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.

The Attention of my Deficit

Unless I draw clear boundaries around a task I tend to jump ship sooner rather than later and change whatever I am doing into something completely different.

It has always been thus. I can have a very broad stream of creative activity to work in. But in that stream I jump from rock to reed to mud and back into the water.

In my first post on this new blog I wrote in a roundabout way because I hoped to catch hold of some ideas before my conscious mind became fully aware of what I was thinking. I don’t know if it worked. You can’t unthink an idea once you have thunked it up.

This morning I thought it would be good to consider my various diversions as projects rather than as distractions. For example, a couple of weeks ago I started a painting based on a 1960s photograph. I liked how it turned out and would like to do more of them. But I do not want to be stuck doing that. So I should group them as a project called “I have no idea yet”.

Similarly I have my panel project. I have 44 panels cut from a sheet of Supawood. These are all 240 mm by 280 mm. Because I have an old frame that fits that size and I would like to work every panel to fit that frame as part of the creative process.

The virgin panel in correct dimensions, untainted by mark, presented on a worn concrete foundation
The virgin panel in correct dimensions, untainted by mark, presented on a worn concrete foundation

I approach these panels improvisationally. I stuck some packaging material for chocolate and new brushes on the first four. Tonight I stuck some wooden templates left over from when my son made a model of London Bridge on another four. But I don’t know what is going to happen on these panels or how they will look when finished. All that I know is that when I am done I will have a series of works that form part of this project — maybe I will call it “Panel Project Number 1”.

The thing for me is that I see them all as parts of one work. The result of one large and continuous creative thinking process. Even if that process is largely subconscious.
I do not know if that is enough of a boundary to keep me on task. It may not be because within the next week I may find ten new ideas for things that I could be doing. Some might be harnessed to enrich the panels. But some, if I even look at them skew will break the panel project as part of an ongoing artistic journey.

But that is enough of me being very introspective tonight. Soon it will get cooler tonight and I may start thinking with a bit more clarity. The I will wonder why I bothered to write or publish this in the first place.

Here is why. For me a creative process is not about clarity and knowing exactly where you are going and what you have to do. For me it is in doing the next thing that you find to do without knowing what it means or where it will end up. It is more fumbling around in the pitch black than dashing to the end line under floodlights.

And under those conditions it is impossible not to get lost and distracted most of the time. And with that I have said enough. I need to go bumble back into the dark now.

Looking at Leda Atomica

We are studying Salvador Dalí’s Leda Atomica for class 12 art. It is the first artwork we are looking at for the 2016 matric and we are taking it very slowly. Today we are looking at formal visual elements and principles of designs in the work. Have a look at the painting and then consider the questions that follow.

Salvador Dalí, Leda Atomica, 1949, Oil on canvas, 61.1 cm × 45.3 cm, Dalí Theatre and Museum, Figuere
Salvador Dalí, Leda Atomica, 1949, Oil on canvas, 61.1 cm × 45.3 cm, Dalí Theatre and Museum, Figuere


  • Explain the function of horizontal lines in the painting. Identify at least three instances of line use and their functions.
  • Describe the use of tone in the painting of the figure and compare it with the use of tone in the landscape.
  • Explain why there is a colour harmony in the picture.
  • Compare the texture of the swan’s feathers with the texture of the pedestals.
  • Identify three organic shapes and three geometric shapes in the painting.
  • Explain why the forms in the painting looks three-dimensional.
  • It is conventional for a landscape painting to larger in width than in height. What format is this painting in and what is the effect of using this format?
  • Compare the scale of the figure and swan with the scale of the background rocks of the landscape.
  • Name three things that create a sense of depth or perspective in the painting. Give specific examples.
  • Explain why the composition is balanced. If you do not think that the composition is balanced, give reasons for your opinion.
  • What is the focal point of the painting? Which elements aid in making this the focal point?

I can of course go on, but this is a start.

A Big Idea Badly vs a Small Idea Swell

In the same week my 2015 matrics are finishing their practical work while my 2016 matrics will start theirs. Inevitably I compare the two processes because they are bumping against each other.

And with that I do not mean that I would want to compare their work. That would be impossible because the 2016 group has not produced anything yet. But rather that I would like to compare their process because I am looking forward with the one group, hoping to gain from the hindsight of the other’s journey.

In 2014 I had incredible successes with my art students. And with this I mean that they produced good work which showcased their talents and built on their strengths.

Unfortunately I had no idea how I managed to get it right. I thought I did but I was wrong.

