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

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

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything — it might come in handy later.

It’s invaluable to look at what other people are doing, listen to advice and not try to re-invent the wheel every day.

It’s interesting that in the “hints” appendix to her 10 rules, Sister Corita mentions movies specifically. I am an advocate of taking in popular cultural references as well as the influences that are more precious to your work. This helps to avoid the masturbatory, navel-gazing of monocultural practice and can often introduce you to ideas outside of your normal sphere.

I don’t blame school for not telling me about Gandhi, because they could only teach us so much. I learned about him from Richard Attenborough’s 1982 feature film.

A lesson in filmmaking that I recommend to anyone, is the audio commentary by Ridley Scott for “Alien” (1979). His matter-of-fact delivery and leaps of imaginative faith are inspiring.

Having said all that, it’s best not to pick up all of your philosophical outlook from films such as “Porky’s” (1982), although having recently re-watched “The Breakfast Club” (1985) after a gap of about 20 years, it’s a much better and more subtley nuanced movie than I was aware of the first time around.

Conversely, some movies, that are closer to the centre of the art world, are lessons in how not to make films. A tedious chore that I would prefer not to repeat is Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster” cycle (2003), and my less-than-complimentary opinion of Lars Von Trier is widely known.

As far as saving everything goes, I would not be able to celebrate my upcoming retrospective if I had not saved everything way back from the 1970s.

I have six months to go until the beginning of my Bolam Retrospective year, and preparations are underway for a launch event on 24th April 2014. Stay tuned…

This is the last post in the series about Sister Corita Kent’s 10 rules (with a little help from John Cage), so thanks to Brain Pickings for reminding me that not everything is about me. Sometimes it’s important to listen to what other people think about me.


I don’t follow anyone’s rules except my own rules… RULE TEN – The X Factor


One of my rules broken: don’t over-process photographs.

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

RULE TEN: “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (John Cage)

Everyone knows that if you put “X” at the end of a brand name, it automatically makes it sound enigmatic and cool. From now on, I shall be known as Bolam X.

Not working? Okay, never mind. It is also used to denote an unknown quantity or quality.

I think what John Cage was referring to what is also called the “happy accident”. As I said in my previous post, I had the idea for No Glove Lost a few years ago, and although similar things have been done before, it feels like a bit of unfinished business. So, I decided to get back on Horse X and complete Project X. And now I’m waiting for Accident X.

I saw a television interview with film director David Lynch where he discusses the breaking of one of the golden rules of filmmaking.

I’m going to have to paraphrase because I can’t find a clip of the actual interview, but it goes like this: (David Lynch has a very distinctive voice and it helps if you hear it in his tone.)

“[Director’s Name] asked me ‘David, can you really not cross the line?’. I said of course you can. You’re the director, you can do anything you like. You can’t cut it together, though.”

I was introduced to the concept of crossing-the-line in a video workshop given by Jason Budge in 2001. Briefly, it can be illustrated by the idea of filming someone walking along a road. You can shoot them from one side, the front or the back. However, you can’t shoot them from the other side of the road as it will confuse the audience seeing them walking in the opposite direction.

This supports what I always say, which is you can break any of the rules, but don’t do it for the sake of it. Rules and guidelines exist for one very good reason, they work. At least most of the time.

One of my own rules is don’t repeat what someone else has done.

No Glove Lost title

I really don’t know what I’m doing with this project, but I conceived it and what I do know is that I’m doing it. However, unlike the bland emulsion of homogenised mediocrity that is ITV’s the X Factor, I will be taking my lead from John Cage and Sister Corita Kent, breaking my own rules and leaving plenty of room for X quantities.

As I keep saying, I don’t like rules or manifestos, so here are some un-rules for my No Glove Lost project:

Un-rule #1 – It’s not a daily project. Or it might be.
Un-rule #2 – Only gather gloves on normal routes required by work or social commitments. Or not.
Un-rule #3 – Don’t go purposefully looking for them. Or do.
Un-rule #4 – Don’t try to out-do any of the other glovespotters. It’s not a competition. Or maybe it is.
Un-rule #X – Break any of the un-rules if you feel like it. Or not.

I hope that’s clear.

Between 22nd September 2013 and 20th March 2014 (winter in the northern hemisphere), I will be photographing the gloves in-situ, and collecting them for the currently unknown Purpose X.

