often subliminal and greater than you can actually perceive yourself. And where education is concerned I always think it is always good to keep in mind that it is not so much the end product as “the process” that is important.
MANY STUDENTS FIND IT DIFFICULT TO START WRITING AN ESSAY, HOW DO YOU START AND PLAN?
With regard to essay writing it is best to choose a subject or artist that inspires you before you start a plan. Chew over an idea, go for a walk, explore it in your head. Then make your plan. First: identify the points or argument you want to present. Think of a beginning, a middle and an end; the beginning is the introduction of your argument, the middle being the exploration and presentation of your evidence and the last section being your conclusion. Always keep in mind that the original meaning of the word “essay” was “attempt” or “endeavour”, so you may find in your research that your original presumption was off-centre. That shouldn’t matter as long as you provide your evidence. Therefore it is very useful, that right from your first written line, you record every book or article you read and every website you visit; add these to the end of the essay (you can always delete them at the end if you feel they are not relevant). What can be time-consuming is not noting where you read something and then having to search for it when you come to your final draft.
One thing I have learnt is presentation IS important; your text should include good colour illustrations, with well-spaced lines and paragraphs and use a consistent font.
It all sounds rather arduous and pedestrian but very rapidly you start doing all this automatically.
YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN INCLINED TO TAKE AN ART PRACTICE COURSE BUT ARE TAKING THE ’MAKING PICTURES' MODULE WHICH IS A CROSS OVER COURSE; HAS THAT HELPED YOU APPRECIATE THE MAKING ASPECT OF ART?
I clearly know I have no dexterity of the hand, so “making” art for me is way beyond my capacities. Therefore I firmly stick to art history. “Making Pictures” was an idea I suggested during a class discussion with the tutor at a previous course, when we were exploring ideas for future courses. Not being a practical artist of any sort I felt there was a lot I was just “not getting!
This current course has certainly helped to identify materials and processes, like gesso and tempera; to identify the minerals used in colour, and also to discover what effects are easier with some materials, such as oil, water-colour, acrylic, and what is much harder to achieve in each medium. Handling a chisel and a piece of wood still confirms I am utterly cack-handed but I now understand much more clearly what types of wood are amenable to carving, and how a simple wood-cut is far from simple.
I think overall looking at the construction of pictures really complements art history studies. Personal preference should always come second, (third or fourth) to objective assessment of an artist’s work. Though “liking” may emotionally come first, it is normally study that makes you realise why you admire a work so much.
YOU WORK AS A GUIDE FOR THE POWIS CASTLE, WHAT IS THE PIECE YOU MOST COVET AT THE PROPERTY AND WHY?
What do I most covet at Powis Castle? What I LOVE most about it are the gardens. Surely the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon must have resembled Powis Castle’s wonderful baroque terraces. These were completed in their present form circa 1705 by the French gardener called Adrian Duval. However what is there now is just a fraction of what he originally created: the great lawn was once full of cascades, fountains and statuary and the east-front had three formal gardens leading up to it.
In the castle what I most admire is the Elizabethan Long Gallery with its ornate ceiling that represents the Garden of Eden. Around the edge are heraldic symbols including two relating to the Parr Sisters. – Catherine Parr’s sister Anne was mother to William Herbert, and it was he who bought the castle in the reign of Elizabeth I and first started converting it into a country house. The ornate ceiling culminates at the chimney-piece where on one side of the Herbert Crest is an image of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and on the other side, them being expelled from paradise. This is a bit of subliminal aristocratic PR, the message being –“We the Herberts can trace our line right back to Adam” - lineage being so important to landed gentry. But then, of course, if you believe in the creation myth, can’t we all?
But to COVET definitely implies possession. Neither the garden nor the gallery would fit into my humble dwelling.
What I would covet, and what I could accommodate, is the portrait of Lady Elizabeth Somerset Countess, later Duchess of Powis) by Jacob Huysmans.
On the left is a late baroque portrait (1680s?), one of two depictions of the Marchioness in the Castle. It is when you compare Huysman’s work to the earlier portrait by John Michael Wright that you can really appreciate the former’s skill.
In the Wright portrait,on the right the lady might look more youthful and fairer, she is at best, portrayed conservatively. The lady is sat in her ermine, leaning on a table with her coronet at her elbow, (labouring the point of her social status) with conventional drapes hanging in the background.
How much more is in the Huysman’s? There is the Marchioness is again in her robes with the drapes behind but, also in the background, there is a classical pillar (a more subtle reference to her status?), and an evening sky-scape (is the lady approaching the twilight of her years? ) and in the foreground is a dog, and a child or putti (albeit a rather pudgy one) holding still-life. Now still-life in the 17th C represented life’s transition, (fruit perishes); it is a reminder, a memento mori, that life is transient. So this inclusion may be Huysman’s consolidating the idea of the setting sun of the Marchioness’s life. However for me his cleverness is that he takes the eye on a journey: He starts with the dog, who does not look up at the countess but up at the boy, so we follow the gaze, the child, in turn, looks up at the face of the countess yet she is staring (rather stonily) back at us. Is she or is Huysman’s saying to us: you will all come to this in the end? It would be interesting to know what the Marchioness actually thought of the work herself.
IF YOU WERE LEFT ON A DESERT ISLAND WHICH ARTIST WOULD YOU WANT WITH YOU?
Which artist would I want with me on a desert island? Are we talking about the artist or their works? Many an artist I would quail to be in the same room with, let alone cast on a desert island. Michelangelo was not in any way renowned for his social graces or charm, Caravaggio had serious anger management issues that could end in fatality , and Jackson Pollock basically drank himself to death, and that is but to mention three; and Bruegel the Elder, for all his funnily obsession with bodily functions and bottoms, was actually rather staid, middle-class and I suspect would make a rather respectably boring companion.
