Monday 19 October 2015

National Arts Education Archive - the new Fahrenheit 451

Few of you may have heard of the NAEA - let alone have visited it! 

Based in the grounds of the YSP (Yorkshire Sculpture Park) and an easy 2-minute walk from the lower car park towards the old Bretton Hall, the National Arts Education Archive '...was established in 1985 to provide a documentary trace of the development of arts education in the UK and worldwide, by collecting children’s and students' work and the papers, letters and work of key educators and artists in the visual arts, music and language. This material, comprising more than 100 catalogued collections, is based in the purpose-built Lawrence Batley Centre at YSP and is available to researchers, lecturers and the general public by appointment.'

I was working at Bretton Hall College as an audio-visual technician when Lawrence Batley visited to view the new archive in 1985. I was asked to take a photograph of the occasion and recall quite vividly that Lawrence had forgotten to bring a red rose for his buttonhole - and steadfastly refused to have his photo taken without one! Bizarrely, that very same morning, someone had left a bunch of red roses in the Media Centre sink, which I had earlier come across by accident, since that was my base at the time. As a result, I was permitted to take the required press photo (which still appeared in the 89 edition of the college prospectus).

At the time of writing, there is an exhibition running in the NAEA put together by Eileen Adams, (educator and writer, member of the Expert Group for Art and Design Education) and the archive team, led by Anna Bowman and Leonard Bartle.

On Saturday 17 October 2015, I attended '(R)EVOLUTION: NAEA 30th Anniversary Celebration' where talks were given by Eileen Adams, together with some of the founders of the NAEA initiative: Dr John Steers and Professor Ron George. Artist, Bob and Roberta Smith (one person), also gave a talk in support of his exhibition running in the YSP Bothy Garden Gallery spaces and around the parkland: 'Art For All'.

For me, the event brought up feelings of both nostalgia and coming full-circle. My father, Keith Gentle, played an intrinsic and pivotal role in the Arts Education covered by this period of reflection, both through his work with the Schools Council [when living in Leicestershire] and from 1972 in his role as an Art Adviser for the West Riding, Yorkshire. It was during his time [as an Art Adviser], that he was instrumental in producing the 1978-79 exhibition and book, 'Learning Through Drawing'. Over the years, he had also worked alongside some of those both on the podium in front of me and in the audience with me. Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, I recognised the ethos of the period now being discussed, having lived it first-hand. I too played my part in its evolution, both as a child who, with his two siblings, unwittingly contributed to the inspiration of his father's work and who later received a Fine Arts Degree in Sculpture from Sheffield City Polytechnic, before its satellite centre at Psalter lane (Sheffield College of Art) was closed down in August 2008 and, a couple of years later, demolished.

Between 1968 and 1975, we [the children] produced a variety of drawings and constructions, many of which were used as source material for my father's courses (many held at Woolley Hall when it was a centre for in-service training) - supporting school art teachers in their professional development. With emphasis on the creative process of child development, he [among other things] demonstrated the value of the direct experience of learning in a contextual environment. (Also see Land of Gobeyond and slide show here).


Since the beginning of the 1980s, successive political parties (though mostly the more right-wing ones) have denigrated the value of the arts in our British culture - first art & design and more latterly, music - and through adverse media reporting and political criticism, have produced a 'hit-list' of things to remove from the mainstream school curriculum by diminishing their importance to that of hobbies or extracurricular activities that must be paid for outside of the normal school day.

As I watched and listened to these [now elderly] presenters, I felt both the sorrow for something lost and the sense of urgency for something that must be preserved. These were people who had not only lived the experience of a free arts education, and met or worked alongside some of the most influential arts figures of our time, but who had also been instrumental in promoting the values of art and art teaching, perhaps not witnessed since the German Bauhaus movement of the early 1900s.

As I continued to listen, I was reminded of the book, Fahrenheit 451 - a dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury published in 1953. It really started to feel as if the current attitude of political policy makers towards the arts in education, was like a living version of the outlaw of books in the story; where exiled drifters each memorised books for a future time when society would once again be ready to rediscover them. Likewise, there are fewer of us now left who remember the quale experience and value of true education with thoughtful pedagogy, alongside academic rigour, and independent of any future commercial relevance. The NAEA is the modern-day exiled drifter, preserving our educational arts heritage.


