How did I find myself in the position of becoming embroiled in studies related to a PhD candidature? My response appears to have three recognisable strands which have become intertwined and are growing into a practice-based, fine art exploration.
1st Strand – Moving on from the MA
The experience of an MA in Fine Art at the School of Art in Aberystwyth had been unlike any other learning experience. An MA had previously been achieved in another discipline at a different university but had not been as exciting, nor as fulfilling. The Aberystwyth MA provided personal and creative challenges resulting in learning acquired by working through novel processes and provided opportunities for satisfaction derived from completing pieces of art work which fulfilled the requirements of academic rigour.
Completing the MA had not been easy, family and health circumstances necessitated a period of Withdrawal to deal with parental care and eventually dying needs. During this time, it appeared that it would be necessary to return to the School of Art earlier than anticipated, to complete an essential taught component (which was to be altered), without which the MA would be void. Thus, whilst still attempting to cope with the stresses of care, I returned to my studies.
Active involvement in practice provided me with some respite from the difficulties of everyday life and became a form of coping mechanism. It was fortunate that the eventual tutor pairing was such a supportive one, where my personal determination, passion and preparedness to complete the course were recognised. A period of reflection followed the completion of the MA, where the desire to look further into practice-based research gradually grew.
(I will always be grateful for the sensitive support and understanding which I received during this time.)
2nd Strand- Recognising disappointment and moving towards a more positive approach to later years.
In this case the mother daughter relationship had always been strained. It was such a pity for my mother that she had had to move to live near me and her overbearing eldest sister at the end of her life, when she would clearly have preferred to live nearer my younger siblings. Unfortunately, this was not possible. It wasn’t that my mother particularly disliked me, but in addressing her anxieties, she sought perfection in herself and in all of those (over whom she had any control), around her. As I was the closest to hand and she knew that I couldn’t achieve perfection for either of us, there was always going to be disappointment.
My mother was a highly creative person and although having little formal education, she had a good sense of colour and understanding of form and composition. These abilities were usually (although not always), expressed through her life as a homemaker. Toward the end of her life she appeared to be completely incapable of making use of any of these interests, skills or aptitudes. She had the physical capacity to carry out occupational or therapeutic activities but no desire to do so. It was as if her personal survival or perhaps her wellbeing tool kit was empty or inaccessible. This has led me to consider how art practice could support creatives.
Research continues to demonstrate, that mining the creative vein can nurture both our mental and physical health needs. This is not only beneficial to the individual concerned but makes them a more stable, contented and useful presence within their family and friends, and may help them to contribute to their community and society as a positive member or at very least as a neutral entity, rather than becoming a disappointment to themselves and a drain upon familial and societal resources.
My aim is to seek out ways in which my practice could be sufficiently flexible and sustainable to allow for the different phases of my older age, the intention being to avoid disappointment and move towards contentment whenever possible (through my practice), by my own means as an independent or interdependent person. As opposed to becoming wholly dependent upon the resources of kindness and ministrations of others.
3rd Strand – Addressing Need
Why do I and other artists pursue our practice? Anecdotally, it is not unusual to hear artists referring to their art practice as being something which drives them on, which they feel they have to or must do. From my perspective, these words never felt sufficiently accurate to articulate my personal experience, which may be due to my early art practice experience. As a child I was not allowed to express my creativity, it was therefore something extremely precious which was nurtured in the mind and only occasionally, swiftly and clandestinely realised at home or minutely savoured within the formal boundaries of limited ‘art’ periods at school and later during brief teacher training modules. Such times provided moments of otherness, a completeness of time of being with the self. This I recognise as Flow.
During a tutorial with my supervisor (artist Miranda Whall), she generously shared part of a conversation she’d had with her dying father. She said that he had continued to draw even though he had reached a point where he was not always able to describe his drawings. He explained that he had a ‘need’ to practice. This word resonated with me. Drive, have to and must are assertive, almost aggressive words, to me they speak of a an entitlement to pursue this bodily requirement. Need, on the other hand is subtler. Need is still directional and purposeful and asks to be addressed, but there is less expectation, less entitlement, more of a respectful intrapersonal responsibility.
As an artist, a creative and a maker I have a need and a responsibility to prepare for the needs of my older self, especially where practice continuation is concerned. My intention is to be able to access and work with my creativity for as long as practicably possible. The research involved during the PhD process will provide in-depth opportunities for learning and understanding regarding what can be done to provide optimum practice access, maintenance and sustainability.This will be good for personal general wellbeing with outcomes being shared with others.