After failing to graduate in Law in the 1980s, as touched upon in my last blog. I always thought I would one day return to Higher Education and complete a degree as a mature student.
Art, I wanted to do Art. As a child, I was known as the family 'artist'. Not just by my immediate family, but extended family too. In fact, each generation had it's artist, usually a child from the next generation, nurturing... I was my parents', my girls, are my generation's...whether they like it or not! I did pretty pictures in those childhood 'artist' days. Portraits and animals...for family to take away. Art school don't do 'Pretty' pictures...can't handle them, you won't get an art degree 'doing' pretty pictures!
When I was in my thirties, 1998 to be precise, my eldest daughter established and happy in the local infant school, I had a bit more time to myself. I started a local course called Women - job or career? Just twice a week, in a side room at the playgroup where I already volunteered and my youngest daughter attended. These kind of community courses, in my case, during my daughter's playgoup hours anyway, are so good for Mums. Long may they continue. The course was aimed at giving women the confidence to go back in the work force. Instead of it pointing me personally, towards employment, I felt it had given me drive to go back into higher or further education. I had a small, but reliable network of friends as 'fall-back' childcare if Mum couldn't look after the girls. They would be at school all day anyway. My youngest daughter was due to start reception class in the September. I enrolled at a local Access to Communicating Arts course, the college has since amalgamated or closed, not sure which. Access courses were to give people the tools to return to education after a long break from the system. There were two women on my course, unfortunately it soon came about, that I was the only woman - always a minority. I befriended a particularly outspoken lesbian feminist, one of my lecturers. During my course, I applied to study Fine Art, via UCCA, and other local art degrees. I could only apply to local universities because I had a family - no Slade School for me! Graphics among the courses. I wasn't really interested in design, but it is nice to earn something. Both UWE and Bath Spa have good reputations for Art, and were quite near my home. I could drop the girls off at school and still make 9 o'clocks at either establishment without having to put my foot down, too much. Actually, I hadn't passed my driving test yet, so was having to rely on the local bus service.
I had an interview at UWE for Graphics. Off I go to the Arty Bower Ashton Campus, with my portfolio and some photos from my Access Course. The interview starts really well. A one to one with a softly spoken lady who seemed genuinely interested. Then in walks Black T-shirt Man. He asked, would I have a problem selling certain things, acting for the client? With the Lecturer Lesbian Feminist whispering in my ear 'Be true to yourself', I admitted that yes, some advertising disturbed me. It had nothing to do with being a feminist and everything to do with being the Mother of Daughters. The objectifying of women, the use of the female body and unobtainable sexual gratification to sell products, well, mainly, to men, the body-shaming of girls. I hoped to change attitudes from the inside. I had been Women's Officer at the college for my Access Course. No one else wanted to do it. My Lesbian Feminist friend persuaded me to fill the post. Black T-Shirt Man didn't like me, softly spoken lady had physically and spiritually, taken a back seat in the interview. 'Let me look at your photos...' He said. He found a particular image of my daughter playing with a toy gun and a doll...we had been looking at gender in lectures and yes, it was obvious. But not posed, I had literally given my daughter a toy gun and a doll and snapped away. I had the image with me, because I had developed the photo myself in the dark room. It was a good finished product, showing my ability to develop an image from negative to final print. He went to town. 'What is this supposed to represent?' He said pointing at the gun. I gave him the facts as above, unposed, developing, etc. He would not back down. 'What is it?' I had no idea what he was getting at. He kept tapping the image, tapping the toy gun. Anyone who knows me, knows that if you back me into a corner, I start to get smart and sassy. Sometimes I lash out. Here goes...'What do you think it represents?' Oh NO! I'd blown it! I thought that was a good critical art response. He was puce. 'It's obvious, isn't it?' He glanced at softly-spoken for moral support. I thought, is it? I said nothing. 'It's quite obviously a penis!' He finally said. Ha! I could hear Lesbian Feminist falling off her chair in laughter...the old 'penis envy'!
'I hadn't thought about it like that.' I said. I genuinely hadn't. It was a toy gun, the model was my daughter, penises had never entered the conversation before. My daughter told me she was pretending to be James Bond...the plot thickens.
'Ok, I think we've seen enough...' said Black T-shirt man. I started to pack my work away. Eighteen years to get here, dismissed by a toy gun. If he had come to that interview ready to belittle me and put me in my place, he had succeeded. Bravo!
When I relayed the conversation to my Feminist lecturer. she was sad. 'I thought Freud had largely been discredited.' She said.
Obviously, I would not be studying Graphics at UWE anytime soon.
Now this goes back to the last blog, this is the truth. I can't remember that man's name, and I don't care. I never want to see him again.
I didn't get on a course at the first stage of university applications. I had to go through clearing.
Bath Spa had vacancies on its Creative Arts Degree. You had to do two different areas from the Arts. The options were Art, Dance, Music, Drama, Textiles and Creative writing. I had English Literature A Level, and had dabbled a bit in creative writing, stories, poems, just privately, so I applied to study Art and Creative Writing.
I had an interview. Two black t-shirt Men this time. An art lecturer, the then head of department, in fact, and the photography lecturer. Is this black t-shirt thing an unspoken uniform? They were very pleasant. 'Did they want to see my poetry?' 'Nah, not their department and the Creative writing people hadn't sent anyone to interview me.' As far as they were concerned, I fitted the criteria and was I sure I was good to go in September? Good to go? 'Yes, you have young children, don't you?' 'Will childcare be an issue?' ' Um, no that was all sorted. Were they offering me a place?' 'Well that is the general idea of this interview, do you want it?' The head of department had a good sense of humour.
I was ecstatic, beside myself. I was going to study Art. I was going to be an Artist. My husband and family were really pleased for me.
The course on the art side was mainly made up of women in a similar position to me. Missed out on art straight from school, had families, not all but most, and now doing something for themselves. I felt safe. The course wasn't perfect but I liked it.
The creative writing element had young people too. Excellent, some fresh blood. As well as two Arts subjects, I had to take an additional module for the first two years...Cultural studies.