Monday, 31 December 2012

First impressions of Newcastle College's BA Creative Practice

Well you asked for it...

There now follows a good old (and quite long!) ramble about my experiences on the BA Creative Practice at Newcastle College - peppered with images of recent ceramic works just to make it seem less wordy.... and to prove that I'm doing more than just written work!

Aquarium caves with non-toxic dolomite glaze - this is a test piece 
 made for Tynedale Aquatics who have kindly offered to trial some of my aquarium
pieces in the tanks in their shop at Mickley Square near Prudhoe
Newcastle College is now teaching its final (ever) Foundation Degree in Contemporary Ceramics with no new intake this year following the College's decision to shelve the specialist ceramics FdA in favour of a more generic arts-based certificate known as the Foundation Degree in Contemporary Applied Art and Design: As things stand, we don't really know if this change a good one or a bad one because the replacement course is in its first year - so we will have to wait and see what its students have to say...

The general mood in the ceramics department, though, suggests that the change is not a good one.  Part of the reason for this downturn in mood is due to the random comings and goings of 'general arts' students who arrive, in large troupes, and take over the ceramics studio for short instruction in some or other pottery technique and then disappear back to 3D design or woodwork or interior architecture... or wherever else they came from. This random influx is quite unsettling for the established potters in the department who are used to the college ceramics studios being the exclusive domain of dedicated ceramicists who pretty much live and breathe pottery!

More aquarium spawning and hiding caves made for Tynedale Aquatics
(That isn't the moon in the background)
 Having said that, there are some really excellent (and very inspiring) 'general arts' students kicking around the department, some of whom have already found their natural home in ceramics and perhaps wouldn't have had the chance to do this without the recent changes.  It's an ill wind that blows no good...

But... anyway... before I go off on a rant about the somewhat ruthless business practices that led the college to axe the ceramics FdA along with various other pretty nasty cuts, I'll try and keep on topic...

And, yes, this post is meant to give my opinion on the BA Creative Practice (Arts) or 'Level 6' (as it is also known) - i.e. the course I began in September 2012.

Old rope... found lying around the waterline on the beach...

So, first of all to confirm: it is still possible to specialise in ceramics to degree level at Newcastle College. You need to complete the general applied art and design FdA (or an equivalent) and then you are able to apply to specialise in ceramics at level 6. Just one ceramics FdA graduate opted to carry on studying at Newcastle College this year:  me!  (The rest of my cohort went off to various other places: (delete as appropriate) Sunderland University's Glass and Ceramics degree course/Northumbria Craft Pottery/India/their own lovely studio.....) 

Not only am I the only potter on the BA Creative Practice (Arts), I'm in a very, very small minority of part-time students (I think there are about 4 of us out of the 100s of full-timers).

The fact that I'm a lone potter doesn't matter: the course is entirely relevant to any arts discipline. 

The fact that I'm only able to attend the college one day a week does matter. My first piece of advice to anyone contemplating this course is: try and do it full-time!

The whole focus of the course is for full-time students and there is little (often no) consideration for how a part-time student might benefit from all of the 'enrichment' activities the programme has to offer, which is sad.  It is sad because the course has a lot of great activities and resources to offer and could so easily be made much more accessible to part-time and distance learners if the course designers were to incorporate some proper VLE provision into their plans.


The lectures I've attended so far have been very good, some have been excellent - all have been very interactive and enjoyable. I've even learnt stuff! :-) However, I've missed out on many of the talks from professionals in the arts industry and arts funding bodies because they've taken place on days when I can't get into the college. Since the college doesn't record its lectures (in any way, shape or form!), there's no way I can hear these talks. It's frustrating.

I also can't participate in the student 'group activities' (of which there are many throughout each week), although this doesn't bother me so much I have to admit. Why? Oh I dunno... it's an 'age thing', I think. I certainly feel pretty ancient compared with most of my cohort!  Actually, that's another thing: average age on the BA is about 20 (maybe younger!).  Not that that really matters but it's another fact worth being aware of if you're a middle-aged potter thinking about embarking on this route of study. (I'm sure it'd probably do me good to work with younger, more energetic, less cynical people :-|  )

My experience with the teaching and support staff at Blandford Square (where the course has its teaching base) has been really good.  All of the staff and support folk are very likable - all are enthusiastic and very knowledgeable in their fields of expertise. They are a lovely team of people, always keen to offer help and good advice, and there's a really nice 'vibe' about the place.  I like going there. The IT facilities (all Mac) are great too.  I've also learned a whole load of stuff I never knew about the resources available at the college library... beginning with a talk by the brilliant 'Library Richard' who writes (wrote!) a truly great and very educational blog: which  (I've just this minute noticed) the college has also now axed. I could honestly scream on Richard's behalf for the stupidity and pettiness of that decision.

Moving swiftly on... (breathe in, breathe out...)

The course structure is fine and pretty much what you'd expect;  it's broken down into modules which cover several main chunks of work, each of which drills down in the next. So you start by writing a Proposal (this basically expresses what you are going to do in order to attain your BA) which feeds into your Planning document which feeds into your Development work which eventually becomes your Project Realisation.  It's all very logical and takes the age-old good practice approach of divide and conquer to get the (big) job done.  Lectures incorporate plenty of tips and good advice on how to approach researching your subject, writing up your research, etc.

The major written work is a Dissertation of between 7,000 and 10,000 words (depending on the approach taken: vocational (less writing) or academic (more writing!))  Students have the choice of writing up a dissertation based on their arts practice project work (for which they'll already have the foundation of their dissertation, made up from the various finished documents listed above) or writing on any other arts subject (which may or may not be related to their own arts practice).  One advantage of doing this part-time is that I don't have to make my mind up about my dissertation subject matter until next September!

For the practical elements of the course (i.e. making stuff) each student is assigned a main support contact within the college, for their particular area of arts practice, but is also encouraged to engage with people from all related arts disciplines - both inside and outside of the college. The emphasis is on developing good professional and/or academic contacts who will help you to progress in your chosen area of practice or research. The main objective here is to help you move your practice away from the 'safety' of the college environment and out into the real world.... and also to provide an opportunity to learn from other practitioners' experience. It's a good approach and the college staff have many contacts and resources to share.

So, what else can I tell a prospective student of the BA? 

Well...  there's the matter of course fees. If you started your FdA prior to 2012, make sure you ensure you continue to benefit from the same low fees you've paid so far. I heard rumours recently that the college were asking some ridiculous sums for the part-time BA Creative Practice. For me, the fees were roughly £700 per year because the BA is simply another level (6) of a course I started well before the recent HE course fee increases. It is accredited by the same Leeds Met body who ran the ceramics FdA (and don't let anyone tell you anything different).

I opted to pay my fees in 2 chunks (October and January) which is worth considering (even if you can easily afford the whole amount in one go) because, if you change your mind about the course after the first couple of months, you don't need to pay the rest of the year's fees.

I'm sure, if you were already on the FdA prior to 2012, that lower fees should apply whether you choose the full-time or part-time routes but you might have to haggle...

Anyway, I guess that's (more than!) enough said for now.  I'll return with (hopefully shorter) updates.  It's still early days on the course for me, I've yet to even hand in my first module's work - i.e. my Proposal - which is due end of January 2013 along with a viva (gulp!). 

If you're a prospective BA Creative Practice student who has managed to get to the bottom of this ramble and you would like to know more about the detail of the course, please feel free to get in touch via the comments options below or through my web contact page here:


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