NORWICH SCHOOL OF ART
SEX AND TEACHING
Congratulations if you managed to enter this section in its sequence. Otherwise, shame on you for prurience. This will not be an account of ribald performance and narrow squeaks. It is merely a factual account of the often libidinous aspects of the act of teaching. Adele Carroll after a tutorial said my style was that of the Mind Fuck. She is not a girl to go for the Needlessly Sensational. But after two hours of discussing edits, colour, sound, pacing, marketing, distribution, that was admittedly a certain post coital glow as the Tutorial concluded. Before I lay back and smoked in satisfaction, it was a feature of my life that the next Lucky Customer barged in with a Show Reel or Portfolio.
In February 1998 I gave a lecture to the MA Narrative Illustration/Editorial Design course, beginning by thanking the person who sent me a Valentine's Day Card, "who ever she is." A voice from the audience stopped me in my tracks. "How do you know it's a she?" My experience as an Erotic Focus in the past had, to my knowledge, solely been for the Women in the audience. Not for the first time I sat down after and reviewed my entire career for mysterious notes, sly glances and sudden explosions of thwarted outreach.
The Sexual Quotient is as imagined in the popular mind, prominent in British Art Schools, from the time when only women were finally allowed to draw from the nude model. In the Slade Days the tutors were so lumpish and stern that none of the Bunnies with their cloche cuts managed to score, but the recent biography of Walter Richard Sickert shows how active he was in bringing enlightenment in every way to his female students.
The rule of thumb was understood, even if never put into words in the Staff Handbook. No Tutor is to have a relationship beyond the professional with a student. There are of course many fine and noble exceptions. Of people I had met in education, these included Humphrey Spender and Stefan Muthesius. Much more commopn, expected and more ruinous were the predator Tutors who cultivated regular sex with students outside the acts of teaching and assessment.
AH for example took his pick of the first year girls to set her up back at his bachelor pad until the next intake. When one girl killed herself in despair, the Head of Department acted swiftly and the Libertine was dispatched with some help from the victim's own psychiatrist. Whenever someone was spotted in a ridiculous or demeaning job, such as the Norfolk Dumpling Mascot of Norwich City Football Club, it was said that XXX had finally found his level. Another tutor was openly seen with a Graphic Design student. When they both appeared one morning for a crit covered in reciprocal welts and bruises, action was taken, as jaws dropped.
One Head of Department was overtly gay, as Art Schools were more liberal and understanding than most cultural employers. It was known he had an aesthetic preference for stout jawed Beach Boy types although his nocturnal expeditions sought Rough Trade. After one altercation in an alley he found himself enduring a week's stay in a hospital bed, where, without the slightest justification, he insisted he be called a Professor on his temperature chart. It was known throughout the student body that the Head of Department had an aversion to youths with facial hair. If the interview intake resembled Muscle Beach in California, the first Assessment looked like a convention of ZZTop impersonators.
I was largely a naif in these matters, always insisting (to myself) that help and advice was objective and in the students' best interests. Another tutor who believed as I did was disconcerted when he dreamt that he had seduced a girl he was seeing in a tutorial the following morning. He could only babble when addressing her, colouring up to a beetroot hue. The suspicious observer, seeing her nervous demeanour at showing her work and the blushing wild eyed tutor, would have suspected the worst. This happened to me on a regular basis over forty years but I don't believe I ever blushed or let on until now. My version is to stumble into some Freudian slip. Facing a new cohort of MA students I circulated an information sheet promising that at 2.00pm in the big lecture room," your tutors will show their work". Instead of a "w" I typed a "p", diametrically opposite on the keyboard. I was doing my usual Anthony Quinton routine, the urbane Chairman, when some students began to giggle. It is normal practice to slide a surreptitious finger to the trouser fly, but all was in order. Only when my colleague talked about the Trades'Descriptions Act, holding up the offending paragraph was I guided to the problem.
Too many tutors I met experienced contempt for three years from students who had resisted them and were prepared to risk the consequences for their futures. On the other hand several talented women designers were unfairly denigrated when their grades seemed unduly generous. Let me treat some case studies here that shows how complex are these issues on two counts, the Burning Hunger factor generated by the successful Lecturer, amd the Fruit Loop against whom there is but little defence.
