The Artist and the Academic and Everything In-between


I went to a showing of Vincent van Gogh’s work on Saturday as part of the Exhibition on Screen series. As I have mentioned in a previous post, to see these great artworks displayed on an immense movie screen is quite sensational and something I certainly recommend! The showing was quite biopic in nature, highlighting the fact that Vincent was not some lunatic that painted in insane bursts of divine inspiration but was an educated man who grappled with the demands of being and artist, both on a technical and conceptual level. If anything they stressed the fact that painting is an arduous task hence the word artwork! The timing of the showing was quite serendipitous as only the day before I had completed 5 days of lecturing for the university I attend (my Masters) and by whom I am also employed.


Above: Cynthia, our model for figure studies

Below: a student’s work


This is a copy of the email I forwarded to my students this morning:

Hi students

To those who attended the past workshop. well done, and thank you for your enthusiastic participation! I am sure you will agree that it was well worth your time. To those who did not I am saddened that you could not. I realize that our lives are very demanding but if art is truly your calling then sacrifices are required. However, unlike very few other things your rewards will be a hundred-fold if you do make those sacrifices, and I know of what I speak, having gone through the same process myself as a past student.

The venue itself was very inspirational (a heritage site in its own right – the old beer hall). We had a live model for three days as study for drawing and painting exercises. We attended the opening of an exhibition at the City Hall in the Durban Art Gallery. We had amazing lectures from Lawrence, Yvette and Cate as well as the amazing Doung Anwar Jahangee, on his personal philosophy of an “architecture without walls” ( and practising artist, Themba Shibase ( A truly stimulating, inspirational and intense week of art in every form.

OK, moving on: So your first assignments have been completed and assessed and you are now faced with a whole lot of new challenges due in August. To feel exhausted, overwhelmed and a little emotional at the moment is quite natural, I promise. Take a break, a short one. Catch up on all the things you have neglected while frantically making art: watch back-to-back episodes of Game of Thrones, spend time with family and friends, clean up your home/room/studio. Then get back on the horse! Start your processes again.

Finally, one can feel disheartened after a workshop and see only failure in the feedback received from the marking lecturers. Remember, however, that there are only more successful and less successful artworks not failures. The marking lecturers will have provided a lot of positive criticism and advice, learn from them. The critting process is not only a marking tool but also a teaching tool.


Above: the Beer Hall Gallery space

Below: my demonstration table


These workshops are seriously intense experiences and simultaneously seem to last an eternity and yet are over in the blink of an eye! They are almost-overwhelmingly stimulating, stressful and joyful, again all simultaneously!  To add to all of this, xenophobic attacks were taking place not a kilometre from us in the city centre, these arguably sparked by the Zulu king’s comments on foreigners in South Africa. At the height of these attacks in the city of Durban, when 4 people were killed, we were evacuated from the premises and sent home. The attacks were not unexpected and reveal a long-simmering tension between impoverished South Africans and entrepreneurial immigrants trying to make a living at a time when the unemployment rate is 25.5 percent. When I hear this reasoning I want to retch! What pathetic excuses we make for our behaviour; religion, politics, self-defence…any excuse will do. The fact is we are selfish, self-serving, self-involved parasites who consume and are of little value to this planet and this existence.


Above: satirical commentary by the artist, Zapiro

Humanity, what foul things we are! It is only art that reminds me that we as a species may have some sort of saving grace. I straddle these worlds of the artist (swany), the academic in the form of both lecturer and the student (Andrew Swanepoel) and then as inhabitant of Durban, South Africa (Andy) mired in my humanity.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet voices my disgust:

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how

infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and

admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like

a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,

to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me—

We are capable of so much, all that Hamlet lists, which makes the horror show that we are that more terrible. Perhaps it is this that Vincent saw in his terrible skies above dark fields of corn and sleeping towns and it was this vision which drove him to utter despair and finally to death, an abdication from the species which destroys such a beautiful world.


Comments are closed.