The chances of night school

I’ve been leading, or tutoring, a Creative Writing workshop the last two Tuesday nights and there are four more to come. After the first week two of the original twelve dropped out and a new member arrived. The new member said, ‘Hmm, you’ve lost two after just one week?’ I could see how she might be thinking so I said, ‘Yes, hmm, indeed, but I don’t think it was that scary,’ and then I appealed to, what were by now the ‘original ten,’ to back me up. There was a general nodding of assent: it wasn’t that scary.

I did an Art A Level at the local technical college at a night class in the early nineties. It took two years to complete and I missed about five weeks running in the first term. I was busy with work and I’d given up on it, really, but then the teacher phoned me one evening when I should have been there and asked me had I given up on it really. I didn’t like to admit to this fact so I said, No! and returned the next week. Without that phone call I’d never have got into Art School: that A Level was my calling card. Without that night school teacher I’d never have written any books. That one phone call was it, and when I think back on it I’m sure she called me to try to keep the pupil numbers up to whatever the minimum was so that the course stayed open. There weren’t many of us by the time the exams came round. You had to take three days out of your own time for that too, it being art. I remember liking that a lot. It was like being a real student, being at night school in the day time.

My final A Level work was only so so; I did a monochrome painting of a fisherman’s rowing boat on its side that I’d seen in Lowestoft, that was probably the best piece. I heard someone say that it ‘held together as a composition.’ And then, because I had done a project on August Macke, I did a painting of a hat shop window, based on this work of his below. I like the shading in column on the right. Macke died age 27 in the front at Champagne, in the second month of the First World War; battle isn’t the usual association with that part of France.

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10 Responses to The chances of night school

  1. OS says:

    But life’s like that. Its those little moments when you make a right choice and wa-la, it leads onto the best things in your life. So, consider how many times you didn’t make the right choice and where would you have been now? Maybe a down-and-out, or maybe a billionaire.

    I like the Macke for its colours, perspective, and form. His abstract attention to detail was amazing.

  2. Stephen Foster says:

    Yes, I think one of the beauties of him is that his work is both representative and abstract at the same time. Here is another of my favourites to further illustrate that:'s-in-the-snow

  3. Pel says:

    I’m on the tail end of a BA honours Art and Design course at BCU. I started a degree in 1994 at the age of 36, but I didn’t complete the course. So the time seemed right having finally, (it took me a long time) grown up and become responsible. I had a fantastic start, gaining firsts for assessments and I was so excited at the new start I had made. Then the group of tutors changed in my second year having more of a Dragon’s Den approach, or should I call it patronising. This way has not suited me and slowly but surely I have lost all inspiration and confidence in my abilities and I am so ready to run again, but I can’t this time. I think what I’m trying to say is, I thought I’d made the right choice, but I am regretting ever taking on the challenge because I don’t think I’ve really learned enough considering the cost involved and it seems to have eaten away at my creativity instead of firing me up.
    I was painting in abstraction when I began the course and selling some, but was encouraged to try other things, they don’t encourage painting, ha! So I tried everything and have recently been working with projections, but I have abandoned this because it simply wasn’t floating my boat anymore. Now I can’t even seem to paint and my final show is in June!!!!! What a nightmare!
    Anyway, I forgot all about Macke and its good to see his work again, perhaps he will inspire me. Wish me luck X

  4. Rory says:

    I had never heard of Macke before, but he’s just another in a long line of would have been so influencial had he survived the war. In a Master’s level course on WW1 I had a professor talk about a young brilliant chemist, a guy that was already thought of as that generations “Einstein of Chemists” (but of course nobody knew who Einstein was so it was a different reference) that was killed as when he signed up with his pals for the war he was wasted on the front lines (although I guess everyone was wasted in that war). Anyway, I remember asking the professor that guy’s name and he looked at me and totally blanked, then he recovered and he said: “See, that’s the point. I can’t tell you his name, and I’m damned sure that had he lived past the war we’d all know his name.”
    Point made.
    I also read a book for that course about JRR Tolkien and how all his friends were killed early in the war. The book hints that he took little ideas from his fallen comrades and weaved it into his work, but the real kicker is that he is one of the only writers that fought in the Great War that then goes on to make a masterpiece where good triumphs over evil. I guess we see why so many wrote the opposite, but it is fascinating that he stands out amongst (most) of the others who shared his experience.

