If I am honest, I struggled today, the last day of the symposium. I’m not used to travelling so much, five days a week, from home to Newport to Wolverhampton and back to Newport and home again. I usually visit the studios twice a week at most, as I am part-time. So this five-day week really took its toll on me today.
This morning I arrived late, and reluctantly, in Wolverhampton with a strong coffee, a lot of emotional baggage weighing down on my shoulders and a lot of chaos swimming in my head. I’d had a late night, and even then less than the optimum amount of sleep and a tough and disordered morning. My home-life musings and insecurities naturally impeded on my ability to focus and function on thinking and creating. I didn’t feel the love for ‘art’ as ‘play’ today. I felt tense, over-tired, emotional and in need of hiding from the world rather than engaging with it.
Three things happened that shook me out of my horrid bubble of angst. Firstly, a friend asked me a favour. It was a strange favour, but interesting nonetheless. This simple request served as a powerful reminder to me that stress is not unique. Stress is normal and stress is, boringly, universal. I was happy to oblige and very grateful for the effect it had on me. Powerful.
Secondly, at lunchtime, after I’d failed to do anything creative whatsoever, we attended a short presentation given by Lisa Metherell from Birmingham City University. Lisa came to talk to us about octopuses and love, self-care, the creative life and community. Sitting around the table, feeling extremely tired, I felt the reluctance of someone deeply distracted. However, I forced myself to concentrate. I’m pleased I did. Her talk was very relevant to the ethos of the dirty practice in particular and to art education and what it means to be an artist in general. We discussed the pressures of life, the intrusion of life and the difficulty of focus. A couple of important conclusions came out of the discussion: the benefit of talking or thinking while engaged in other activities and the importance of mutual care.
I felt a sense of relief after this presentation. I needed caring for and I needed to accept that if the creativity wasn’t happening today, then it can’t be forced and I should take care of myself by going home. However, before doing that, I decided to paint one more painting without care. I painted the fez. I quite like the painting I made. It took me ten minutes, tops. As with yesterday’s drawing, it’s not a ground-breaking artwork, but I like it. It helped. The process cleared my mind a little. I packed up to leave for home feeling lighter and, a little sad that the week was over.
Then the third thing happened. Just as I was leaving I went to say thank you and goodbye to three attendants who belong to a small team of academic coaches employed by the university, one of which is also an art student. The role of the academic coach is to facilitate students getting the most out of their experience at university. It is a relatively new role, but an important and interesting one. The academic coaches were attending the symposium as themselves, as artists (real and temporary) and as cooks. It was thanks to them that we had all been fed regularly. It was also thanks to them that we had engaged in some very random and fascinating debates about subjects not at all related to art. They stayed around all day, each day, creating a sense of community for all us with their questions and their food. As I was thanking them for bringing their particular brand of joy and kindness to the event, one of them offered me a saucepan of spaghetti bolognaise to take home for my children. Such generosity. So that, my dear readers, is what I did.
I left the art building with my gifts from the Dirty Practice: a new creative bounce in my step, a greater sympathy for my vulnerability and that of others and a huge saucepan of delicious-smelling bolognaise.
Goodbye, Dirty Practice, and thanks for all the pasta.