Thursday, July 26, 2012

check in....

and mornings are crunchy frosty...

but the days are getting longer and warmer - spring feels a bit closer....

I'm just past the half-way mark of my year of weekly art gesture series and it seems as good a point as any to check in and chat...

My quiet, small, off-hand series has been pivotal in the development of my Higher Degree Research project even though I've not been sure how (or even IF) I would present the work in my examination exhibition. Over the past few months I have been doing some real soul-searching about my studies.... and in short --- I have decided I will exit my Higher Degree next year (or thereabouts!) with my MFA rather than continue on (and on and on) to PhD. 

This decision has not been made quickly or easily.

For those of you who have followed this blog for some time, and/or have read through the elongated tale of my arty background (here again are parts one, two, three, and four - corrrr that's a LOT of chatter!) you know a lot about my arty journey and in particular what motivated me to start a coursework Masters immediately followed by the Higher Degree.... 

And for those folk closest to me, who have known of my near rabid commitment to gaining a PhD, my decision to pull out early is coming as something of a surprise (just as it did to ME when the idea first started to insinuate itself in my thoughts a few months ago....)  

Yes, I'm tired - this is my sixth year of continuous post-grad study - but being tired has never stopped me from putting one foot in front of the other until the journey is complete....

Yes, I question my abilities - nothing new here... I've ALWAYS questioned by abilities - but that's never stopped me from pushing on regardless....

Yes, we are very, very (VERY) poor due to my diminished capacity to earn $$$ - but poverty is nothing new to us.... and in some ways is a blessing in disguise (I'm not sorry we don't have the funds for the latest, newest gadgets - so what if our kidlets don't have a gaming console or electronic wot-nots....)

Yes, it's been tricky trying to balance study and 'life' - when I commenced my coursework Masters both our kidlets were still at home and I was working part/full time teaching in local schools  (goddam I have NO idea how I managed!) - Farmer Phil's return to dairy farming last year has certainly made things MUCH trickier but I cannot deny that my desire to 'be there' right now for our young (super-duper sporty) kidlets HAS played a very big part in my decision to complete my HD next year (I cannot justify putting my selfish wants ahead of our kids needs).

Yes, I feel guilty about not having enough time for my extended family and friend network (my mum has Parkinsons Disease, my best mate was recently diagnosed with a rare form of dementia) - Relationships are the most important things in life (cuddling up to a doctorate in the middle of the night isn't going to keep you warm in winter)

Yes, I'm keen to spend more time in the garden and in the studio (doing things OTHER than my research project work), and reading things NOT related to my research project (I have a growing pile of books that I'm looking at longingly waiting for me to have the time to indulge - like Harvesting Color,  and the Handbook of Natural Dyes....)

Family and friends have often asked me 'why a PhD?' -  There's no realistic chance that I'll ever teach in a tertiary institution (which seems to be a primary driver for many artists pursing a PhD in this country... along with the potential to gain a scholarship and thus be funded for 3-4 years as you complete your PhD). Generally I've jokingly answered them 'so I can insist the Indian call centre folk address me as 'Doc Ronnie' (and then I insert an evil cackle hee hee hee heeeeeeeeeeee!)...... but when I'm being honest I have to admit to my own small vanities --- I wanted those initials to somehow prove my worth to the world - and to add weight to my words and opinions. I wanted that doctorate as a weapon to fight the good fight for my creek, my farm, my town, my heritage (there's no easy avoidance of a PhD!).

At its core my research project is an exploration, through making, of what knowledge is: how do we learn and how do we 'know' things; what is the value of knowledge; where does knowledge reside; is knowledge only to be found in 'book' learning; can land or inanimate objects possess knowledge......  When I use books (or book crafts) in my work, they operate as a symbol of knowledge systems - and also, of course, the work alludes to the possible future(s) of the book. A second (but not lesser) concern of my project is a critical examination how to operate an arts practice with environmental responsibility and with social and cultural integrity. As such, I've been advancing permaculture as an ethical and practical basis for my arts practice.
And here's the thing..... can you remember back in January I wrote rather a long and critical post 'on having an arty kareer' -- where at the end I set out ideals for a new art paradigm? Well I've noticed that my pursuit of the big PhD has set me in direct and continued opposition to almost everything that I believe in and what I want Art to be...