The steering group includes YSP Executive Director Peter Murray CBE; YSP staff; former NAEA trustees Prof. Ron George and Dr. John Steers General Secretary NSEAD; Emma Hunt Dean of Arts, Huddersfield University; Emeritus Prof. Patsy Cullen York St. John University; and in the chair Dr. Helen Rees YSP trustee and Head of Museology, Manchester University.

NAEA Contact
Leonard Bartle/Anna Bowman
Tel: +44 (0)1924 830690


Monday 18 May 2015

Zen and the Art of Motor Vehicle Maintenance

I'd passed my driving test at age 17 and at age 18 I took possession of my first car - an old Mini Clubman (not the one shown here) with hydrolastic suspension - a mixture of 49% alcohol, 49% distilled water, and 1% each of two other additives to put people off drinking it! It was admittedly a comfortable but [on an old car] useless system - always letting the ride down on one side. There were a number of quirks to get used to and on one occasion the oil pressure dropped and I was informed of a trick to prevent it happening again by a former rally mechanic. In the 70s rust was still a major issue for most cars in the UK and a South Yorkshire farmer and neighbour suggested I "coat the underside with old Indian oil". On further questioning, I realised he was actually saying, "old engine oil".

Fortunately, I had considerable mechanical aptitude as a child, so approaching automotive problems as a young man didn't faze me. I have always been happy to launch myself into disassembly, with little fear or doubt in my ability to reassemble. Having said this, when it came to cars, it was almost mandatory to acquire a Haynes Manual - just in case... but more on that later.

I could probably describe myself as a "creative improviser" - being able to see solutions beyond what seems apparent. When it comes to vehicles, part one is understanding what needs to happen for something to function. Part two is being able to see the potential in any available objects and resources that might be to hand - no matter what their originally intended use or how they appear. Part three is focus and experimentation to arrive at a viable solution. Most of the time, this is all that is required. However, there are times when solutions seem to be illusive. So part four is "asking the universe for help". Part five is surrendering control and opening up to inspired thought that may offer new ideas. I could probably go on with various "parts" to round things up to some magical number of implied significance, but really its a constant flowing interaction between rational thought and inspired action. Here's one example...

My second car was a black Morris Minor with red interior, a spoked steering wheel, pull start, and a cranking handle! Changing gear was getting progressively more difficult and the clutch pedal was almost to the floor. I jacked up the car and looked underneath. The linkage was visible and I could see that the side connected to the chassis runner had split through the side of its rusty metal location bush.

As I pressed the pedal with my foot, the linkage rod pivoted away instead of moving in a rotary motion. Rationally, I couldn't see how I could easily repair the problem. I didn't know if a new bush could be purchased, or even if I could remove the old one and refit a replacement. I relaxed
my mind and surrendered to the futility that faced me. At that moment, it occurred to me that all I really needed to do, was keep the pivot rod in what remained of the existing bush. Suddenly, a solution presented itself. Get a piece of 2" x 1" wood and wedge it from the bush's broken side to the next available cross member of the chassis. Held in place with coat hanger wire, this improvised solution enabled me to once again change gear and was still working perfectly the day I sold the car.

It was around this time that I started to discover that Haynes Manual's rarely, if ever, had any instructions on how to repair most of the things that went wrong on my cars! It seemed that they were predominantly concerned with major engine and gearbox components - usually only accessed by qualified mechanics - or rarely going wrong in the first place. Instructions on removing the steering wheel horn switch on a Morris Minor, or locating any number of smaller electrical or mechanical components on a range of other cars, seemed to be omitted from Haynes' expertise. In fact, I can state quite categorically, that in my experience I have never found Haynes' Manuals to have the answers to the majority of my vehicle problems. Furthermore, the manuals do not discuss the difficulties likely to be encountered in relation to the removal of components that are covered in dirt or have nuts and screws welded into the body with rust. It appears that all Haynes' work has been done on new vehicles as they came out of the factory - nice and clean with no mileage. It's a shame really, that someone like Donald Shimoda (from Richard Bach's 'Illusions') couldn't have been on their team!

