You don’t have to do what you are told to do

I was noodling about online today reading any random thing that I can find when I search for stuff and I ended up on a page that tells you how to be successful with a blog. Guess what? Don’t confuse your readers by writing stuff that rambles along.

Unfortunately disconnected ramblings tend to be my better posts so here I go again – hobbling along on the path of not being successful. Why? Because I don’t do what people tell me to do.

I might be taking notes as if I am interested. I might think that you even make sense. But that does not mean I am going to do what you suggest because I do not work that way. I do things my own way because I believe I have a core value system that I am working on.

But do I?

Sometimes I wonder. Because I get told so many things and have been trying so many different approaches that I sometimes do not know what I am thinking at all. And on what core beliefs I am basing my actions. And not that I am going to figure it out in the next hundred or five hundred words or so. But let me take a stab at it.

In principle I like the whole Minimalist movement. The idea of getting by with less and having a life that is not focussed on stuff, especially not on searching for stuff you can’t find because you can’t remember where you put your stuff, is infinitely appealing. Not that I am interested enough to only blog about that, or start a business about it, or work for the next 365 days developing a Minimalist mindset and lifestyle and habit structure and… and…

Wow, that quickly got to more rather than less.

This holiday, which only really started today even though the schools already closed two weeks ago, needs us to focus on home and cleaning up. My wife had a workshop, I had work to finish, and now we can finally switch and be at home. And being at home is stressful because it is not as tidy and neat and sorted out as what we want it to be. Not even when I don’t exactly know how neat that should be.

But I do know that yesterday I searched for a copy of my ID which I do know that I have somewhere. And I could not find it. So I rushed out to make a bundle of new copies and now while I am sitting here I cannot for the life of me remember where they are.

That is not sorted out.

Do I now go and work out a neat project with a cool name for something that I am going to do that will revolutionise my life? No, I don’t. Because I am not going to stick to the project, or I will change the name four hundred times, or I will fail miserably on this project and be brilliant on something else I never intended to focus on at all.

But this is about values. And one value, formulated very badly, is to tread lightly. Meaning that I do not want to be a burden to myself or to the world by what I make, what I do, how I act, or with what I leave behind.

But what I will do is ramble about on my own blog because what I am saying here is mostly inconsequential. Meaning that is only or mostly only relevant to me. And what is relevant to me in this moment is that I am irritated by newspapers. Because buying them always come with the promise that they will deliver more than what they do. I always expect answers but I inevitably end up with more questions.

Detail of cover of Beeld, 17 December 2015
Articles with more questions than answers: Beeld, 17 December 2015

But more than that, I end up with paper I need to recycle. And that I do not need more of. Plus, to find a wider coverage on anything I can find in a paper I can just look it up on the internet. Because nothing does fluffy news with no real answers better than the internet. But that is another topic.

Thus, to tread lightly, even especially on my own mind, I think I might be giving up on buying newspapers. Not that I will stop reading them. I just don’t see the point in buying them anymore.

How’s that for a first resolution for 2016?

When one thing ends something else has already started

At least that is the way it works for me. If I take a moment and stay aware of all the things going on then there is a lot going on. But I am more aware of it now because I am at a big end, and a big start.

The school year just ended. School itself ended over a week ago but I also marked matric papers and that took another week. Today then was my first day when school was not anywhere on my radar. Except now, as I am writing about it. This was the end of my third year at Michael Mount. And after leaving teaching in 1999 and vowing never to come back I must say I am surprised at how good it is going this time, considering that going back to teaching was a definite plan B. Obviously the universe conspired.

But I also matured a lot from 1999 to 2013. And I gained a lot of experience. And I got my own kids. And all these things work together that makes me not only a much happier teacher now, but also a much better one. Not that I am the world’s best teacher. I can’t say that. But I can say that I am the best high school art teacher at my school. Also the only one but let’s not sour a glorious achievement.

So, this is the close of a teaching year. Next year I am entering my fourth. I have committed to be a guardian which also means that I have committed to at least another three years at Michael Mount. It is a challenge I am looking forward to because it will push me into new directions. There will be a lot more human interactions next year that I will have to manage. And going from working isolated and on my own, to being a teacher full-time to now this it is a logical progression of me gaining more experience dealing with the rest of humanity. But not to dwell on that.

What is starting?

I recently came across a Youtube video of a TEDx talk by Emilie Wapnick. She runs her own blog called Puttylike. In her talk she mentions people who are, what she calls, multipotentialites. From my perspective I would call her wise beyond her years because what she describes I have experienced throughout my whole life. I just did not manage to make as much sense of it as she has.