I tried to codify what I thought was the winning formula when I did my planning for 2015. And I ended up with exactly the same problems I hear most other art teachers complain about. They did not get started properly. They were forever fiddling with their visual diaries rather than making art. They ran out of time and could not do what they planned to do.

Vultures scavenge on an elephant carcass
Vultures scavenge on an elephant carcass

I did not have these problems in 2014. I did in 2015.

I am not saying here that my art students of 2015 didn’t work hard. They did, in some cases incredibly hard. Much harder than they should have. I am also not saying that they have not produced good work. What they have produced is impressive.

What I am saying is that the process was flawed. Because I missed essential details of the process when I planned 2015.

Now I am planning 2016 and in my planning I am resisting the temptation to make one big plan to get everything right. Because the big plan is the thing we did not get right. Because I to did myself exactly what I allowed my students to do. I had a big idea, and it turned out badly.

Again, not in terms of the products finished in the end, but in terms of the process. Because the big plan idea made every step along the way hard, stressful and pregnant with the possibility of failure.

Therefore my planning for 2016 is to work with a very small ideas, and to do them well. Thursday when we start our practical we are going to pick something small. Only a section of a work from their class 11 projects. It will be something visual and most probably not very deep or meaningful. And we will start with that, taking one small bite of the big elephant (if it is going to be an elephant).

Arting in Afrikaans

feature pic for the enigma

Engels is my werks en kuns taal. Afrikaans is my moedertaal. Die twee taalsfere sweef vêr van mekaar af in my daaglikse omgang met my wêreld.

Sedert my finale jaar BA Beeldende Kunste skryf dink en werk ek in Engels. Behalwe vir my onderwys prakties en hier en daar ’n individuele klas het ek nog net in Engels kuns klasse aangebied. My vermoë om oor kuns te praat in Afrikaans is gebrekkig.

Dit was nie altyd so nie. As ’n jong man het ek in Afrikaans gedig. Ek het kortverhale geskryf en boekpryse gewen vir opstelle. My gedigte was melankolies oordrewe en my stories het gely aan ’n gebrek van storie en ’n oorvloed van metafore. Waarskynlik alles twak, maar tog. My eerste skryftaal was Afrikaans.

Maar nou, selfs met die skryf van hierdie stuk sukkel ek want die woorde kom nie maklik nie. Ek skryf te lank al net in Engels en selfs my vingers vind dikwels die verkeerde karakters op die sleutelbord.

Gevaar Slagysters
Gevaar Slagysters – maklik om in te trap

(Nota: Ten minste twee keer in die skryf van die stuk het ek gevind dat ek oorgeslaan het na Engels sonder dat ek dit agtergekom het. Die kortpad van my kop tot my vingers is ge-‘wire’ vir Engels.)

Wat dalk nie so vreemd is daarvan is dat kuns ’n onderwerp is waar woorde gereeld oordra van een taal tot ’n ander. Contraposto, plein aire, objet d’arte, gestalt, avant garde, metier. Hierdie is vreemde woorde was oorgedra na Engels om konsepte te verduidelik waarvoor daar nie regtig woorde was nie. Dieselfde kan in Afrikaans gebeur.

Maar wat ons kry is iemand wat vir jou in ’n Waterkloof aksent vertel van haar ‘paintings’. En ja, ek weet ek stereotipeer hier liederlik maar die blonde girl met die rooi naellak wat vir my vertel hoe lekker sy paint gee my koue rillings, en oortuig my nie.

Is skilder en skilderye nie aanvaarbare en gepaste woorde nie?

My huistaal is Afrikaans. En dit is so suiwer as dit kan wees vir iemand wat dink en werk in Engels. En ek is trots op my herkoms as ’n Afrikaner. Maar ek hardloop weg as ek te naby aan die Arty mense kom wat ’n Afrikaans praat wat verbaster word sonder enige logiese gronde, omdat dit cool en hip is. Want dit is net die ou verstoktes that don’t mix their tails.

Maar net so vinnig hardloop ek weg van die konserwatiewe Afrikaners wat die taal besig op ’n akademies argaiese manier wat nie tred hou met die werklikheid van hoe enige warmbloedige mens regtig praat.

Tussen die twee pole is dit moeilik vir my om ’n plek te kry om sinvol in my eie taal oor kuns te praat. Nie dat ek nie bereid is om te probeer nie. Al wat ’n mens kan doen is om te probeer.

