After last year I came back expecting something similar but that made much more sense and focus. At first it was all a bit confusing because we were being taught about dissertations all of a sudden and being pushed to think of an option we’d like to be in. It was all a bit overwhelming, like we didn’t really understand what was happening, because it was just one thing over another. A few of the options were especially alluring to me, like Goddesses and Monsters, led by Cath Davies, Puzzling out Contemporary Art, by Jonathan Clarkson, Understanding Humour in the Context of Art and Design, with Theo Humphries, and last but definitely not least, Mannerism, with Mahnaz Shah.
I wasn’t confident at first whether I want to be in exactly that group, even though I am incredibly interested in Renaissance art, but I trusted my friend when she said Mahnaz was brilliant, after she’d been in her group last year. And I was convinced almost immediately. You wouldn’t expect to be taught in such a manner and it seems surprising at first but then by the time you really start enjoying yourself amidst the discussion, idea-sharing, contradictions and connections, Mahnaz is already giving you an assignment or something to research at home and talking about next week. You realize it’s finished too quickly, and then you can’t wait until next Friday… Time flies by when you’re having fun.
By viewing artworks from the old masters (Michelangelo, da Vinci, Bronzino) paralleled with ancient philosophy, and then finding the similarities and differences with art and design from 1880 to 1945, we gain a deeper understanding of the true meaning, intention and thought which exist intertwined within all of art. With the practice of listing what we disagree with what Mahnaz was showing us, we began to really grasp the concept of a multitude of meanings and the uniqueness of perception. Focusing on the ‘beautiful’, ’strange’, and ’ugly’, we managed to draw conclusions vital to the life of art and the place of art in life – what is strange, ugly or beautiful is only subject to our own perception.
Our lectures were always exciting and incredibly interesting to take part in. I was always amazed at how brilliant old art is, how incredibly intelligent and educated Mannerist were, not to mention the philosophers of antiquity. With our ‘homework’ we got to explore the topics from the lectures even further, such as the assignment on the Platonic Solids, and the collage artwork she let us make, depicting ‘our reality’, which helped really understand and experience everything we were learning.
With the end of our ‘option’ lectures, marked by our essays on the definition of the strange and the ugly, came the beginning of our dissertation prep, namely, the first lectures on what exactly a dissertation is, why we are doing one and how we should be going about it. It felt like an unpleasantly abrupt transition from the captivating learning process we had just undergone (in preparation of what was to follow) to the sometimes frustratingly long and almost confusingly detailed lectures which oft times left us in an even greater state of panic and awe of the cataclysmic tsunami that we were about to get to surf on, which was our dissertation. The more they tried to tell us it was not that scary, the more frightening it became. In fear of insufficient time I borrowed a pyramid of books to start off my research, my topic still uncertain – I wanted to write about something I know I can’t become bored of, something that I wish to find out more about, and something which I could relate to my own knowledge, ideas and work.
The freedom to write about anything we choose was almost unreal to me at the start. Apart from the final essay from last year, any academic writing I’ve done has been uniform for everyone and the excitement is always about how your friends approached the question and what they wrote. Now the great excitement, and fear, comes from what everyone else is going to write about – if everyone can write about anything, what would they come up with? what would I come up with? what if I end up writing about the same thing as someone else? With outlining where my own interests lie, I felt like I had to make sure my research idea was special, otherwise I could not see the point of it. I am so delighted and even though I suffer with it, same as everyone else, it is an almost masochistic suffering which makes me incredibly happy on the inside. I appreciate the work, the knowledge and the research, and I am very excitedly looking forward to where it will take me.