Yes, at my age I am now eventually finding out what is the purpose of my life. And guess what? I don’t have one. Except if you consider just be yourself as a life purpose.

And that is what is beginning for me. A new phase in my life where I no longer try and find the one thing that will make me happy, famous and rich. But rather a journey where I really and with good faith can just go ahead and do the thing that my hand finds to do. Because my interest wax and wane. And I am okay with that. And I am learning to live and work with that.

What am I going to do now?

I don’t know. I know that there are things that are beginning to interest me now. I have an itch for movement and dance and music and I have no idea how to scratch that itch yet. But I will explore that, combined with a growing interest in managing my own body. Keeping fit and staying healthy and all that stuff (because I never really needed to pay attention to it before).

I also want to find out more about money. Not in the way that I want to know how to get it but rather in the way that I want to know how to live free from its oppressive presence. In other words, not money as the stuff I use to pay for pizzas but money as the construct that claim to be one of the most important things in the world – while being a figment of our imagination.

Gerhi Janse van Vuuren, Praenomen, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 510 x 405 mm
Gerhi Janse van Vuuren, Praenomen, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 510 x 405 mm

As I have said above, I will still be teaching. And that means I will still work through education issues and my own creativity and the best ways of teaching and my own making things in class and drawing and art history and all that stuff. Such as the painting Praenomen, which I made between classes this year. But more than that I want to stretch my creativity into further realms. Maybe write and illustrate a comic. Maybe write a play. Certainly direct a school play or two.

And then it gets vague. Am I going to write that novel? I don’t know. Will I create a monologue play? I don’t know.

What do I know? That I am okay not knowing. That I am okay working on the things that I have in front of me right now. This blog for instance, on which I worked most of today. No, not this one post, the whole look and feel and the structure and the extra pages.

enigma-04

I rewrote my about page. I added a contact page and a works and jobs pages. I also added my fishy pictures which I am going to use as a general theme, for the moment. I intend to keep on blogging but I am not promising any regularity or format or specific content. I’m just taking it as it comes. And this is how it came today.

Early International Artworks Analysed – The List

feature pic for the enigma

For class 12 art one section of the work is Early International Art. This is art from Dada, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and then optional either Photorealism or Minimalism.

Personally I think the restricting early international art only to these movements mean that you only have a broken understanding of how art has been developing. You get a couple of big moments but not the big picture. But, on the other hand, each movement on its own has enough to keep you busy for decade – and then you will only be scratching the surface.

So, we have to make a selection of works to study. Too many and you get lost, too few and you don’t have enough context. I have a list of works chosen for the 2016 matrices and will be posting developmental analyses of these works over the next ten or so months. But for now here is the initial list:

Dada

  • Marcel Duchamp – Fountain
  • Man Ray – The Gift
  • Max Ernst – Switzerland, Birthplace of Dada

Surrealism

  • Salvador Dali – Leda Atomica
  • Salvador Dali – Soft Construction with Boiled Beans
  • Max Ernst – Forest and Dove
  • Rene Magritte – Familiar Objects
  • Dorothea Tanning – Birthday

Abstract Expressionism

  • Lee Krasner – Porcelain
  • Jackson Pollock – Full Fathom Five
  • Mark Rothko – Four Darks in Red
  • Elaine de Kooning – Bacchus #3

Pop Art

  • Roy Licthenstein – Drowning Girl
  • Roy Lichtenstein – Turkey
  • Andy Warhol – Brillo Boxes
  • Jasper Johns – Flag

Why the ANC underfunds the universities

feature pic for the enigma

Universities have thus become theatres of the most intolerable of SA’s inequalities. Students juggling between staying well fed and paying their fees share classrooms with the gilded children of the top 1%.

As Business Day editor Songezo Zibi commented on these pages recently, it was at a tertiary institution that he discovered he was poor.

Embarrassed by its stark inequalities, SA does its best to conceal them.

In tertiary institutions, it seems to have done the very opposite.
They have become an advertisement for the triumph of the past over the present; a living enactment of how hard the world of privilege slams closed its door.

Read the rest here: Why the ANC underfunds the universities – Rand Daily Mail

Something to say for a free (or cheap) education

feature pic for the enigma

The cost of tertiary education is a hot topic in South Africa. This is me putting my foot into the conversation.

For a lot of things you do not need a degree. Art is one of them. And this is me saying it. I have an art degree. I am glad I have it because it gave me a foundation. But it is not needed to practice as an artist.

Being an artist is about being willing to grow as a human being. No training can ever give you that. The willingness comes from yourself. It is the same with starting a business. You don’t need a qualification. You need to willingness to try; the grit to stick to it. Sometimes slogging through a stupid course teaches you this.

