I have earned my living as a Teacher, not as a Scholar, an administrator, an artist or Solicitor. Given the regular undermining of the teaching profession by various Governments, I start this section feeling I have to justify this choice of attention. The truth of course is that I drifted into it, couldn't think of a way to get clear, found the money useful, and walked clear after forty years. From the beginning I despised the conventional career structures, sniggered at ambitious colleagues and out of a sense of the fastidious, mocked and needled my superiors at the two Art Schools in whcih I crafted careers. This alone would suggest any further thoughts are superfluous but I do so on two counts - the rich possibilities afforded by teaching at British Art Schools, and secondly the way I felt I had developed my teaching techniques over the years from 1972 -2006.
I finished my PhD in 1972, any last prevarication in finishing the damn thing was dispersed by a friend whosaid he saw me as one of those perpetual students who never finished their studies. I had applied for a job being a Junior Lecturer at Birmingham School of Art. It was made clear at the Interview my role was teaching Art History to Art Students and gluing printed clippings into Scrapbooks. I turned this down with an invented excuse that affronted my Father-in-Law. His scorn at my fabrication made me vow to tell the truth when dealing with management and their offers.
After eight years of University studies and with Oriole teaching at Notre Dame School in Norwich, I was thus content to pick up teaching where I could as a part-timer, reluctant to uproot the Family (Jack and Edie then). Val Harrison had got me some teaching at Winchester, but weekly travelling by road was debilitating. I scanned Tuesday's Guardian in vain. One evening Oriole and I had been invited to dinner by Sarah and David Beaugeard in the village of Hingham. Early nervous conversation in the group revolved around favourite parking places in the City of Norwich. Towards the end of the evening, DB asked me if I knew anything about Graphics. Of course, I answered, believing him to mean Printmaking. His Complementary Studies Tutor for the Vocational Design course had not seemingly returned from a summer in America. So much for the calculated career path shaped by a Doctorate.
The Vocational Design course was for those visually orientated people who lacked formal academic credentials.The School was essentially divided into two parts by St. George/s Street, Gunton's on the left with Graphic Design and Sculpture, Fine Art, Printmaking, and the Library in the Main Building to the right. Vocational Design course was sitauated in a monastic building over the Staff Canteen.
My initial teaching plans went straight in the bin. I was met by the legendary Frank Evans who took me into the studios. I have never been that nervous before because I had never been in artists' studios. Pointing to my wedding ring, Frankie said, "I'd get that off if I were you!" He ran the First Year with Webby, the students reluctantly concentrating on skills the two tutors made available - colour studies (Frank) and Calligraphy (Webby) . I was to take this group for one afternoon a week in what Jonathan Miller called the "Suppository Mode of Education." I was shown the Slide Library and the Lecture Rooms. I could call on the second years in the studios and the second half of the contractual day was spent with the Third Years.
Later I was expand the Vocational Design contract to two days. Although there was a separate formal provision of a department under John Rayner,Complementary Studies was all things to all managers. Impressed by my avant garde teaching sessions with the Third Year Vocational Designers, got work on the BA Graphics, then Foundation. Five years in, I was working six days a week part time, Saturday being a research day. It was all teaching and no management. I was forty before, as a full time member of staff, I went to an Academic Board. Not that I had missed much. The paperwork for each member's attendance would have filled a large shirt box, each contributor to the verbiage trying to outdo the others with philosophical maunderings and spurious statistics. The only benefit for me in attending an Academic Board was that, at the heading of the Agenda I was listed as Doctor Mullen, and without contributing a word, could exercise considerable power with a sudden glare,or a flicker of a smile round my lips. My dilemma was that I didn't really care enough about the mechanisms of management which, as I'd experienced them as a visiting lecturer, were largely ignored or mis-read at the work face. Eighty percent of the meetings I attended were devoted to the Covering of the Ass, either the individual or the corporate Ass. But I got easily bored and my nature was to seek attention, show off and entertain.I was poor as a collaborator in these matter because I was loathe to cede the limelight to another. My pleasures had to be taken obliquely without rhetorical flourish, which was better exercised in the Lecture Room.
