I know this learning log is supposed to be a place where I document what I’m working on for the final module of the degree, but this post is more about not working than working, and trying to get to the bottom of reasons why.
I last posted here on 11th February, an introductory post that I had hoped would mark the start of regular blogging of my progress. In the week that followed I did a few bits of background prep such as reworking my portfolio website around the BoW project (something I should have blogged about at the time, and will do shortly). Then on 27th February I had a really good video chat with Garry my tutor, and came away from that quite enthused.
And just over a month later I realise that I haven’t really done anything on SYP.
The obvious reasons/excuses
I am fully aware that ‘life gets in the way’ is probably the most common excuse for lack of progress on a part-time degree. Some external circumstances take up time, others take up headspace. I’ve realised that my lack of progress on SYP is about the latter – I’ve been struggling to focus on the degree, even when I have had the time to do so.
For February and the first half of March my distraction was that I was still adjusting to having relocated to France and dividing my time between there and the UK. Ironically the second half of March was dominated by moving back to the UK at short notice and joining the rest of the world in worrying about the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, I am trying not to fall back on ‘life gets in the way’ as a core reason for slow progress. There’s something else at play here, I believe…
The underlying issue
When I stop to reflect on why I am not making progress, it is less about the other aspects of life taking over, and more about me not really feeling very enthused about SYP as a course module. Right now I could feasibly be using my studies as an escape, as something to focus on. But I’m not…
To take a small step back: I have been asking myself a lot recently how important the course is to me. This is inevitably an outcome of the crazy times we’re currently living through. Since I got back to the UK a fortnight ago I restarted volunteering for a local food bank I used to work at. I am not saying this for do-gooder brownie points :-) but only to point out that the context of helping to feed anxious and vulnerable people really sharpens one’s focus on the absolute priorities in life – and a photography degree doesn’t always make it to the top of the list.
I started asking myself: is art (or creativity) important in a global crisis? I concluded that yes, it is. It has enjoyment or enrichment value for viewer/reader/whatever and it also has therapeutic value for the artist. It can be a great and necessary distraction for both parties in the creative transaction.
But then I asked myself: is Sustaining Your Practice really about creativity?
SYP as anticlimax
Body of Work was about creativity. I felt really enthused by the end of BoW. I finally, belatedly, fell in love with being creative, with being a creative person. I got a huge sense of achievement in delivering the final set of images that I felt really expressed my ideas.
Sustaining Your Practice seems to be about becoming a ‘professional creative’ – and I think inevitably focuses on the ‘professional’ more than the ‘creative’. It’s about getting your work seen, it’s about networking, it’s about planning and delivering an exhibition or a book.
I was discussing this with another Level 3 student Helen over the weekend. At the risk of choosing silly analogies, SYP feels like a postscript, an epilogue, an anticlimax. After the creative immersion that was delivering the Body of Work, SYP feels like… well, it feels like admin.
Assessment timings (and lingering self-doubt)
As a secondary point, I’m really itching to get my feedback and mark for BoW. It’s in for assessment now but I’m not yet sure whether the March assessment was affected by Covid-19 lockdown, or was already complete by then.
I find the idea of seeking external feedback (the basis of Assignment 1 of SYP) before having had the OCA assessment feedback a little odd and counter-intuitive. A big part of me wants to hold back on showing my work to anyone until I’ve received, absorbed and potentially acted upon the assessment feedback. If I stick with this concern then it will be into April at the earliest before I will be happy to have any portfolio reviews.
What I’m going to do about it
I always think that the first step to solving a problem is to admit to it! So writing this post is me doing just that. I’m admitting it as much to myself as to anyone else. I’ve come to terms with why I am still procrastinating.
I’m going to tackle it something like this:
Accept SYP for what it is, and isn’t
Articulating it in my chat with Helen made me acknowledge my frustration with SYP. It is less purely creative than BoW, at a time when I am really enjoying being creative.
But I can reframe it. I have, since the start of this year, been doing a ‘365 project’ of posting a daily abstract photograph on Instagram. It started just as a bit of technical practice: a daily doodle, knocked out quickly, almost always with my phone. But maybe this is my creative outlet, for now. Maybe I don’t need a ‘big project’, something like the BoW series with depth and ideas and expression – maybe a ‘daily doodle’ will satisfy my creative urge for the time being.
I can stop wishing SYP was BoW mk2!
‘Keeping up momentum’ study session
There is on Saturday a cross-disciplinary online session being hosted by an OCA tutor Bryan Eccleshall (who I happen to know and respect) on the subject of ‘Keeping up Momentum’. The focus will be “discussing coping strategies, finding inspiration in quarantine and how to keep up momentum with your studies.”
I am looking forward to this session not only to hear what Bryan has to say but also because I always find hanging out with other students (IRL or virtually) ups my motivation levels significantly.
Just make myself sit at my desk and do the work
I need to follow the advice I give to other people who are ‘stuck’ – set time in your diary, sit at your desk and just do some work. Get in the work zone by making yourself work. I need to practice what I preach and work through the recommended steps in the course handbook: writing a bio, CV and artist’s statement; creating a PDF for reviewers; compiling my network of contacts; and so on.
I just need to sit in front of my computer and do the bloody work!