abstract art, a systems view

Turps Banana 12

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Turps Banana, Issue Twelve is out!


In the early eighties Donald A. Schon, in his book The Reflective Practitioner, brought attention to the gap “between the kinds of knowledge honoured in academia and the kinds of competence valued in professional practice”  and proposed an epistemology of practice he called reflection-in-action.

Turps Banana Issue Twelve opens with a brief editorial in which Marcus Harvey and Peter Ashton Jones quote from Issue Nine, where Gavin Lockheart asks Peter Doig about his approach to teaching and Doig suggests that rather than teaching anyone anything we have conversations and discussions. I think what’s implied is that learning somehow takes place in what we might call reflective dialogue. It’s not teaching (not in the traditional sense anyway) but there is learning, or at least the potential for learning to take place. The editorial creates a frame for viewing Turps Twelve as being about the relationship between painting and learning.  It occurs to me that painting is a particularly good site for reflection-in-action, a discipline in which thinking and doing are re-united (it could be argued that in a technological society the two are separated, and to such an extent as to become highly problematical).

So I find the theme of learning cropping up in one way or another in each of the conversations, articles and discussions.

Bernard Cohen in conversation with David Leeson, learns from paintings in the Flemish room at the National Gallery, as well as from meetings with Barnett Newman, from the danger and purity in European painting, from the paintings and writings of Paul Klee, from Kenneth Martin saying “It doesn’t matter what you paint so long as you build something”, from Rudi Wittkower at the Slade, from Pueblo pottery, Albert Camus and the Myth of Sisyphus.  Then there’s a short article by Cohen on Leonard Applebee about his influence on Cohen both as a teacher and as a painter, and how the two practices of teaching and painting are interconnected.

Lucy Stein and Alasdair Gray talk about the paintings of Carole Gibbons and again the subject of learning comes up, this time from peers, specifically Alan Fletcher, whilst at Glasgow School of Art, saying something to me about the relationship between influence, learning and teaching: “nobody he influenced became his imitators. He helped us teach ourselves”

Mali Morris interviews Geoffrey Rigden where we learn about the influence of jazz, the teaching of Hans Hofmann, what it means to be contemporary (what a great question, by the way), the influence of Noland and Louis in the early days as well as Milton Avery and Albert Marquet, also other less well known figures at the time like Adolf Gottlieb, for Rigden “still more pertinent and engaging than Pollock”. It’s like I am eavesdropping on a conversation by two painters and as a result learning about the paintings, about influence and about learning itself. Later as I reflect on what I read, I join the dialogue, in my imagination. ( That’s a study of my own that I would like to do: on the influence or otherwise of ‘internal dialogue’ in the painting process.)

My snaphot of Geoffrey Rigden's painting "Erik" 2012, 30.5 x 30.5 cm

My snapshot of Geoffrey Rigden’s painting “Erik” 2012, 30.5 x 30.5 cm at Double Vision, Lion & Lamb Gallery in 2012

Continuing the learning theme there’s a couple of pages about the Turps Art School taking applications for the studio programme September 2013 – August 2014 and the correspondence course October 2013 – September 2014.

Nancy Cogswell visits the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington USA to talk with painting conservators there, and we get part-one of the interview, which ends on the nearest thing I can imagine to a cliff hanger for this type of serial, getting into some really interesting territory, asking just the questions I’d want to ask like “are there certain paintings you prefer to work on?” “Does Moholy-Nagy use masking tape to get the sharp edges on ZII ?” “How much room for manoeuvre does an individual conservator have?” “Do you think of yourselves as painters?” and  “What kind of problems do you have with the colour field painters?” The interview ends with a consideration of how you learn to do something (like clean a Morris Louis) when there is no accepted way of doing it and how you gain empirical knowledge over twenty five years, surely a metaphor for painting.

Whilst the acquiring of empirical knowledge is still fresh in my mind I turn the page to find that  Joan Key is writing on The Empiric or Picturesque in the work of Amikam Toren. and whilst I think it likely that connections between articles may be accidental she seems to elaborate on the visual/intellectual processes of observation interpretation and judgment that were present ‘beneath the surface’ in other articles and started to become explicit in Nancy Cogswell’s interview.

One of the things I like in each of the Turps Banana volumes is the way the varied conversations interconnect, almost like they are themselves conversing with each other, so that it is this process of conversation, reported and imagined, that pleasurable learning takes place for the reader, and thinking of pleasure, the pictures are great!

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8 Responses

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  1. Re:Doig teaching –
    ‘Conversations and discussions’ – also saves on lesson preparation!


    February 4, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    • Good point!
      (Done well, I would suggest it takes more time to prepare than traditional ‘teaching’)

      Andy Parkinson

      February 5, 2013 at 11:00 pm

  2. So much to consider here – too much to discuss in a box. During 23 years of ‘teaching’ art in high school I came to understand that “reflection-in-action” was the only viable path to opening the doors of perception for each of my students. I could teach basic techniques but the process of creative awakening came only through a one-on-one interaction with each student, in the hallway outside of the studio, with their work on a viewing board. I encouraged them to reflect on their art as a dialogue with their art. I knew from their feedback to me that this process was both meaningful and enlightening and within it the concept of ‘teacher’ and ‘student’ vanished…


    February 5, 2013 at 6:52 am

    • Interesting that you say “a dialogue with their art”. In Schon’s text he refers to design as ” a reflective conversation with the situation” (which I think sounds similar to what you are saying) and he closely observes an architect working with a student as an example of reflection-in- action.

      Andy Parkinson

      February 5, 2013 at 11:11 pm

  3. To my mind the reflective practitioner model works well with highly motivated students who share a passion for study. Two problems really…its not always easy to identify who they are and they are always thin on the ground in any event!

    David Manley

    February 5, 2013 at 7:41 am

    • Good point! I think I was taking that for granted and you are right that not everyone is up for this approach. I was interested in Gerry Bell’s comment earlier and sympathise to some degree with his criticism, it could also be an excuse for not planning properly. In Schon’s book however it is never an easy option. I agree with you that it may also be more rare in real-life than his book suggests. I have had some involvement with “action learning” a related concept, and whilst on paper it looks easy, it often fails to get off the ground because of lack of commitment from potential learners.

      Andy Parkinson

      February 5, 2013 at 11:17 pm

  4. Wonderful review/blog Andy – you’ve totally sold me on purchsing this issue!

    Terry Greene

    February 7, 2013 at 9:44 am

    • Thanks Terry, very pleased if I ‘sold’ it to you. Turps Banana is brilliant in my view. It is unusual to get a mag specifically about painting. Lots more I could say about this issue but always a task to get the balance right between helpful comment and “stealing their thunder”. When it’s been out a bit longer I might write some more. I said little here about Joan Key’s article on Amikam Toren, partly because I am still processing it (lots of productive ideas). And I didn’t mention the excellent reviews: Neil Clements on Clive Hodgson’s Signed Paintings and Damien Meade on Geraint Evans’ show at Newport Gallery last year.

      Andy Parkinson

      February 7, 2013 at 10:39 am

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