As cars have become ever more complex in their reliance on gadgets and sensors, the new Haynes Manual is the Internet or more precisely, discussion forums and YouTube video clips. I have to say, most of my vehicular issues have been solved through this rich resource. Of course, the Internet is not infallible and there have been several occasions when no one has provided the solution to my enquiry. I suppose I should admit here, that I rarely, if ever, drive cars of the masses - preferring instead what I consider to be either more exciting, interesting, or versatile, purposeful vehicles. These have included four Alfa Romeo sports cars, a Range Rover, and four Jeeps.

In addition to the cars mentioned here, I've probably owned about 30 others over the years - some of them more 'normal'. Cars have always been an interest - perhaps even a hobby. They have also created as much stress in my life as they have enjoyment!

So here I was with Jeep number 4, trying to get the rear wiper's wash jet to work again. Without an assistant to work the controls, it wasn't easy to see or hear if the small pump motor in the engine bay was working properly above the noise from passing traffic on the nearby road. There was plenty of water in the bottle and I had already tried poking a pin into the water jet without any result. I decided I would have to remove the water bottle and also the rear jet assembly, in order to blow down the linking pipe.  I used a little syphon pump I'd previously bought and emptied the screen wash into a bucket to return later. Initially it seemed that I also needed to remove the back door trim panel, but having done this, I quickly realised the water jet wasn't accessible from there! I then did an Internet and YouTube search to see if anyone knew how to get the jet out of the door frame. I guessed that it was probably prized out, but if possible I wanted to check before accidentally breaking something. With so many different model variants of the same vehicles these days, finding a matching example is often a further challenge. Someone mentioned prizing the jet out of another model, but all other posts focused on issues with general blockages or failed pump motors. Anyway, I decided carefully prizing was probably right and soon I had the part removed.

I tried to blow down the pipe from both ends - first from the front of the car and then from the back. The pipe seemed well and truly blocked. I had a garden hose so instead, used gaffer tape to secure the adjustable hose jet attachment in line with the tube now sticking out of the top of the tailgate. Pressured water sprayed everywhere but nothing arrived at the front. It then occurred to me that there might be a one-way valve somewhere, to stop water travelling back down to the water bottle after the jet had been used. This might explain why water pressure sent from the back did nothing. I didn't bother trying it from the front as I didn't want to soak the engine compartment. I decided there was nothing else left that I could try. Perhaps I'd have to put up with no rear washer. If I was a garage, I'd blast it with an air hose.

Suddenly, I remembered one of the accessories that had come with the syphon kit. It was a little tyre valve clip - the sort you have on tyre foot pumps to fix the hose on the valve. It had a small pipe coming off it, but I couldn't see anything else in the kit that could be attached. Still in a semi-surrender mode, I suddenly received an inspired thought. I had the components to make my own air compressor! Perhaps I could get a spare wheel and rest it on the roof and take a short line from the wheel to the washer tube. Then I remembered that a few years previously, I had bought a length of fine tube from a garden centre's aquarium shop, thinking that I would use this on my last Jeep to add some extra winter-proof water jets. In the end I didn't bother, but I'd been looking for something else a few days previously and had come across the tubing in a drawer - so I knew where it was. I also remembered buying some tube-linking connectors and realised that it might be possible to use one of these at the other end to link the thin tubing to the car's screen wash tubing. I didn't need another wheel - the tube I had was long enough to go from any wheel on the car.

With everything set up to blow air from the front to the back, I clipped the pipe to the car's rear tyre valve and sent a strong jet of air through the pipe. The rear end of the tube spluttered and air was definitely getting through. After switching the tube from front to back a few times, I was getting a consistent splutter of air and water exiting the pipe. However, it still seemed that the pipe was blocked and I doubted that the washer jet would work properly again.

I decided to reassemble everything and call it a day. I refilled the water bottle and tried the rear washer from its switch. To my amazement, a good spray of water covered the rear window. Somehow, everything had worked out okay after all.