What we need is less of an emphasis on a piece of paper and what that supposedly say about you as a human being and more a seeing of people for who they really are. To be able to get a chance in life, people don’t need an education, they need a chance.

And in line with that, check this out:

Don’t go to art school: The traditional approach is failing us. It’s time for a change

You don’t have to go to college to be an artist. Not once have I needed my diploma to get a job. Nobody cares. The education is all that matters. The work that you produce should be your sole concern.

Okay, again, to spark the conversation. What does it take to become an artist? And to make living as an artist? Certainly not an education because I’ve made much more from teaching art than making art. And I have an excellent art qualification. So, what do you think?

(Post image from pdpics.com)

Writing to the Average

A little more than a month ago I read a blog post which I completely misunderstood. I understood that studies have proven that when academic writers keep track of what they write that they write considerably more.

Because I have also read stuff about habits I decided that for October I will start and develop the habit of noting down what I write. And while I do that to try to write every day if possible.

Word Count
Word Count

The blog post talked about scheduling regular writing times and that dieters who track what they eat tend to eat less. I don’t know what I ate and I definitely did not write at regularly scheduled times. But then again, I might still be misunderstanding the intent of the post.

But what I did do was to write every day for October, except for one. And that was such a busy day that I just completely forgot about any writing at all. What was interesting for me was that on the academic writing I intended to do (I have a conference paper to finish) I did not do as much at all. My fiction writing however picked up about mid month and by the end of the month I was challenging myself to write a minimum of 850 words of fiction a day.

I chose a number of categories to track my writing but have shifted these for November month because I do not really care how much I write of certain things. School reports being one of them. Here then is a breakdown of the number of words I have written:

  • Blog posts
    Number of days: 10
    Total for the month: 5444
    Daily average: 176
    Highest single day: 980
  • Fiction
    Number of days: 20
    Total for the month: 16383
    Daily average: 528
    Highest single day: 1642
  • Academic
    Number of days: 1
    Total for the month: 570
    Daily average: 18
    Highest single day: 570
  • School
    Number of days: 8
    Total for the month: 6777
    Daily average: 219
    Highest single day: 1477
  • Journal
    Number of days: 15
    Total for the month: 9268
    Daily average: 299
    Highest single day: 1172
  • Total
    Number of days: 30
    Total for the month: 38442
    Daily average: 1240
    Highest single day: 2829

Based on these numbers I am now able to set goals for the next month. And I will be setting it slightly differently. For one, I don’t really care how many words I write for school. These are mostly reports and have to be done. But when they are done I have no reason to write anything else.

What I do care about is how much I blog and how much fiction I write. And for both of these pre-writing and journaling are vital. Therefore, in November, I am only going to track these categories. And I will again give an update of what I achieve then.
Back to my misunderstanding though. Despite it being wrong there seems to be some merit in the suggestion. Even though my proof is only based on one month of practice and it being totally subjective and anecdotal (despite my impressive figures).

The premise that stands then (for me) is that when you track what you write you are more likely to write more. I am keen to see how this will pan out in the long-term, especially if I solidify the habit and then begin to play with variables.

But because my mental pursuits hardly need any encouragement (meaning I’m physically a lazy bum) I have decided to do the same type of habit forming tracking experiment with a physical aspect of my life. I will report back on that at the end of November.

Question then (to solicit participation and community on my blog): How do you manage to do the things you want to do but do not seem to be able to make the time for?

Why “just get up earlier” is not an answer

There is this question I have, and saying that it also goes without saying that I do not know the answer fully. The question is this: How do you sustain creative work when other things are happening that demand your attention?

For example: I teach art full-time. Because of that I do not have much time to make art. How do I sustain my own art making when I have only sporadic spurts of time and energy to commit to it?

Another example: My matric art students have to do creative work. They are judged on the creative depth they can reach. But they have to do their art in small pockets while at the same time worrying about six other subjects, tests, projects and a whole lot of other things that happen in between.

I googled for some info and found this: How to Stay Creative While Working Full Time

It is only partly relevant. Partly because it talks about writing, which can be done with the minimum amount of material fuss. Not like art that may require paint and water and all kinds of other messy stuff.

But I won’t debunk the whole article in one go. Let me just tackle the first of a list of five: 1. Wake up earlier…

“Make sure the first thing you do in the day is write. This way, you’re not bogged down by the troubles and stresses of your day-to-day life and the thought of staring at a screen won’t make you want to cry. Set your alarm just an hour earlier than usual (not every day, but two or three days is fine) and write freely and creatively.”