So, in X Factor parlance, I’m raising my game, taking it to the next level and giving it 110%.

Until I’ve nailed it. Stay tuned…


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

Retrospective graphics.056

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

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

Abstract erotic art… It’s the shape of things to come. – anon via

This one follows on very conveniently from RULE EIGHT.

Recenty, I made a conscious decision to stop going to discussions about art. Why? Because they’re all so fucking boring.

I am not talking about lectures or artists’ talks, which can be fascinating. I mean conferences, salons and symposia, those talking shops for middle-class liberals, agonising about stuff that really doesn’t matter.

Let’s face it, you don’t get many laughs at an art symposium. There is a kind of studied emptiness in most discussions about art, a chasing of tails that normally leaves you none the wiser at the end of it, only shorter of life.

For me, the problem is the lack of humour. There is a poisonous, masturbatory guilt at the heart of contemporary fine art that thinks joy and beauty are somehow trivial, unless defined in an ironic, post-modern, knowing way. A kind of professional cynicism favoured by the David Shrigley apologists.

One way I can allow myself to be happy whenever I can manage it is by avoiding making myself unhappy whenever I can manage it.

Soon after starting the review of my life’s work, I realised that humour in the form of satire, is a strong, enduring thread in my art. That realisation was liberating, and these days I am allowing myself to have some fun even if it seems from the outside like I am just playing with myself.

That was a joke.

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

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

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

Another one of my favourites. I am a vocal critic of artists who over-think things. It’s a surefire way to either talk yourself out of doing something at all, or else reducing what you do to an apology, and this explains why so much contemporary fine art looks like a random collection of shit kicked through a gallery door. Some artists are so afraid of not being received well, or seriously, that they reduce their work to a smokescreen of nonsense, supported by the mighty arms of Artspeak

Analysis, critique and review are all important, but give yourself a break and have some fun.

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

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

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

At some point in my pre-teens I remember working out how old I would be in the year 2000. Thirty-six seemed ancient to me at that time, and then whoosh! it’s been and gone. At that age, the thought of approaching 50 was just too far in the future to even contemplate, but now it’s imminent.

Despite the terrifying acceleration of the passing of time, there are some fantastic compensations in maturity. Although I can no longer vault a brick wall without risking a hip-replacement, I have the experience and perspective to understand the risks and enjoy the knowledge that I did that kind of thing at the age when I could bounce off the pavement without it leading to a course of physiotherapy.

What I have to my advantage is that I have done a lot of stuff already, but only because I kept working. I am a bit of a hoarder and still have art that I made at primary / elementary school. What is also working in my favour is that I have been alive long enough to know that I have long creative cycles. Sometimes I can be highly productive in one medium or theme for several years, and then it just stops. Again, this can be for several years, but I know it will come back.

Rule seven is probably the most important rule. Everyone has periods of failure or low productivity, but also everyone has periods of high achievement. The most important thing is to keep working, and whoosh! you will have 40 years of work to look back on.

In the meantime, keeping making stuff and jump those walls before it’s too late.

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

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

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

Another of my favourites, both sobering and liberating. Accepting mistakes, confronting failures and moving on is the way to improve your work. It is not literally true as worded, but it is highly productive to accept the limitations of your work and either build upon that work or discard it and move on.

However, the key element to this rule is the “make” because if you don’t make you will neither win nor fail.

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

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

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined — this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

My access to the arrogance of youth expired some time ago. However, these days I am qualified to employ a much more subtle pretentiousness, the self-assured superiority of age and experience. This rule is a little quite ambiguous, although I can easily manufacture an interpretation for you. The difference between being disciplined and self-disciplined is the difference between doing as you’re told and choosing to do as you’re told and, hence, employing a little humility.

To accept the guidance a teacher or mentor, either inside or outside a school, is being disciplined and being self-disciplined is taking advice or criticism that does not necessarily agree with your existing world-view.

In my mind this relates very directly to RULE FOUR and can also be applied to the idea of being disciplined by being critical and being self-disciplined by being self-critical. Whereas I am normally quite vocal criticising artists for being hypercritical, having an objective perspective on your own work, particularly in relation to other artists’ work, is very valuable. Also being uncritical, or hypocritical is unhelpful. However, I do try not to be hypercritical about being hypercritical. I hope that makes sense.

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.