No for me I think it would have to be Leonardo. His drawings are so exquisite that they move me to tears, his few paintings (with the exception of the Mona Lisa) are sublime, and also he was a great scientist. So he would know what to eat, would have an extensive knowledge of the human body, which could be utilised were I to get ill, and he was such an brilliant engineer that, probably before 12 months were out, he would have constructed a floating vessel or a flying machine for us to escape from our isolation. And he was gay. – I wouldn’t want to be stuck with some ghastly homophobe, no matter how well he painted.
That what he would offer me. And I him? I could introduce him to the idea of “land art”. We could turn the island into a work of art together, (I as his humble assistant) so that when we did escape we bring everyone back and open it up as the “Da Vinci Theme Park” and thereby make our fortunes.
Thank you Ian, this is a great insight in to being one of our students and some really good advice. Ian’s piece about Lifelong Learning is featured in the March 2017 edition of the EGO magazine. You can read it here.
‘Appreciating our cultural heritage’
(A Lifelong learning student’s perspective)
Six years ago I was finally able to shake off the dust of the big city and retire to the rural tranquillity of my house in Mid-Wales.
With time on my hands there were interests I wanted to pursue and so I looked around for classes/ lectures etc. And what I found was the Lifelong Learning Department at Aberystwyth University, offering a veritable cornucopia of possibilities. Creative Writing, Geology, History, Sciences, Film Studies, to mention but a few. These classes, as well as being based in Aberystwyth, are conveniently scattered over numerous sites in Powys and Ceredigion and are available for all adults. And at amazingly good value: a course of 8-10 weekly classes per term currently costs a mere £100, with reductions for over sixties, further reductions for “early bird bookings” – (and even more reductions for those on benefits). (And no previous experience or qualifications needed) An accumulation of 12 courses can earn the student a Certificate in Higher Education, which can then be used as a foundation for jumping on to a degree course at year two.
Always having had a dilettante interest in painting, sculpture and architecture, I enrolled for my first art history course. With the gift of hindsight I realise that I was blessed with the order of courses I was able to do. This first was the Study of Art and Art History; studying art from the medieval period to the 21st century. A perfect foundation course.
Going to my first class I remember feeling anxious as to what a visual diary was, feeling ill-equipped to write formal essays and unsure of my abilities to study academically. However, the worse thing about fear is fear itself. Five years, on such anxieties would never cross my mind.
My next course was Contemporary Art and Discussion. Like most people I thought my comfort-zone lay in the renaissance and not really in contemporary art. All I can say now is: how little we know ourselves. Having recently visited the Abstract Expressionist Exhibition at the Royal Academy I found myself in an environment of utter bliss. This response I am sure was as a result of attending that early contemporary art course, which had challenged my own perceptions and presumptions and, as well as having educated me, had truly broadened my horizons.
Over the last 4 years I have completed many courses. The History of Printmaking, Art in Wales - Landscape, Imaging the Welsh, Pictures with a Message, et al. Like many an English academic before me, I confess I initially had little enthusiasm for studying Welsh Art. And like many before me that attitude just revealed my own ignorance, because, like every course I have done, my prejudices were truly challenged and my ignorance revealed. Studying Welsh Art has given me hours, days, and weeks of pleasure. Wales is abundant in art and there are galleries everywhere. Though Aberystwyth has the marvellous resources of the School of Art, the National Library, the Arts Centre and the Ceredigion Museum, some of my courses have actually been based in satellite galleries, like MOMA Machynlleth, and Oriel Davies in Newtown,
Of course, like any activity, what you get out of a course is dependent upon how much time and focus you are willing to put into it. So visiting exhibitions at Mid Wales Arts Centre, Mostyn in Llandudno, Powis Castle, Martin Tinney in Menai, Ffyn y Parc Plas, Glyn y Weddw in Saved to your Map Llanbedrog, (not forgetting the riches in the National Museum in Cardiff) have all gone to complement my studies. And, at a not an impossible distance, there is in Liverpool: the Tate, the Walker and Lady Lever galleries not forgetting Crosby Beach for Anthony Gormley’s fabulous outdoor installation.
Lifelong learning also offers Distance Learning Courses. True to form I approached my first one with trepidation; how would I deal with no weekly input of lectures; would I cope without a regular tutor? Would I be self-motivated enough? As always anxieties over nothing. I just had to log onto the University Website, then onto the Lifelong Learning Blackboard, download my course module’s scheme-of-work and off I went. Working at my own speed within a generous time-frame, it was all sheer delight.
All these studies I have since found practical application for. I volunteer at Powis Castle for the National Trust, have worked at Oriel Davies, and volunteer on a weekly basis at MOMA Machynlleth. So what I have learnt in Lifelong Learning I also have been able to apply practically elsewhere.
I feel I have now developed a huge amount of knowledge about the history of art, I have discovered the rich heritage Wales has in the visual arts, but most of all I have learnt not to be inhibited by my own self-doubts. I have learned and loved learning!
Did I say I was retried? I don’t think so.
This article was written Ian Munday, one of our recent students.
Last year our ‘Art in Wales’ module was awarded an Exemplary Practice Award from the University for the innovative content, assessment and media rich resources. If you are interested in taking our Distance Learning courses, information can be found on. https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/lifelong-learning/art-design/aberdistancelearning/
You will also find three ‘Taster activities’ on our web site to give you a sample of the way we teach.