First of, getting up earlier a couple of days won’t make a difference. First because your body needs to adjust to being awake at a different time. This takes some time and only once you have made this adjustment will you begin to reap benefits from waking earlier.

Monkey sleep
Monkey sleep

Otherwise waking up early every second or third day will be a shock to your system. And with any shock your body and your mind will cut out and you will resist the effort. You will not be creating a habit but a way for not sustaining the actions and this will be counter productive.

If your plan is to wake up early to work then you need to wake up early, consistently and every day. For a long period of time. Until it is natural. And only then will you be able to do full creative work in this time. Until then you will just be working on adrenalin.

But this is also not the only reason just waking up earlier is not the answer. At least not the complete answer. It is because being sustainably creative is not about making one small shift in what you do but in slowly making a shift in everything you do.

Waking up early, if a choice, will have an impact on other things such as going to bed earlier. Shifting family responsibilities such as “who is going to wake up the kids?”. And also pre-planning, as in what am I going to do once I am up and sitting, standing, lying there.

In other word it is a small part in a bigger systemic change fo who and what you are. It is not a special case scenario of just doing it for a day or two because it gives great results — until you fall apart.

Why it is hard to Teach Art

Okay, maybe this is not the case for everybody but when I teach art this is what I see to be the hardest part.

It is not that I have to clean up after children and wash brushes and put away pictures and stuff. It is not marking stuff that is highly subjective and then writing reports (though that is very important stuff). It is not preparation and thinking up projects and planning.
No, what is really hard is that I am teaching every student something different. I am not teaching classes, I am teaching a bunch of individuals — most often a number of them at the same time.

They can all be working on exactly the same project, following the same instructions. But one will have to learn to keep making marks and not to stop. Another will have to learn to take is slowly. This one might have to learn to use a bigger brush. And that you need to learn to trust her own judgement.

If there is twenty students in the class then there may be one project, but there are twenty lessons. Because each student needs to learn their own lesson.

A rollout of the San Andrés cylinder seal, showing a bird "speaking" the name "3 Ajaw"
A rollout of the San Andrés cylinder seal, showing a bird “speaking” the name “3 Ajaw”

And that is hard because not only do you have to switch from one lesson to the other, sometimes in the same sentence. You also have to make sure that a student don’t start working on his friend’s lesson. Because that is a fast way into chaos.

When a student needs to learn to slow down and take care it is because they blunder along, create slap dash work and don’t get to experience a sense of refinement.

But when a slow starter thinks that this is his lesson he goes from going slowly to getting bogged down so much that nothing happens for weeks.

It is hard to tell two people witting right next to each other two different things. But then again, there is not enough hours in the day to teach each one individually. And though there are distractions there is a lot to be said for learning from each other. Because art is one subject where your eyes sometimes must be on your friend’s work.

Success: It is not what you do, it is that you do

I am in the mood to give advice because I am thinking of my art students at home studying for their exam. They have finished the practical (yet to be examined) and now only have to prepare for and write the theory paper. And this is my advice for them now:

Do something to prepare you for the art exam every day. It does not have to be something big, just something. Write down all the artists and artworks for early International Art. Write a description for every conceptual artwork we studied. Look at the South African art pictures. Or anything else that make you come in contact with the theory.

If that is too much then go on Youtube and watch a video. But do something to do with art theory every day.

Because your success is going to depend more on doing small bits every day than it will on cramming through all the work the night before you write the exam.

I have the same advice for my new matrics. Do something every day. Today we are working on practical again and that is my advice to them. Take your Visual Diary with you. Work in it for ten minutes every day. Done. Success guaranteed.

And with report writing time upon us I want to preach to myself. Don’t leave it all for the last week. Start early. Start now. Write a bit every day. One student report. One sentence! Anything to keep momentum. Because nobody knows what other calamities time may bring and no matter what you do at some point you run out of time.

Yesterday my art practice consisted of the following. I lined up four panels. One quite advanced and three with only a scrap stuck on. Then I drew two lines across all four panels, using my more complete work as a guide. And that was it — two lines.

But that was enough for the day. Not because I worked like a dog but because I worked, even if it was just two lines. It is two lines I did not have before. Three works activated and taken forward that were lying dormant for more than a week. A practice that was performed, no matter how small.

Walking along the path, one step at a time
Walking along the path, one step at a time

And that is my personal secret to success. It does not matter to have great and big ideas. What matters is that you do something. Even if the idea is very small and the task very mundane. Because tiny steps done regularly makes for a large journey over time. And that counts.