Friday 16 September 2011

Playing along with the art school boys, part one

When I left school at sixteen I had one ambition - I wanted to design record covers.  It seemed like it would be the perfect job, to create pictures to go with the music I loved.  Going to Art School would be my direct route to this nirvana.  Simple.

Of course the reality was always going to be different.  The Foundation Art course I embarked on at that tender age was perhaps not always as exciting as I’d hoped.  There were definitely some fun moments, but ironically many of these were outside the curriculum – drunken afternoons at the end of term and  adolescent pranks with studio props (a favourite being to wrap up lumps of cow-gum glue in Toffo wrappers and pass them off to a hapless friend as real sweets…)  But a lot of time was spent on  more prosaic practices such as the rules of perspective, drawing from life and understanding the colour spectrum.  I didn’t get to design any record covers at all.

Some rather embarrassing college work from 1980.  Who needs the great masters when you're making pictures like this..?!

With the benefit of hindsight  I think I might have tackled that first year differently.  I might have paid more attention to the technicalities and spent less time pondering on what I was going to wear each day (ooh - Siouxsie T-shirt or holey jumper? Leather jacket or charity shop raincoat?)  Perhaps I would also have taken more of an interest in the Art History lesson which we were obliged to attend once a week.

Sadly, I truly didn’t appreciate the relevance of learning a bit of background to a subject so vast - didn’t realise the benefits of opening up to the bigger picture (excuse the pun).  My world was small and self-obsessed.  So, I’m ashamed to say, the two hours a week watching a film about the Pre-Raphaelites, Surrealism or the Impressionists  became an excuse to do anything but learn or open up to such greatness.  I daydreamed in the soporific half light, and contemplated the latest episode of ‘Monkey’ or the thought of having a Findus crispy pancake for tea.  The most artistic thing I did during Art History was the occasional doodle in my notebook, in which only a few cursory educational notes had been jotted down : Florence, 1400s, Botticelli.”   120 sleepy minutes would pass in which I barely even noticed his Venus.  And then it was home time (no doubt to watch ‘Monkey’ and have that Findus crispy pancake for tea.)

So I was totally unprepared when it came to sitting the Art History ‘O’ Level exam at the end of the year.  What was worse was that, somehow, I got the day of the exam wrong.  I thought it was on the Thursday, but it was on the Wednesday.  I’d presumed I had Wednesday off and the house to myself - such bliss.  So I stayed in bed for an extra hour.....only to be suddenly and unhappily awoken by a phone call. 

It was my Art History teacher. "Where are you??? The exam starts in half an hour...!” 
“Oh no…”   It felt like a large stone had been dropped inside my stomach as her words assembled themselves in my brain. “Oh NO! I’ve got to get the bus… I don’t know when the next one is… erm…” The rock in my gut felt even heavier.
“No, you’'ll be too late!  I'll come and pick you up in my car.  Now."
Oh shit.  College was eight miles from my home.  She’d be here in less than half an hour.

Not only did I have to face an exam and the wrath of my tutor, but I had to get ready.  Hair!  Oh no! Would there be time to spike it up? Oh hell, could I go to college with non-spikey hair?  Oh fuck.... could I?  And what about make-up?  And clothes? What was I going to wear?  I quickly rinsed my bed-curled mop, unsuccessfully tried to blow-dry it upright, smudged black kohl around my eyes and pulled a smelly, crumpled mohair jumper out of the linen basket where it had been awaiting a much-needed wash.  No time to even finish my bowl of Ricicles before Miss Art History pulled up outside in her Morris Minor Traveller. 

It took a long while, not to mention a lot of egg-white, to get my hair to defy gravity this way...

Anyway I got into the exam late – flustered, embarrassed and, worst of all, with floppy hair - and I was all over the place.  I hadn't a clue.  I tried to recall as much as I could - something about Florence in the 1400s and Botticelli? - but I knew it was doomed.  It was awful.  And when the exam was over all I wanted to do was go home (I had nothing to stay for) but - in the hurry to get out that morning and with not needing to catch the bus -  I only had 12 pence on me. 12 pence was enough to buy a whole packet of Polos, but only a tiny fraction of an eight-mile bus fare. So I decided to walk.

It took me nearly three hours.   I got offers of lifts from a very persistent biker (who kept turning round, coming back and asking again) and a rather pushy lorry driver who scowled nastily at me for rejecting the invitation of a ride in his cab.  I think he had a different kind of ride in mind.  I refused both, and continued on blistered feet – eventually getting home to be greeted by my mum, who was now back from work, with a cheery, “Good day at college, dear?”

I failed my Art History exam miserably.

An art history film with a difference.  The artist, Guiseppe Ragazzini, uses pieces
of masterpieces by Botticelli, Da Vinci, Giotto, etc. in this collage animation...


  1. Hi Yve, thanks for commenting -hmm, wish I'd been like you at Art History now! Mind you I did (and still do) like messy paint... Oh, Eraserhead, that's a memory-jogger too - that T shirt sounds classy and funnily enough I first saw that film at college, when the little cinema room used for those "boring" Art History films was also used as little lunchtime cinema club. And that was not boring at all...

  2. Haha great story, C. I began my foundation year expecting to learn how to draw comics - when I finished I was thinking about performance art so I suppose it had done it's job! I well remember the drowsy atmosphere of the art history lectures - just the click of the slide projector and a soft-spoken monotone voice lulling us gently off. Then one day we had to watch 'Wavelength' by Michael Snow....

  3. I do so enjoy your posts (and art work, the skinhead watercolor needs to be a CD cover)!

  4. Aww, thanks, A. Glad I'm not the only one who experienced that drowsy atmosphere - I'd quite forgotten that click of the slide projector too...

    And thanks, Wilthomer, much appreciated. Imagining that skinhead painting as a CD cover made me laugh!

  5. We studied different things but I think our college experience must have been pretty similar.

  6. Thanks for commenting, Dr MVM - I'm intrigued now too, wondering what it was you studied?!


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