In one part of my exegesis I have penned the line: 'the means must be justifiable in the end' - and the truth is - I can no longer justify the journey to PhD where the only winner is my ego.

Sooooo I'm getting out before I find that I've compromised my ideals beyond salvation....

After I submit my MFA (next year-ish) I'll be able to get on with the BIG task: developing a new art paradigm and growing more vegetables!

viva la (arty) revolution!



  1. i hear you.....
    we only have so many heartbeats each to spend on life , says me who has seen a friend consumed by a phd for 10 years, and i do mean consumed.

  2. Thank you very much for this open, thoughtful and well written post. You have expressed many things that I am thinking about right now (although my kids are nearly flown the nest & I have just finished my BA & contemplating honours/masters). To recognise the ego-driven component of your desire to achieve a PhD is admirable. I think your influence on others as an artist and environmentalist will very likely be wider and more effective if you are not holed up in the rarefied and all-consuming land of PhD. Best wishes.

  3. really PROUD of you and your decision. the phd thing dogs me from time to time but i know that even with one (in art), no one would take me seriously. i'd have to get a law degree instead! :) i think you are making a super sound decision that is right on all levels and you know, certainly, that you needed this long journey to get to this point. thanks for sharing.

  4. You never cease to amaze me. This is a post that many could return to again and again, myself included. Really grateful for your shared lessons on the practice (and living) of art.

  5. thank you for your thoughtful and supportive comments everyone.... much appreciated

  6. It is right for some and not for others...I am one of the others! Good on you for knowing who you are!

    I worked and taught at university level for quite a few years and whilst I love research, always got a buzz from it and still do, I resisted the urge and the pushing from the university system to go down the PhD path as it always seemed too consuming which for me would limit and narrow the life I wanted to live.

    The hard part is making the that you have made it....enjoy the journey that this choice will take you on.

  7. I completely understand how you feel and your dilemma, and to be honest, if I didn't receive two scholarships, I wouldn't have been able to do my PhD. It's a difficult thing, that takes a lot out of you, and I don't blame anyone who wants to pull out of it. It definitely wasn't about ego for me though, but about the love of the study itself.

  8. yes - a Higher Degree DOES take a lot out of you! and if I could nominate where that pound (or two) of flesh would be removed from I might just hang in there (if only for the weight loss).... but I've come to suspect that its a vital organ that's being sacrificed.....

    don't get me wrong - I've enjoyed and gained a great deal from many parts of the journey --- and essentially it is the love part of my studies that has won out - I feel passionately about the direction that my project is going - so much so that I don't want to compromise the work for the sake of a couple of extra letters after my name..... (mind you I still have to finish my MFA....)

  9. i just love the fact that you've made the decision that FITS you perfectly. much applause here.

  10. You are brilliant Ronnie. Such an honest read, I think your doing the right thing. X

  11. I am loving reading your words about Art with a capital A & Ronnie you "make good art" as Neil Gaiman said so beautifully in his address to the University of the Arts Class of 2012-

  12. thanks mo - I saw Neil's address too - its great isn't it! I think it should be mandatory viewing for all creative peeps (especially those in tertiary institutions....)

  13. Hi Ronnie,
    Thank you!! for being so open and honest. Although I've been reading your blog for a while I never went through the archived posts so it's been great to read your background tale of arty/life history. (Thanks for sharing)

    I've only known you through this blog, even so I know you are 'worth' more than any letters after your name. Asking ourselves the meaningful questions can be challenging, but finding an honest answer for ourselves can be incredibly liberating. I hope you find the direction you have chosen inspiring and looking forward to reading more about the new art paradigm...vegie charged :-) I feel like congratulations is in order.

  14. You can always do a phd at 60 if you still want to. I think that if you have realsed that at this stage in your life there are other things that are more important to you, it is a great decision. Finish what you are doing, enjoy your family and the lovely art you create.
    Not sure if I have expressed this very well.


thanks for all your lovely comments - your words are greatly appreciated xx