Tuesday 24 February 2015

The Last Adventure of Humanity

I spend a lot of time alone - you should try it sometime. Whilst most of us chase around to meet the stressful targets of our 'spreadsheet living' (a term I coined in 2004), some of us reside in stillness and contemplation - questioning those things that others accept as fact. Not joining in with the frenetic and oft enforced frivolity of a cultural media, keen to exploit our inadequacies for not attending the party, some of us now reside on the side lines, living a vicarious lifestyle, watching the passenger express passing us at speed en route to oblivion. People are now so busy 'doing' that they are no longer 'being'.

Like the screaming kid who shouts, "It's not fair!", at the parent doing his or her own 'best' to cope with a situation of no definition in a new shared experience, it seems we set ourselves up for failure because of a need to get everything right first time. Children are permitted to make mistakes - adults are not. And yet, while we continue to deal with the issues of our shared physical reality, few of us question the absurdity of the situations we become involved with, or notice how they multiply like a swarm of wasps whose nest is stirred by a well-placed stick!

The computer revolution that was intended to make our lives easier and more efficient, has gone the same way as nuclear power to make our energy cheaper. Someone always sees the potential to profiteer from any situation, whether it be to sell more or to produce more. With an increasing population comes increasing accountability, together with additional controls to prevent radical thought and action, not in keeping with society's contrived and often distorted values. More of us are now involved in tracking and documenting other people's lives than we are in living our own! Bureaucracy has to now come before any decision to engage with anything. A mental risk assessment is mandatory before leaving the house, and taking on just that bit more gives us kudos among our peers but more stress on our health.

So I decided something had to change. Not necessarily that my experienced version of the world had to change, but that I had to change. The choice was stark: Join in with the rest, or step out of the field.

Having decided I couldn't join in whole-heartedly, I then had to decide how I was going to live my own truth. It's one thing to say you've had enough of what everyone else is doing, but quite another to buck against the trend with inner conviction. For over 30 years, I had explored what might be termed, the more spiritual and metaphysical side of life. This exploration began with a feeling of disquiet around conventional viewpoints, progressed through reading the works of eastern Gurus, and ended up following the advice of channelled off-world 'entities'.

The basic assertion goes something like this:
  • The world as you perceive it is not real; it is illusory
  • Linear time does not exist - there is only one spacious present
  • The individual creates his or her own reality - in every moment of 'now'
  • Physical experience is feedback to your own inner output
  • Your beliefs about reality are only beliefs - not facts

So that's clear then! The funny thing is, that intellectually, it is very clear to many. The difficulty is knowing it and living it, rather than believing it might be a vague possibility. The problem at a personal level is that if I slap the top of the table with my hand, it slaps me back with equal force... and yet science can view my table through a powerful electron microscope and inform me that nothing is solid and everything is in constant motion. So if nothing is solid, why can't I push my hand through the table? I have answers to this but, not wishing to take up more space here, I will move on.

In 2011, I gave a talk to a select group of scientists and researchers in Barcelona entitled, 'Quantum Mass Superstructures' and the following year I published a book on the subject with the added strap line: creating the world you experience. In it I present a case for conscious action on the quantum field, resulting in that well-used cliché, 'thoughts become things'.

"We all create our physical world from our inner projections"

Perhaps by now, you are wondering, "what is this 'last adventure of humanity' all about?" Simply put, it is the realisation that we all create our physical world from our inner projections and our last stage of evolution is to develop a working understanding of co-creating our physical experience. This means that more of us have to fully understand that if we focus on our fears and multiply them through sharing with others, we continue to create a physical environment that becomes less and less, the world we wish to experience. The last adventure is an integral one to our progression; for individuals, and cultures. It is about taking more control over our thoughts and full responsibility over our actions and experiences. Almost exclusively, putting into our imagination the world we wish to experience - not dwelling on the world we do not want or have. Contrast undoubtedly helps focus our attention between what is happening and whether or not we want to perpetuate or change it.