  5. Stephen Foster says:

    Pel – so sorry not to have come back to this much more promptly, I was away last week and et and then teaching and et…

    It’s a horrible story, one that runs counter to my own experience at art school (I had a floundering start then got somewhere) – can you access the part of you that was doing so well at the beginning, that was happy with itself? It has to be the way, surely. Fuck what they think about painting, people still love it, and if it’s the way that you express yourself then people will see it too. And it must be possible to write whatever the dissertation needs to be in terms of the need for painting now – how can it be wrong to respond to this world with something visceral with texture and colour? – and to reference the other painters that have scrapped away and got somewhere – Scully and Hume and Saville for me, but there are others…

    Huge good luck: June is still far enough away to produce a whole brilliant show … x

  6. Pel says:

    Hi Stephen – what an angel you are! I’ve started painting again and have some canvases in my garden that I’m currently working on, in between making a bean chilli and Delia’s ricotta and polenta cake. To side track, if you haven’t tried this cake, give it a go it’s scrumptious with a large espresso! Anyway, just thought I’d check my emails and what a nice surprise, you actually brought a tear to my eye. Your words really help at a time when they are so needed and I thank you. x
    Needless to say I didn’t run and am trying my utmost to enjoy what I’m doing again, but I cannot work at uni with those patronising heads floating around. I have made my complaints and they now know that I will not at 53 years old tolerate their ridiculous attitude. I’m not the only who has suffered.
    Time for another layer me thinks. What I’m working on now is for a presentation on Monday. For my final show I intend to do two big 8ft x 5ft fuck off canvases and they had better be good because I would love to prove that painting still rocks!!!!!! When I’m confident enough again and happy with my work I’ll send you my blog address which we currently have to use for assessments. I hope you are well Stephen and your mom is doing OK.
    Thanks again X

  7. Stephen Foster says:

    Good! Keep on keeping on, as we used to say. Viva!

  8. Geraldine says:


    It is sad to read what the powers that be in this college have done to your confidence. There seems to be a constant suggestion from those who run art colleges that painting has had its day but they are obviously wrong – mankind has painted for millennia, since we marked the walls of caves with the details of the hunt. Paintings are loved and appreciated as expressions of beauty or as visual comments on the world around us, even when that world is horrifying, as in the works of the war artists such as Orpen and Ravilious, or overtly political as in Picasso’s ‘Guernica’. Francis Bacon was a wonderful painter but not many people would call his work beautiful. What is ‘beauty’ anyway?

    My point is that there seems to be a need within us to make our mark, whether on a cave wall, canvas or paper, and the pontifications of art colleges should not be taken as the final word in this regard. The purpose of these colleges, in my opinion, is to teach all forms of art, to inspire, to suggest, to encourage, to instil confidence, to nurture and provide an environment in which a budding artist can feel safe enough experiment and grow within their chosen medium, be that cutting-edge technology, vats of formaldehyde, pencils or oil paint. They should not under any circumstances tell these young artists that one or other form of art is wrong, or outdated, or finished; how could they be? Just imagine the world without paintings – how much poorer a place it would be.

    John Berger in his wonderful book ‘Ways of Seeing’ says that “…every exceptional work was the result of a prolonged successful struggle.” I do a life drawing class once a week and I can testify to the truth of that, any exceptional work from me is very far in the future!

    You just keep on working Pel – Stephen is right, June is some way off yet and you have time to produce lots of work for your final show, so go for it!

    Illegitimi non carborundum, to coin a phrase.

  9. Ovookla says:

    Pel, on Thursday I went to Watercolours as an antidote to an earlier hospital trip. I had done some photos which a friend said looked like Turner’s colours so I went to try and find some in Tate Britain. What I came on instead was a room with some of his later works. Compellingly simple, pure, ethereal works which held me transfixed for the longest time. On the wall I read that he had been laughed at and derided for these later works and I tried to imagine how he felt having what he HAD to do ridiculed. There are two great poisons to life, rudeness and cruelty. Avoid them. I have a friend doing an Art course, she’s 58, and sometimes reels out of class and collapses on my sofa from similar comments. She understands it, is beginning to know how to handle it, but says she knows how the different art colleges produce similar works now.
    It is a conditioning of the most brutal kind. I’m very ignorant about art, have only been taking pictures a short time, so I’m just saying how it seems from the outside.
    Courage mon ami.

  10. Pel says:

    Thanks to all of you for taking the time to comment. It really does help.
    If I had more time I would write more here now, but I am just about to write a load of stuff for my Professional Practice module and then I will start my PAINTINGS for the final show! Love and peace to you all XXXXXX

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