The MA and Me

So, I’m on a Masters… not a Masters in education, as was suggested to me during the Poster Presentations ession of the PGCE, but a Masters in Art Practice.

Now, as excited and as proud as I am to have been accepted onto this course and as eager as I am to start, I find myself belittling it. It’s been something that, over the past few months, I’ve caught myself doing, and doing a lot. Not just with the Masters, but with every aspect of my life.

I would like to state the fact, and make it heard, that I’m proud of my choice to return home and set up a life after China and travel, and then after only being home for a few months start a PGCE in Further Education and Training. Continue to do very well in the PGCE, excel within my placement, and work part-time as a caregiver alongside it all. After finishing the course and placement, I applied for and gaining a position on the MA in Art Practice, despite not having studied or even academically practicing my own photography in about 5 years…

I’m only 26, and have done a lot already, and have plans to do so much more with myself as the years go on, yet, I find myself talking down my accomplishments, my personal milestones, and basically, my life.

When I’m working there’s a fairly repetitive and regular dialogue that ensues between myself and either the old ladies I care for, or the staff I work with:

So, what are you going back to uni to study, are you in your final year?”

– “No, I already have a degree, I’m doing a masters this time”

“Oh wow, that’s impressive!”

 – “Oh, no, it’s not as impressive as it sounds, it’s only in Art Practice.”

“Oh, I didn’t know you could draw, or is it paint?”

– “No, neither, I’m actually not that arty, I can’t do anything really, I’ll just be doing my photography again. Like I said, it’s not as impressive as it sounds…”

Not a great way to sound confident in yourself or your life choices is it. I genuinely hate the way I talk about it, because that’s not how I feel. How I really feel is…

So, what are you going back to uni to study, are you in your final year?”

– “No, I already have a degree, I’m doing a masters this time”

“Oh wow, that’s impressive!”

– “Ah thanks! Yeah, I’m really excited about it. I’m getting back into my photography and will be able to experiment creatively. It’s an Art Practice Masters, and once I’ve completed it, I’ll be able to teach Degree level Photography which will be cool.”

That sounds much better, and more truthful to how I feel about the situation… I was speaking to a friend yesterday, and she looked at me with a mixture of horror, disappointment, and sympathy when I told her this. She’s a fellow photographer/creative individual, so I guess hearing me belittle my own practice, theoretically belittled hers.

Charlie, no, no no no. We have enough people in and out of the industry shooting us down and saying it’s not enough, we don’t need practitioners saying it too. Be proud of what you’re doing and are going to do, not everyone can do this. A masters is a masters at the end of the day, and only some people can handle that. Please stop doing this and believe in yourself.”

(Not word for word as you can imagine, I wasn’t taking notes during our Nando’s lunch)

And what she said was so true. If I stand here and talk down about the arts, my own practice and general creative industries or education, I’m basically giving permission for everyone else to join in and do so too!

I have no idea why I do this, or where it’s come from. I think it’s similar to that thing where someone compliments an item of clothing, and you instantly blurt out that it was only cheap, or it’s old or something that makes it not as important or impressive. Is this an inbuilt thing we all naturally do? A knee jerk reaction so to speak? If so, whhhyyyy?! Because it’s not healthy, or helpful to anyone!

I made a promise to myself that if I catch myself doing it, regarding any aspect of my life, be it education, relationships, how I spend my time, what I choose to do or more specifically not do, then I’m going to stop. There’re enough people out there that will try and tear you down any chance they’ll get, we don’t need to do it for them.

So, now that little self-confession rant is over, let’s talk about the actual Masters! I’ll admit, I’m nervous as hell, and sort of feel like I don’t deserve to be on this course. I do sometimes struggle, as hinted at above, with the feeling from others that photography is a lesser strand of art or creative outlet. I catch myself saying “I just do photography”, as if it’s the easiest thing in the world that everyone can do, or more specifically, do well. Which, in my opinion, and many others thankfully, is not true at all. Sure, almost everyone in the world can take a picture, but it doesn’t mean everyone can excel in photography. The same way that almost everyone can hold a pencil, or go for a walk, but it doesn’t mean everyone can write the next best-selling novel or summit a mountain.