One Dean of School directed an aggressive question to me after I'd wound him up. I lowered my eyelids (as I'd seen my son Jack, aged six, do regularly) and said nothing. This enraged him sufficiently to repeat the question not one but twice. I smiled in a slimy way. He then shouted at me across the table. "Through the Chair please, Dean." I replied, which left him white with rage and convinced in me that less is indeed more. Had I any serious ambitions at self-advancement I could have been ingratiating with the best of them. Cultivating the theatrical was conjoined however with a strong impulse to self-destruct. Chris has been trained in law became the mantra and too many people thought I knew what I was doing.
To amuse people sitting next to me at Board meetings, I would take in a specialist book with a clearly legible title that contributed obliquely to the academic proceedings. "Art Education For Slow Learners" (Ryerson Press, 1953) was a particular favourite, and I was urged by the Union rep Fred Ward to wave it around a bit more. But my rules of the game was to bring in a different title to each meeting. The identification of each new book caused merriment and distraction in equal order. Renewal of my membership at the end of the year was of course out of the question.
Others whom I respected had a much more serious attitude to Art School Management meetings. My hero, John Vernon Lord, would sit quietly during the hours of posturings, spats and lacunae, doodling on his papers, only to deliver the killer blow when asked to do so as a sort of peroration. He was respected for his sincerity in trying to improve the place, and for his strategies in responding to the many outside pressures put on art education.
One morning he came into my room at Brighton with a floppy disk full to the brim with a Boswellian account of the meetings he had attended over the years. I knew JVL well enough to advise him the project was not worth the effort which would have been better expended on publishing his sensational doodles, many of which playful toyed with the Lexicon of Daft Acronyms that crossed our paths. I found out later he had already done that, a magnificent revelation of his genius and the passage of wasted time.
If I was to be sparingly used in the conduct of the academic at Norwich (and indeed Brighton) I was allowed out as a member of CNAA validation panels, touring the Land with peers from other Art Schools, purporting to bring fresh critical eyes to some hapless college with ideas above its station.
At the heart of the dilemma of Art Education is a feeling that artists may well have prospered just as well without it. To justify the whopping teaching budgets (and hospitality allowances) all manner of jargon (misunderstood from contemporary marketing) and faux legal claptrap were assembled to shore up against public suspicions. Shows of work at the interface with the paying public were key to understanding and promoting the Art School in your midst. They were deadly serious which is why Raymond Briggs was given a dressing down for writing a letter in Angry Housewife mode to the local press, a dressing down that caused him to walk. My own lecture at Norwich on Dalton Moncrieff my invented gay American Environmental sculptor, generated equal rage, and lost me a day's teaching as a penalty. Once acquired by an institution, dignity is so easily punctured.
In 1972, as a visiting Liberal Studies lecturer, it was clear to me that Art Schools were the most exciting source of invention, energy, understanding and misunderstanding, serious purpose and rich hilarity, sometimes all within the same afternoon. Norwich was a small provincial Art School, serving a large community, and somewhat removed from capital based creative endeavour. Most members of staff had their own fiefdoms, but I was prepared to learn skills (and jargon) outside my initial portfolio. There was some suspicion when I began to direct my classes away from the standard patter of Art and Design History to include practical working considerations of problem solving and attitudes to planning sequences within the students' Portfolios.
My legal training had involved close reading of conveyances and other crucial deeds, where a misplaced comma could lose the client (the Rank organisation) millions of pounds, and me (articled clerk) my job. In the mid 1990's internet sites were written in a simple code, HTML, which necessitated accuracy and alteration of precedent scripts. Those in the Graphic Design department at Brighton determined to keep me and my disruptive ways out of the studio, were themselves incapable of building a website, and pissed off at the queue of students at my door each morning, waiting for me to run my eye over their HTML scripts. Further attempts to make me return to marking essays stalled when I revealed I could make passable movies using the application Director. Instead I was hauled in to run Multi-media classes where I did not have to reveal how thin was my knowledge of the discipline. It was noticeable how far in advance of their tutors the students were in their understanding and indeed acquisition of hardware and software.
Behind conventional employment structures at Art Schools lies a bewildering variety of events, some bordering on the Sublime, some on the Absurd. Only Art school folk will nod sagely at this point, because Society would not realise the discrepancy between the Prospectus and the Actuality even in these days of Modularity and Transferrable Skills.