10th February 2013
Along with the formal notification of my pass for TAoP at the November 2012 assessment the assessors also gave their guidance to what they consider can be improved upon during my next period of study. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s received the following advice’
‘It is good to see evidence of quality contextual research, gallery visits etc. Aim to deepen your relationship with this activity by reflecting on these and other learning experiences – write about what you have learned, how you learn best and what experiences you can take forward from the process. Such writing is a key element in supporting a rewarding personal practice.’
I’ve pondered on this statement for a few months now and tried to determine how I can best incorporate it into my progress. The problem is that a statement like the one above is possibly a stock phrase(s) and whilst meant well has no indication with it as to how the student can interpret this for themselves. Perhaps that’s a bit unfair but how do you ‘write about what you’ve learned, how you learn best and what experiences you can take forward from the process’.
By that I mean I can write what I’ve read in a book, I can write about what I’ve seen at a gallery, I can write about what I’ve researched etc etc, but what I can’t do really is write about what I’ve learned and how it’s going to affect my progress. I know we all do write what we’ve supposedly learned from the experiences we’ve just had, but I’m not sure that it’s real learning. For instance, I’m currently working my way through People and Place which is about portraiture, people unaware you’re photographing them and the buildings. My point is, what have I participated in, by way of reading, galleries or workshops, that has provided learning that will affect how I approach this module? Looking back at my learning log(s) from my previous modules I can’t actually pin down anything specific, which isn’t surprising considering how the module is very specific and the ‘learning’ experiences are pretty diverse. So my question is have I actually learnt anything from my ‘learning experiences’ that I’ve carried forward? There must be I suppose, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to follow the course, but when I’m asked to write what I’ve learned and what I’m going to carry forward am I being honest when I write about what has enlightened me in a book or gallery which has no direct impact, that I can see, that has no direct relationship to my work now or the foreseeable future?
I know that anything I’ve ‘learnt’ by reading or gallery visiting etc isn’t necessarily going to have a direct impact on current work, but then the problem comes of how to express how that learning is going to manifest itself, or if it is at all. By that I mean unless you have an epiphany moment can you actually state that something has been learnt and is going to change the way you work, or think? No you can’t, all that can be done is to say it will have an influence and that influence will be changed as more learning and experience comes along.
Back to the original problem then. If I write I’ve learnt something from a book, gallery etc; how do I show that the learning has been useful, because to me learning without use isn’t worthwhile, that’s the same as filling your head with lots of trivia that might or might not be interesting but has no point. I believe that you show the point of what you’ve learnt by putting it into practice, and how do you show that observing the Thomas Struth retrospective, or reading ‘The Photograph’ by Grahame Clarke has impacted your work or you’ve retained anything. Yes, writing about something immediately after the event shows that you were there, that you read something, that you understood something, but it doesn’t show you’ve learned, that only comes proving incorporation into future work.
So we’re back to influence. Influence is a modifier, it’s not a definite changer. How does one show influence? That’s something that can only be judged over a period of time by the way work changes, by the way thinking changes, by the way direction changes, but is that learning. Yes, to a certain extent it is, but it’s not something that you’d normally notice happening and can any individual normally indicate a point in time and say that was what influenced this?
I can’t provide an answer at the moment on how to interpret the wisdom of the assessors and to implement it. To simply write I learnt this or that has been the way I’ve treated this point so far, but that’s rather trite when you take into account what learning really means. The only way I can provide some sort of answer is to say that the assessors, in their opinion, should look at the overall progress of a student and decide for themselves as whether of not any learning has been shown of the experiences the student has been exposed to. That’s not as difficult as it may seem. I’m sure the assessors have all read and seen the same things we’re now being exposed to, so they have knowledge of what’s contained within those experiences, also a list of an individuals experiences can be kept on file quite easily these days for them to refer to. If a point of learning from the student is in question a quick reference to the list and the knowledge of the assessor will possibly help determine if the point is indeed learnt. I know that’s not perfect in any way and is probably too simplistic in its approach, but to simply regurgitate points read, or made at an exhibition isn’t showing learning either. An immutable problem? I don’t know, but I do think that phrases like the one used by the assessors in my feedback aren’t as helpful as they first appear.
So until such time as the question changes from what have you learned to what has influenced you, how and when, I guess I’ll just have to keep on regurgitating.