I don’t follow anyone’s rules except my own rules… RULE FOUR

Access Space 20x20 poster 01 v6

See this post for the intro to this series of posts about rules.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.
This is one of my favourites, and most helpful. Many years ago, I made a conscious decision not to make precious objects, only ephemera or reproducible items. This freed me from a tyranny of my own making which was FOFU (the fear of fucking up). In more recent years I decided to treat everything as an experiment and/or a version and not worry about revising things if need be.

The poster above is a good example. The one you see here is version 6 of this particular poster. I generally  go through multiple versions of any work, creating a new version each time I make a radical change, just out of FOFU.

I will be making a number of these between now and the exhibition, each one an experiment. For more information about the eighth annual Access Space 20×20 open call exhibition, visit their website.

I don’t follow anyone’s rules except my own rules… RULE THREE

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The real story behind the death of Socrates.

See this post for the intro to this series of posts about rules.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.

Whilst I have taught in UK Higher Education (HE), and still do on occasion, these days I prefer to keep my teaching to informal relationships and internet broadcasting.

There is something rotten in the state of university education in Britain, and that is the change from people being considered students to being considered “customers”. Because most students now pay their own fees (eventually), universities are unwilling to fail them or even mark them harshly. This has lead to students calling the shots and makes pulling everything out of them impossible when there is no discipline (see later rules).

I was berated by my course leader on one occasion for telling him that, in a dispute over a mark I had given, I had told a student that he was welcome to go and talk to the vice-chancellor if he wanted to have his marks revised upwards. Whilst I agree with rule three, on this occasion I failed to pull everything out of this student but he managed to pull what he wanted out of another teacher.

I didn’t fall out with anyone, but after this experience I allowed myself to drift out of teaching although I am happy to share my experience and knowledge as long as any student will follow rule two. I have a more robust phrase for this, not usually acceptable in varsity but forged in my time out in a less forgiving world, and I have only had to say it out loud on one occasion, to a work colleague who I eventually had to have disciplined.


I don’t follow anyone’s rules except my own rules… RULE TWO

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Portrait of the artist as a student (2007)

See this post for the intro to this series of posts about rules.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

I studied art in a formal setting only briefly and found it to be a deeply frustrating and demotivating experience, although I am by no means against formal study. One tutor gave us a reading list that was nine A4 pages long. He might as well have said “read everything”. Maybe that is what he meant but it was somewhat less than helpful at the time.

Much earlier than that, I attended a secondary school that was significantly more interested in sport than art and that is one of the reasons that I am almost exclusively self-taught in all my disciplines. The most valuable skills I learned at school were from earlier still, the “Three Rs” – reading, writing and arithmetic.

Basic literacy & numeracy enabled me to explore the world much more widely once I had left school. In the 1980s, I learned more about culture by selecting books at random in Rotherham public library, or listening to John Peel on BBC Radio 1, than I did from the unassailable brick wall of a bloated reading list. That was a highly productive time, although I only came to appreciate it much later, discovering (kinda) for myself the Beat writers including Burroughs & Kerouac, classic literature such as Flaubert & Conrad, and once I read a Mills & Boon romantic novel entitled “Jade”.

I follow this rule but would interpret it more widely than just applying it to a formal learning environment. For teacher, read hero, and for fellow students, read peers. I believe it is important to recognise and acknowledge your influences. After all, no-one thinks less of Isaac Newton because he admits to “standing on the shoulders of giants”. My own work would not be what it is without Philip Glass or Ridley Scott or Eduardo Paolozzi, and my life would be much less rich without the often heated discourse with friends and fellow artists.

I don’t follow anyone’s rules except my own rules…


…unless your rules are the same as my rules, and then I’ll follow your rules but claim that you are following my rules.

As I’ve said before, I don’t do manifestos and I am generally very distrustful of rules and over-analysis where it comes to art. However, and I know I may be rather late to this particular party, here is a set of rules that I identify with without a single exception. Often attributed to composer John Cage or choreographer Merce Cunningham, they were originally written in 1967/8 by Sister Corita Kent of the Immaculate Heart Convent in Los Angeles, US. In her rules she quotes Cage and both he and Cunningham went on to distribute these rules, hence the mis-attribution. I was introduced to this set of rules by brainpickings.org and was struck by how similar (well, identical) they are to my own rules developed over the years and it suits me to quote them here in order to support my own well established prejudices.

Whereas I like much of what I see on Brain Pickings, I find the endless references to artists’ and writers’ rules and daily routines to be a little repetitive, although in this case I think they are genuinely useful.


Anyway, I find this set of rules so useful and inspiring that I am going to write a (short) blog post for each and say something about how they apply to my own philosophy and work.

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while. 

Many years ago, when Bloc Studios in Sheffield, UK moved to much larger premises, I took a rented artist’s studio of my own for the first time in my life. I hardly went and soon moved into a different shared space. I didn’t use that one either and realised it was just a rather expensive way of storing junk, so eventually I moved out. I am now an associate member of Bloc Projects but it became clear to me that I just don’t work in that way, going to a studio and isolating art work from home life, although it suits many artists.

I met my wife, Stella, in 2008 and each time she came to the flat that I was living in at the time, she said it was like Warhol’s Art Factory because there was always something being made there. Sometimes the floor would be covered with stenciled posters drying out, or the furniture had been moved in order to shoot a video. From this I developed the idea of Factory X, an indeterminate creative space that could represent anyone’s studio, home or simply their notebook. Factory X is wherever you are being creative.

Here is a single-day timelapse video of the place that I trusted as my workroom 2004 – 2012.

Friend and artist Susanne Palzer introduced me to the German word gesamtkunstwerk, meaning “total artwork” or “universal artwork”, and I think this concept better describes the way I am. Without being poncey about it, I do live and breathe my work and often get up in the middle of the night with an idea. This was one of the ideas behind the Factory X brand, a democratization of the Art Factory from an exclusive physical place, to a universal meta-theatre of creativity.

The “place” in rule one does not necessarily mean a physical place, but for me a work room at home is my Factory X and, apart from a while trusting a “proper” artist’s studio, the place I trust is my home.

Access Space’s Annual 20×20 Open Call Exhibition 2013


It’s that time of year again. This will be the eighth year that Access Space has hosted its open call exhibition of art. The only rules are that it must be 20 inches square, and must not be offensive or pornographic.


What’s it going to be then, eh? My virgin 20×20 2013 board.

Pre-made, box-construction boards can be bought from Access Space for £3.50 (see above) or you can make your own, as long as its 20×20 inches. I haven’t entered every year, but I always try to come up with something that responds to the 20×20 form. I currently have no idea what I’m going to do this year.

The closing date for entries is 11th September and the show opens on Friday 13th September.

Here is a timelapse video of me snatching victory from the jaws of disaster from last year.