Byvoorbeeld, een van my gunsteling tegnieke en benaderings to kuns is palimpsest. Selfs my spellchecker (gerekenariseerde spelversorger?) het nie ’n definisie vir die woord nie. Maar hoe sê ek dit in Afrikaans sonder om ’n gekompliseerde en ongemaklike samevoeging van woorde te maak?

Iets soos herskrewe bladwerk? Of dalk halfuitveedubbelskryf?

A palimpsest (/ˈpælɪmpsɛst/) is a manuscript page, either from a scroll or a book, from which the text has been either scraped or washed off so that the page can be reused, for another document.[1] Parchment and other materials for writing or engraving upon were expensive to produce, and in the interest of economy were re-used wherever possible. In colloquial usage, the term palimpsest is also used in architecture, archaeology, and geomorphology, to denote an object made or worked upon for one purpose and later reused for another, for example a monumental brass the reverse blank side of which has been re-engraved.

Wat is my punt?

Ek sukkel om myself in Afrikaans uit te druk as ek skryf en veral as ek oor kuns praat. Skryf en kuns is altwee basiese elemente van my wese. Maar so ook is Afrikaans. Na baie jare is ek bereid om dit te erken en ook bereid om te probeer om die vak te besig in die taal van my moeder.

Maklik is dit nie. Alles wat ek neersit val verkeerd op die oor. Maar ek is bereid om aan te hou probeer totdat dit weer vloei. Totdat ek myself, my kop, en my vingers weer herbedraad het.

Making Art for Charity

feature pic for the enigma

When I worked at the Tatham Art Gallery we once ran a project with a charity exhibition. The works were created in the gallery to fit donated frames and then exhibited as a body of work for the benefit of a charity. One artist took exception to the request for a donated work because we were demeaning the professionalism of the artist.

My thinking of this idea has wavered back and forth depending on the where I was standing. Organising the exhibition or being asked to participate as an artist are two very different stances driven by very different objectives.

Fotag's Fabulous Picture Show

Currently I have entered a work for the Fabulous Picture Show. It is a yearly event at the Tatham Art Gallery where they auction small-scale works in order to collect funds for the purchasing of new works for the collection. Being organised by the Friends of the Tatham Art Gallery (Fotag) and me being a member I feel that my contribution is both worthwhile and sensible.

Gerhi Janse van Vuuren, Thinly on the Edge, mixed media on paper, 2015
Gerhi Janse van Vuuren, Thinly on the Edge, mixed media on paper, 2015

It is a small work which do not take away from my art production in any way. It also keeps me visible to the Tatham Art Gallery and the Pietermaritzburg community in a small way. But more than that it supports a museum which I admire very much and is also very proud of — having made my own small contribution to it during its long existence.

If you are ever in Pietermaritzburg please do visit the Tatham Art Gallery.

I have also been recently asked for advice on an exhibition planned for a corporate setting. The exhibition is planned for a long time (more than a year) and the works will also be used for illustrations in company brochures. In compensation the artists would receive exposure and social media publicity on the company website and so forth.

Now in this case, I would not be offering a work even if I were asked to for the following reasons:

  1. The company is effectively renting the art to decorate their workspace with no compensation to the artist
  2. The company would be using copyright and reproduction right with no compensation to the artist, and
  3. The publicity offered in exchange is worthless because visitors to the space and online sites will do so with other intentions and not the intention to find art.

The guy that is going to nail the hook into the wall to hang the painting on will be paid because everybody recognises that he is doing a job. But the artist must be satisfied with exposure?

As an artist you should not be expected to work for charity. By all means donate to worthwhile causes. But if everybody else in the room is getting paid then you should be paid as well. Do not demean your own professionalism or the worth fo your work.

At least, I won’t.

P.S. If you are in Pietermaritzburg on the 20th of November go visit the auction. You are bound to pick up something good at a reasonable price and for a good cause.

The Problem with the Big Wow Artwork

We have eight school days in our September holiday off. Two weeks worth of school. The other two days overlap a public holiday. I have just been at school for the fifth out of these eight. Tomorrow I will be doing the sixth. I am at school so that my matric students can finish their exam practical.

I watch them, sweating to complete big audacious projects. And most of them fall short. They won’t get to make the thing they have planned so carefully.

Not because they are not working hard or because they have not made the effort. But because you cannot know what you don’t know when you start something big.

Working on an idea which you polish until it is a great idea means that you become blind for real and physical problems you have to solve in making the thing. Things do not dry as quickly as predicted. Paint does not cover as well as it should. Foundations cannot bear the weight, seams rip apart and shortcuts turn out to be impossible back roads.