You might think that this is easy, but I assure you, it takes practice. Most of us are caught in habitual behaviour - rarely taking the time out to consider our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Those of us who think we are 'mindful' will quickly slip into conversation that shows we are not. We might decide not to involve ourselves in the judgement of others and in the next breath agree with our friend that all Politicians are tyrants; that big multinational businesses are reaping the world of its resources; that divisions between rich and poor are becoming wider, and so on. None of this is necessarily true. If you perceive this as such, then you have created it to experience it in your version of physical reality. You have even created those who will agree or disagree with your viewpoint.

So you agree with my comments and you start your personal adventure into inner focus. At least you start. However, it's not long before you give up. It's too hard. You aren't seeing quick results. Be honest... the physical world is definitely here and solid. Let's just go back to our work routine, pay the mortgage and plan our retirement. Opting out of what we know and are comfortable with - because we are used to its familiarity - is too much of a risk outside of our comfort zone. We all know that a worthwhile and fulfilling life is about having enough to pay our bills, meet our needs, and go on holiday... or have a few jars down the pub with our mates - putting the world to right - watching a bit of sport or the soaps on TV... It's just luck and favourable circumstances that the wealthy in the world enjoy a charmed existence... something we are told we can aspire to if we follow some rules, but few believe they can reach.

The real adventure to change our circumstances begins within ourselves. It takes courage and, to begin with, perhaps it's easier to 'play at it' like a child in a make-believe world without limitations - something we adults are encouraged to turn our backs on. We must all raise our personal vibratory output and we can start this by feeling good about something - anything! If you really want to join this adventure and change your life's experience, you can find out more here:


Wednesday 11 February 2015

Beyond the Spiritual Fringe

When one used to mention “spirituality” to most people, the usual things that came to mind were beardy old gurus from the East or “flower-power Hippies” from the West. Of course, it’s not really as clear-cut as that and there are now many things that define spiritual proclivities. Often separated from the conventions of spirituality, as it relates to formalised religion, we have a plethora of subjects from Astrology and Numerology to Dowsing and Angel Cards and techniques from Meditation to Energy Healing – not to mention zillions of books, multimedia offerings, courses, workshops – and everything imaginable in between! What began as an honest search for meaning and truth has, over recent years, become a somewhat confused message of commercial marketing for abundance acquisition, led by a handful of now famous and often unreachable pundits – mostly American, who have been bestowed with the honour of ‘expert in the field’ and examples of rags-to-riches through Law of Attraction practices. These individuals now hide behind marketing and publicity teams who manage social media profiles on their behalf and charge enormous amounts of [usually] Dollars to make stage appearances or share their wisdom with select paying audiences. We are told that we too can be like these people – if we pay out first and learn second.

What began as an honest search for meaning and truth has, over recent years, become a somewhat confused message of commercial marketing for abundance acquisition...

Despite what we may be led to believe, there are no assurances and no ‘quick-fixes’. In fact, some of these new ‘masters’ have had quite a tough ride to their life of apparent ease, or they have developed a particular set of personality skills that most people do not naturally have at their immediate disposal. Indeed, Reid Tracey (Hay House Publishing) has a favourite saying: “It takes ten years to become an overnight success.” This helps us to understand that when a new celebrity seems to appear from nowhere, it has probably taken quite a lot of background experience and preparation to reach the point of recognition.

Unfortunately, many of these ‘new gurus’, who undoubtedly set out with good intention to share their wonderful discoveries with other, ‘less fortunate’ souls, have become so popular among a sycophantic, celebrity obsessed public, that they have had to employ others to lighten their workloads. Perhaps they are unaware of the pernicious marketing and avaricious marketeers who now profess to act on their behalf, but instead open their masters and mistresses to pillory. Success for a majority in our western society seems to equate to monetary wealth and stability. The opening gambit of many spiritual teachers seems to be along the lines of: “I spent two years sleeping on park benches and last year turned over $6,000,000!”

“I spent two years sleeping on park benches and last year turned over $6,000,000!”

