Thoughts about the course, Gesture and Meaning.

I am near to completing this course, the assignments have all been handed in and I’m in the process of tidying up some of the pieces for assessment in July. Several times my tutor has suggested I say something about how the work on the course might have a bearing on my future practice as an artist – I have resisted commenting for the reasons that will become apparent in this reflection. It is the reflective nature of my commentaries (amongst other things, but mainly so) that prompted my tutor to suggest I make some notes about how my work in this course will inform.

Before I make a start on that I would like to say a few words about the course and how much I have enjoyed the research aspect of it. I spent six months working on the first assignment alone – documentary. The investigations into feminism and feminist art have been at turns revelatory, depressing and uplifting. The work that I’ve done with the Echoes Group – I now have a have a contract with the NHS and I have made many contacts who are practicing artists; I have been offered gallery space for my work next year and have had my work with the Echoes Group exhibited at the Artscape Gallery, The History of Science Museum, The Pitt Rivers Museum and the Ashmolean Museum all as a direct result of that network which will continue to develop. It would probably not have happened without the spur of this course.

The breadth of genre on this course is ambitious, covering documentary, identity, feminism, fine art, portraiture, the commercial practice (and the practice of commercialism), it seemingly ran out of space and shoehorned the critical essay into the newly created assignment six which was supposed to be about getting ready for assessment. And it is this breadth of subjects that was partly responsible for me feeling somewhat disappointed despite my enthusiasm noted above. In several places in the course it is suggested that the student should decide on a subject they feel strongly about and produce some work to illustrate their reaction to it, and I wanted to but had no real comprehension about the depth of study required to do that strongly held perspective justice. The first assignment took only six months, it could have easily have taken another six, such was the level of activity I was engaged in – despite the assignment not counting, not being marked. The level of expectation being a very distant partnership with unlikely prospects of ever meeting. In the end I curtailed the work – unsatisfactorily  – and made my way to the next module. My overriding thoughts from early on in the course was that if these subjects meant something to me – and they did and still do – the means by which I was to provide a response for the assignments and consequently assessment, didn’t match my comprehension, they didn’t seem to be calibrated to what I felt about them.

I suspect it is difficult to write a course at this level, one must I suspect, assume all entrants are at the same level – mostly they are coming to a bricks and mortar university and aged somewhere between 17 and 20, but the students at this virtual school of learning have a much wider gamut of knowledge and that is something that I found difficult to manage. I have also studied the Documentary course which I found – despite it’s entirety being similar to that attempted by Assignment one (which does’t count and doesn’t get assessed in Gesture and Meaning) – engaging as a direction of travel, the one module seemingly leading naturally to the next. I am fully prepared to be challenged on any of this, but the Documentary course seemingly allowed for a development of expression whereas the disparate nature of the genre’s attempted in Gesture and Meaning seemed to hold those creatives in check by trying very hard to be a course for all students of all genre’s and practices. If the notion of considering a subject that is important to the student – maybe especially someone who has been around the block as many times as I have – then doing it justice will require more space than single assignments in this course. It was suggested to me by my tutor that I was placing too much emphasis on one particular area – the Echoes group – which he felt might not help me with assessment; now maybe I should have been more sturdy with my commitment and continued with that course, but I felt that I was trying to shove the Group into some of the assignment criteria and I would have needed greater levels of qualification to make my case more certain. However I felt in the end that the lightness of touch in the structure of the course might better be matched by my response to it in a similar vein.

All that being said, it is by no means a negative experience and my comprehension of certain aspects of art and art history, of the document and documentary, of identity and it’s relationship to the world has improved immensely, I just don’t feel I did them justice in the assignments – which by and large were received enthusiastically by my tutor. So how will this course inform my practice going forward? What aspect or aspects of these differing modules will rest with me and help light a path? It is interesting that the Documentary course has no such demand, or rather I wasn’t challenged continually on that question. With Documentary I feel/felt a natural evolutionary tread to my studies – I have no idea where it might lead, but I have a good idea where the next step might be and maybe even the one after that! With Gesture and Meaning with each module an end in itself it is difficult to discern a sense of direction and therefore a place to feel I might end up.