Photograph of a wreck of a grey airplane
Some ideas are never going to fly (again)

A much better process is to start small and iterate slowly. Making small changes and improvements to existing works and processes, until they are good enough, and then quickly doing them again.

This way problems are broken up into manageable chunks and solutions are found along the way, and not to save a major crises at the end.

When you sit down and plan a big project on paper ambition outstrips skill. You think it would be easy, because you can picture it in your mind. Maybe you can draw a diagram or find a couple of reference pictures. But you don’t get to come to grips with what you do until you do it. And inevitably you start too late.

Two of my students are finished. Not because they are brilliant but because they chose manageable tasks and worked in small bits. Both focussed on a particular process and developed it as far as they could in the time allowed.

I feel very much responsible because I allowed students to follow a process which I know is fraught with danger. More so I allowed them to follow a process that do not work for myself and in which I have very little faith. Therefore the six days at school during this break has been a penance for me. And a wake-up call to teach from my own convictions and on the basis of my students’ strengths and not from some ill-conceived idea of the wow artwork developed in a sterilised incubator.

What you might be asked to expect

feature pic for the enigma

What you would expect would be what I put out as my intention for this, even though things might change. All fluctuations will be up to my discretion and may or may not happen with violent announcements; or with quiet revolutions.

I am envisioning a new habitual phase of creative production. Limited to narrow parameters in regards to format. Completion will be temporally spaced in regulated intervals. All matter will be subjective and left to the variations sensed in the aether.

The visual, the physical and the spatially stable will be executed in a ludic manner. So to the word and the sound and the gesture and the sign. The man, the human, the being, the artist will be the player and the act will be the game.

“A versatile panel, its homogeneous construction allows for moulding, embossing, routing and edge profiling and is perfect for both domestic and commercial use.”
PG Bison

The panel will be the foundational mainstay and point of departure for every visual exploration, investigation, experimentation and interrogation. Yet the panel will be of this time, contemporary and new and anti-traditional. The thickness thereof will be 16 mm. The height and the depth will be 240 mm by 280 mm with the inherent condition that these spatial indicators may be inverted in numerical value.

The virgin panel in correct dimensions, untainted by mark, presented on a worn concrete foundation
The virgin panel in correct dimensions, untainted by mark, presented on a worn concrete foundation

Venturing beyond the range of the major focus a minor will be found on the basis of paper support; may it be found, gifted or commercially acquired. Using the highly specialised and intuitively artistic technique of cropping final compositional structures will in turn itself be as much be found as manufactured. The ideal dimensions of each crop will be limited to 140 mm by 120 mm in height and width, or vice versa as the force requires.

Both the sculptural and the graphical phenomenal exploration are theoretical possibilities but spatial and temporal limitations venture to thrust them forward in unfolding of time and space. When they come into being from potentiality into actuality a similar formal restriction as is applied to the panel and the paper mode will be imposed on both.

“Morandi repeatedly painted the same selection of familiar items, including bottles, bowls, pots and boxes.”

Limitations are as the cylindrical surrounding of a rifle barrel a projective device for launching the physical manipulation to the van guard of personal skill and inner exposition. Temporal distance becomes contracted in a rapid fire and fully automatic assault which obliterates the mere cardboard of the target and transforms it into a glowing portal to a higher dimension.

“Shifting backwards and forwards between positive and negative stances in your notes is like working on Zumba step technique: it helps you to move your thinking around and make it more flexible.”
Dr Inger Mewburn

Initiating the textual from the mindscape into embodied reality, even though such embodiment might be as ephemeral as this cyberverse, remain the alternate companion to all though and action on the player’s part. While striving for a frequential ascent a minimal groundplane of habitual engagement have been considered. In this the formal boundary lines, while acknowledging both the significance of the letter and the paragraph, has settled on the word as determining unit. Each and every single textual uttering published for the perusal of the public will be limited to the word count totality of 24 times 28, or 672.

The action and acts, and the results of such actions and acts, recorded and acted out here in this now will not be engaged in at cost to activities related to gainful employment, nor at cost to acts aimed at harmonious domestic existence.

The purpose thereof is the purpose that is evident in the act, being sufficient in itself for being and act and asking nothing more for justification, but denying no potentiality that something more may be viable. Whether such potentiality may realise is not the concern of this current thesis.

This thesis has the sole aim and undivided goal to thrust action forward into the having of great fun.