Personally, I cannot recall someone ever saying: “I was leading a fairly routine and ordinary life, just getting by, but now I am filled with joy every day and easily attract all that I want in life.” Furthermore, the marketing videos, with their hidden controls so you cannot advance or see how much time is left, will go on and on for thirty minutes or so, about how wonderful something is, without actually telling you what “it” is! And right at the end, you too can have this marvellous opportunity for only four monthly payments of 295 Dollars… and if you give us your name and email [so we can bombard you with other products every week for eternity] you can download instantly, a free ‘get-it-now-for-nothing’ workbook!

It’s not that anything is particularly new, but more that it is being shared in a way that westerners, particularly, can engage with it.

Of course, it’s not all as negative as portrayed above and one thing that these people and their exploits offer is a gateway to spirituality for those who wish to dip their toe in something deeper than the tepid waters of intellectual understanding. With the added assistance of a number of “channelled entities” (‘beings of non-physical form’) contemporary understanding of the nature of our universe, and the reality of people within it, has taken a refreshing and exciting direction. It’s not that anything is particularly new, but more that it is being shared in a way that westerners, particularly, can engage with it. We have moved from East-West cultural disparity and cryptic parables to multicultural awareness and a plainer, more relevant contemporary language for our 21st Century mysticism. Perhaps we can finally reach the promised land of new conscious understanding, abundance, and the joyfulness we have always yearned for… Well, not quite. We now have to become expert sifters – deciding which information is right for us as individuals. We have to actively choose what we wish to focus our attention on; to stop acting by default in a world of ‘the way it is’ and change to a world of ‘the way we want it’.

We have to actively choose what we wish to focus our attention on; to stop acting by default in a world of ‘the way it is’ and change to a world of ‘the way we want it’

And now you begin to see our dilemma. We live in a world we have become used to and we reinforce what we experience from what we have already produced. We surround ourselves with negative news and expectations – constantly looking out for the things we fear most. Whether it is illness, violence, or poverty, we cannot turn away. Like the proverbial rabbits caught in headlights, we freeze to the spot as our destiny hurtles towards us – not realising that we can make a new decision to move at any moment of our choosing. Our society battles, fights, and wages war over everything. We turn the most mundane into magnificent drama. The person who was not run over was “very nearly killed!” – Only no one died. No one was even touched. A tragedy of apocalyptic consequences was fortunately averted. And so we search out the next potential disaster for our salivating audience to boost our ratings.

Mother Teresa said she would “…not attend an anti-war rally.” Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see.” They both knew that holding the vibration of war or retribution was only going to perpetuate, or further attract, the very conditions that were not wanted. They knew that it was far more powerful to focus on a new desired outcome, than it was to push against an already established opposite.

Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi

And yet, even in reading that last paragraph, the majority of you, whilst nodding in agreement, will pass it by and never consider the implications of truly living in that way; taking personal and full responsibility for everything that you experience or that happens in your life. Can you imagine for instance, not making a judgement against something or someone you disagree with? Could you be at the receiving end of a difficult situation and say “I love you” – no matter what the next minutes, hours, days, or weeks may continue to bring? The default position for most is to rail against injustice and to promise vengeance against the perpetrators of negative expression – spurred on by those around us who look towards our democratic fair play as the best solution. Rather than trying to constantly control people in our society, by adding rules, regulations and accountability assessments, perhaps we would be better promoting the natural universal laws of attraction and trusting individuals to find their own paths – whether through sexuality, drugs, rock & roll, or something completely different. Right and wrong are human constructs of control to help some people feel better about things they find difficult to accept in their own make-up. Right and wrong are not a true feature of the universe, any more than linear time is. It is more about contrast and having a sense of time to decide and experience our choices.

So by all means, stay on the fringe of spirituality, playing with the illusion of understanding through buying into all sorts of diversionary tactics available through ‘mainstream’ offerings, but be aware that to experience real changes in your life, you must work on how you think and react to the emotions that arise within you, when faced with the feedback from the world you have created up to this point. You do not need money for this. You do not need to buy anything; just practice being mindful of your thoughts, feelings and reactions. Practice moving your focus more towards the things you would like and halt the spiral of anxiety that delivers the things you cannot control. For some of you, this will be the hardest work you have ever been asked to undertake. For others, it will be a joyful release and expansion into new possibilities. For all of you, this practice will show positive results – and often much faster than you might imagine.