Of course studying feminism will inform me about inclusion, about the distance of ‘others’ and the need to find another view, to balance where imbalance is the norm. As far as the commercial aspect of the course is concerned I found it light, perhaps very light and that maybe because it has to be slim because it is only a short piece in the course and therefore the degree pathway as a whole. I shan’t be seeking a career from photography, nor from art. However I know that this course – as a whole – will, and is, providing a significantly broadened perspective on a range of subjects, but advertising and marketing aren’t them. I realise of course that I don’t know all there is to know about those twins of commercialism and some of the political theories were welcome additions to my research, but that wasn’t required by the course.

I will be happy to leave this behind me, I have spent a lot of time thinking about whether I should submit this work to assessment, I have discussed it with several people including OCA staff, friends and fellow students, though not my tutor. I have decided to submit, but like my assignment five I am unsure of it’s reception and expecting a low or maybe moderate mark. I’m not overly concerned about the mark, but I am now looking forward to the final course in this pathway, my transition from level 1 has been enormous, my comprehension of the subject has developed manifold and I am very pleased with what I have achieved in the couple of years on this course.


7 thoughts on “Thoughts about the course, Gesture and Meaning.

  1. My impression of this Module is that it’s a little like UVC in terms of broad scope so that one could either skim the surface or dive in deep, with the risk of drowning in a sea of information and knowledge. You chose the depth and managed to stay afloat.
    I’m pleased you’ve decided to submit. You’ve done so much work and thinking as a result of the course and it would have been a shame not to ‘recognise’ this. wishing you well in assessment.

  2. Pingback: Assignment Six, critical essay reworked | John Umney - Gesture and Meaning

  3. John
    This is a very lucid account of the course—even though I sense your frustration and dissatisfaction—it is evident that you have learned much and developed in this course. All this knowledge will feed into your next module—good luck!

    • The next module is level three! Part of me is quite concerned that I will have to do some real work whilst another part of me is looking forward to ‘jumping off the bridge’. Thanks Vicki

  4. I’ve always had a sense John that your artistic development began a very long time before you started along your path with the OCA and came to your BA studies with a deeper understanding of what each subject was about than say myself and as a result of that prior knowledge found that the modules within the course tempting to follow deeply on each occasion but without the time available, as you’ve pointed out. I think you’re also the sort of person who has a need to understand the minute detail of what you’re studying, whether or not you find that subject something you wish to follow further in your artistic development, and as a result get frustrated when you can’t, again through course time constraints. I agree with you that the breadth and scope of the course is breathtaking and that it helps develop ideas of where you really want to go with your future practice but I also think it would be nice to develop less modules in favour of deeper understanding and perhaps that could be incorporated in the course by allowing the student a mix-and-match option rather than a determined number of modules. I know I’m only halfway through this course but it’s already changed my proposed path for my future development and it’s also raised a number of objections from me about what I’m asked to prepare and submit as a student, but I think this is all to the good as it makes the way forward clearer and develops the thinking needed to substantiate your choices and objections. I’m finding it hard to grind my way through the more objectionable parts of the course but as a result I also think my work ks stronger, which I’m sure is what you’re alluding to in your appraisal. Although the way I’ve represented this course to other students has been outwardly negative I do believe that anyone who follows it will come out the other end better off for it than allowing the perceived difficulty to put them off.

  5. Some interesting thoughts here Eddy, and thanks for taking the time to comment. That it has changed your future direction can, as you say, only be a good thing and shows that the course is working – though how much better with a more focussed approach who knows?!? I understand that this course is viewed as an ideal opener to level two and so you are engaging at the right place at the right time in your studies – my issue is that I decided to do two courses concurrently….. However I am sure you will follow your own guidance and be better off at the finish of the course and better prepared for the start of the next one.
    Hope the shoulder is feeling better by the way.

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