Of course, I must be worthy of a position on the masters in some way, as I applied, went through an interview and portfolio presentation process, and have now completed the induction week at uni, so, I’m on it! I just wish I had a little more confidence in myself and my abilities… thankfully, I’m surrounded my people who have enough confidence and belief in me to keep me going until I find my own.

Now, the masters itself. I feel so reassured by how the tutors have spoken about it over the past couple of days. They’ve been so open and encouraging of us all to branch out, experiment, and extend our practice into other disciplines throughout the course. They follow a very similar ethos to Hereford Collage of Arts, that any workshop or creative space is open for use and we’re encouraged to become interdisciplinary within the arts. Unfortunately, this is something I didn’t take advantage of or utilise within my year at Hereford. If I had completed all 3 years of my degree there, then perhaps I would have. But as I was only there for my 3rdand final year, I guess it wasn’t the right time to be experimenting and trying new things. But as I said, Glyndwr (where I’m enrolled on the Masters), has a very similar outlook. All doors and studios are open for us to work in or work with other artists. Right from day 1 they’ve drilled into us that if there is something we have in mind, or an idea we want to try out, talk to a tutor or lecturer right away, and they can point you to either the right room, tech dem or area which will be able to help you accomplish it. This is something I really want to utilise over the next year. I found myself being envious of the part time cohort yesterday as we were being told about this, as they have 2 years to complete the course, rather than the 1, which means they have more time to experiment, try new things, and take advantage of the universities art school facilities. I’ll just have to really make use of the Mondays and Thursdays that I’m in, make that 45 minute drive to and from uni (thank god for audioBooks), extra worth it!

When we applied for the course, and during our interview, we had to present a statement of intent, saying where we saw ourselves and our practice going over the duration of the course. I was really apprehensive about this, as truthfully, I had no idea what I wanted to get out of this year, apart from reconnecting with my creative self again. Obviously, it would focus on photography in some way, but apart from that, I had very little to go on. I’ve not done a “project” or an official body of work since finishing my degree, 5 years ago. The only photography I’ve done for myself really over the past years has been travel ordocumentary photography, because that was my environment and life. I’ve built up this stack of images from my travels and experiences, and they’re just sat in a folder on my laptop or hard drive. I’ve done nothing with them, and I’ll be honest, that sort of kills me. I’ve got some images in there that mean a lot to me, that hold such memories and feelings, and others that just generally look pretty good! So that’s where I started for my statement of intent. I wrote that…

Having lived abroad and travelled over the past few years, I would like to investigate how this has changed myself, my views, and how it has developed my photography and creativity. I want to look deeper into the relationship between my photographic subjects (be they people, animals, landscapes or flora), their environments, and my own experiences using a mixture of photographs taken while travelling, but mostly creating new work that in some way relates to these experiences.

Since writing that piece, I’ve come to realise that one thing I really want to do, it become more hands on with my photography and photographs. I’m sick and tired of my images just sitting on a screen and that’s the end of their life and journey. I want to bring them forward, alter them, develop them, work with and on them, become so much more tactile with my work. One starting point for this is getting back in the darkroom, which I am so beyond excited to do (after a little refresher session, it has been about 6/7 years since I stood under that red light). But, as I said earlier, I want to experiment more, and work within different disciplines, maybe look into print making, etching, textiles etc. The avenues are endless, but, I do only have a year, and actually only a few months to do my experimenting before I have to settle on to something to work on for my research, studio practice, and the dreaded dissertation.

I’m determined to hit the ground running this year. Monday is the first day of official lectures and the course starting, and I intend to waste no time in starting my own work! I want to get booked in for intro sessions with various tech dems within different departments of the arts school, I want to get my desk in the MA room set up and ready, I just want to get going! I feel the longer I sit and wait for it all to start, the more out of depth and anxious I feel. As one of the tutors said on Monday, we have to be proactive, basically, we just have to start.

Start anywhere, it doesn’t mean that’s where you’re going to end up, we just need to start somewhere.





One thought on “The MA and Me

  1. Mary Anwyl Teal says:

    Well done Charlie….glad you have got back to writing your thoughts down. I am sure it will help you organise yourself and put things in perspective……and anyway I love reading them. Good luck on Masters you will be great and dont put yourself down. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

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