I went to the Courtauld Institute of Art & Design to do History of Art and did twentieth-century art as a specialism. I’d always enjoyed research, so taking it further and doing an MA was always the plan. There were three years between finishing my degree and starting here at the Royal College of Art. In that time, I went back to Brighton and got into film, working with a festival there. I was interested in archiving and slide libraries, but also writing for artists, cataloging and that sort of thing.
At this point, I was thinking about my MA and whether to do History of Art, something film-related, library science or information management. Then I saw the CWA&D programme. While I was doing my BA the programme didn’t exist and when it started someone sent me an email about it thinking I might be interested. I didn’t apply in the first year as I wasn’t quite ready to decide.
I applied with samples of writing, extracts from my dissertation, and a couple of short things had written. There are 12 altogether in my year. It’s a small group, so it’s easy to be in a seminar together. The tutors are a mix of writers, artists and academics. The programme is not for writers, it’s about writing. Everyone’s interests overlap, giving a context and diversity that you can’t really define. Put together the knowledge is expansive.
All classes are seminar-based with reading groups led by tutors. We've gone through forms, colours and pattern, and then seminars about the essay as a form, learning the tools and techniques as inherited formats and how people have treated the essay as a form. We have writing workshops too. The turnover is quite quick, with each project about two to three weeks. They’re meant to be concise and not sustained.
We do have a more sustained project, however, supplemented by short bursts. We have crits. Some people will have knowledge about a particular subject, others will have sophisticated writing techniques.
There’s a dissertation in the first year, which is quite short – the same as all the art departments. The brief was Archeology of Criticisms, which involves digging around and readdressing historical moments of criticism. You could choose to do whatever you wanted and were encouraged to do primary research.
I found a serial publication from the 1980s called ZG (Zeitgeist) and got in touch with loads of people that had been involved along the way, using the interview to generate new primary source material. I also catalogued the magazine and made a database. There’s a generation gap between those in the 1980s and it’s about talking across that gap. I see it as a way to negotiate the recent past as part of our present.
For the course, I saved up quite hard and had the fees before I started by living at home. Getting the College bursary also helped. You can work while on the course but not really more than one or two days. It’s structured in a way that you can, as the teaching is always on the same days. Anything more than that is really tough. Time here is precious.
"The reading is so diverse. We go for weeks without reading essays about artists. It means all our writing is so different. "