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.

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

Questions:

  • 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).