Nowadays it is the second rule of thumb that the Tutor's door is never closed. At Brighton a demure and amusing memo laid down the law here without actually specifying what occurred when doors were closed lest the press follow their noses. Similarly some tutors spent their lunchtimes with a sandwich in one hand, and a porn site summoned up on the other, little realising that all phone records went to the Head of Department at the end of the day. My door was always ajar yet it didn't stop one student showing me her Portfolio where, at the back, were a dozen full colour A4 photographs of her on a nudist beach in Kenya. "How did they get in there? What ever you must think of me." The most dangerous times were the final weeks of the academic year when some hussy who had wagered with fellow coven members she would compromise me, shimmered into my room, even my sealed dark bookroom at the back, and put a drawing on my desk leaning over me in a state of decolletage.
From about 1995 the possibilities were enhanced as tutors developed keyboard skills where, like Schubert's two handed piano exercises, willing couples in tandem flirted with patterns of tap and shift. "Do that again," said one sensual MA student," I do respond best to discipline."
But in conclusion I come back again to the act of lecturing, my version of Savonarola in the pulpit, Ben Elton on Stage or Jerry Lee at the microphone. One morning twenty minutes before my official start I was opening up the Norwich Lecture Theatre to find M, a mature student married to a local Barrister waiting for me at the door. She followed me up the raked seating and stood as I loaded the carousels of slides. "I didn't come to the Art School for an affair." she said. " But every time you give a talk, there is something about you. something that... scintillates, an aura of sparking I feel over and over again." At these moments I always manage to find something puny and limp to say. "Well, M, I do work really hard at this." She moved closer. "But you don't need to work hard at it. It just comes." and at that moment the Slide Technician in the booth beneath turned on his most recent recording of the Jimmy Young programme. She fled.
Asking Frank Evans advice in this matter but without divulging names, as to who I should notify, her supervisor, the Principal, County Hall, Frank identified the student straight away. "Oh that'll be M. Where were the sparks coming from? your arse I expect. " I felt a crushing disappointment that this was common behaviour and even the more homely speakers were granted the privilege.
More problematic was XXXX, the student who threw a scalpel blade holder at me in my first year of teaching. I was talking to a drawing tutor and the projectile neatly bisected us. The milling throng of Vocational Designers seemed to be unable to identify our assailant nor help in identifying which of the students was responsible. The next week Frank drew me aside to ask me for my advice. With a curious flickering smile, he confessed that several Love Poems had been left for him in his briefcase.Each was endorsed "To the Spider at the Heart of my web". A careful scrutiny revealed that they had been intended for me, with odd references to Marcel Duchamp, Molholy Nagy and Wyndham Lewis. It was his turn to be disappointed as he realised our briefcases were almost identical.
Several weeks passed. I was walking down the corridor to the Library when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a crouched figure about to spring. "Spider..." said she, "spinning your web.."
I sat her in a seminar room room in the Library where window and half glazed door guaranteed no further act of aggression or its reverse. " If he wants to send me a message, if he wants to ask me out, tell him to talk to ME and not send it in your lectures. I can't stand it. Any more." She burst into tears. I disclaimed all responsibility and got her to admit that in order to sustain this secret message service, I would have to be working flat out for six days a week, with little time for eating or indeed for a family life. " Now I see it all," she apologised. "But who was it?" I offered the names of some likely suspects and ended the discussion with her much cheered.
I had learnt my lesson and went straight to the Principal. "I am glad you have come to me. I had had several reports from her psychiatrist this term that assignations with some chap had been somehow embedded in your Modernism lectures, although I must confess I couldn't see how they had managed to decode the texts." Thanks a bunch, Mister, I could have been skewered or scarred for life, locked out of the family home and held up to ridicule in the Press, local and national, for all the help I got from the Man with the bulging File Drawers. What else did he have on me? Come the tipping point with one Roguish Graphic Tutor, seven years of groping, unpaid loans and fiddling petty cash were lying in the Man's File Drawer waiting for his undoing.