Bright Black World(s)

It feels fitting that we have been thinking about darkness in these first few months of the year for in the northern hemisphere at least these are surely amongst the dreariest and most challenging to get through, now more than ever. This sense of living through dark times, be it the apparently inexorable rise of far right political ideology or the unfolding of environmental disaster is certainly captured in Todd Hido’s ‘Bright Black World’ work.

There is a great video where Hido talks about ‘Bright Black World’ and how he appropriated the title from a page he read in an A.S. Byatt story (he also admits to not reading the whole story, which I think is intriguing in as much as it suggests how artists invest vast tracts of their time within their own work, so that references, connections, inspirations often come from magpied moments grabbed in passing). In the video Hido also acknowledges that whilst he sees himself as essentially an optimist he concedes that he’s “looking into the future but unfortunately the future’s not looking so bright and that’s part of what the work’s about”.

I’m intrigued though as to what else the work is about. Leafing through the book is a luxurious experience, not least because the pages are oversized, allowing the photographs to approach the scale they inhabit within the gallery display. The landscapes which make up the body of the book are filled mostly with darkened, glooming skies or with shadowy spooky undergrowth and trees that hint at apocalyptic events to come or just passed. Often they are landscapes filled with energy, rising off the pages to envelop us with an emotive presence it is hard to resist.

When teenagers (and perhaps most of us as adults too) look at photographs (or any art) their instinctive response is an emotional one. In their eyes all art is about emotion and whilst as a teacher it can be very tiring to hear this as a starting point for conversation day in, year out, it is also entirely understandable. It would be wrong if it were otherwise. And yet in Hido’s ‘Bright Black World’ this emotional response does feel appropriate because these photographs are surely meant to make us feel the tensions and conflicts happening within our environments (and within ourselves). In his photographs weather and landscape become as characters in a performance; actors playing their parts within the carefully choreographed context of the book. And actors emote.

Many of Hido’s landscapes (both here and more obviously in his 2010 collection ‘A Road Divided’) appear to have been photographed from behind the glass of a vehicle and feature roads retreating to their vanishing points, which naturally places Hido’s work firmly within the American tradition of the Road Trip. Think Lee Friedlander’s ‘America By Car’ but without the explicit framing vehicle of the, erm, vehicle window frames and wing mirrors. And in colour. So perhaps not so much like Friedlander’s work at all then, apart from that sense of movement through (a) country and the documenting of the shifting scene(ry). And since we mentioned the vanishing point of the road, can we place ‘Bright Black World’ in the realms of Kowalski and the last great American heroes? Possibly. Or perhaps we think about Robert Frank’s de-facto reference point ‘The Americans’? Except of course ‘Bright Black World’ is the first body of work that Hido has shot in countries outside of the USA so maybe not, except that we might just say there is something in the dark grain of Frank’s work that flavours the shadows of Hido’s and leave it at that. And I never even mentioned ‘On The Road’, did I? Or ‘Two Lane Blacktop’. Or… or… and… and… The list could go on.

In her wonderful memoir ‘Another Planet: A Teenager in Suburbia’ Tracey Thorn asks “who walks around suburbia at night? It would be spooky and weird.” To which the/an answer of course is Todd Hido. Indeed it was Hido’s photographs of suburban homes at night that first caught my attention a few years back and I admit that as much as I enjoy the newer ‘Bright Black World’ work I keep finding myself drawn back to them (analogous perhaps with loving Tracey Thorn’s ‘Record’ LP but still and always preferring ‘A Distant Shore’). I’d be interested to know what Thorn would make of Hido’s photographs for whilst they very much hold something of the suburban edgeland that she writes about in her book they are also perhaps particularly American. In this they slip more into the realms of the subtopian hauntology of David Lynch but there is also something universal in them that transcends geography and time.

What lends them this transcendency? Something to do with combinations of colour and form. Something else to do with formal composition. Another thing again to do with what you cannot put your finger on but that you know the moment you see, hear, smell, sense it.

One of the favourite phrases/ideas of many of my friends of a particular age is about “keeping the mystery caged”. In this era of self-promotion and where innumerable videos about anything you care to mention are instantly available, it can be difficult to maintain this mystery. It is perhaps unsurprising then to find one of these films documenting Hido photographing his suburban houses at night. It is a fascinating little piece that shows Hido shooting with a 35mm SLR using long exposures and bemoaning aircraft flying at night. Elsewhere in the film Hido is found in a hotel room preparing a shoot with a model. Viewed from outside the context of the artist/photographer’s bubble this feels faintly seedy and strange. Perhaps not “spooky”, but certainly to most people “weird” or at least slightly odd. But then what are/should artists be/seem to others if not somewhat peculiar to the norm? Perhaps it is this innate strangeness that allows Hido and his work to retain something of that mystery in spite of having the curtain pulled partially to unveil the mundane source of the magic. Perhaps the very act of showing parts of the process makes the end results all the more remarkable.

It is always interesting to trace connections of course and Hido has listed Robert Adams as one of his major influences. ‘Well duh’, you might think, given the unavoidable presence of Adams in the (American) photographic (ahem) landscape but gosh, hearing Hido say that encouraged me to look more closely and goodness, look at this shot from the ‘Summer Nights, Walking’ series and…. Yeah, you get the idea.

Robert Adams. From ‘Summer Nights, Walking’

Speaking of Lynch and speaking of connections, when I look closely at Adam’s ’Summer Nights, Walking’ photographs again now I am put in mind of some of those wild black and white sequences from the stunning 2017 season of Twin Peaks. All those references back to a 1950s subtopia infected by nightmares of nuclear desolation and sexual tensions, well they all appear present in Adam’s photographs (as indeed they do to a lesser degree in Hido’s). Of course when I say that they are ‘present’ in the photographs I mean they are physically invisible but deeply psychologically felt. Remember what Thorn asked? “Who walks around suburbia at night?” And if those who do are “spooky and weird” then imagine adding to the question: “Who walks around suburbia at night making photographs?”

If you have not tried such a thing (and let’s face it, chances are that even in these times of ubiquitous cameras and endless spools of snapshots, you haven’t) then I would encourage you to even contemplate it and to not feel distinctly uncomfortable as you do so. It is the strangest sensation and it makes Hido and Adam’s work seem all the more impressive. It is so easy to say “the key to being an artist is in saying you are an artist and believing you are an artist” but the reality is so much more difficult because it is so easy for Other Things to get in the way, not least of which are social expectations and Worrying About What Other People Think (which is essentially the same thing of course). To overcome that, as Hido and Adams (and indeed Tracey Thorn) clearly have, is a monumental achievement and I would argue is at the very core of what makes their photography (and music/writing) so compelling.

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Spark from Flint to Clay – Ultramarine (from ‘Signals Into Space‘ LP)
First Sign – Rose Elinor Dougall (YouTube)
Cellophane Car – The Stroppies (from ‘Whoosh’ LP. Bandcamp)
Demands – Makthaverskan (7″ single. Bandcamp)
Swebeach – Westkust (from ‘Westkust’ LP. Bandcamp)
O / DESIRE – Public Service (7″ single. Bandcamp)
Draw The Line – Current Affairs (7″ single. Bandcamp)
The Inner Truth – The Vapour Trails (from ‘Godspeed It’ EP. Bandcamp)
Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting – The Twilight Sad (from ‘It Won’t Be Like This All The Time‘ LP)
The President Can’t Read – Amy Rigby (digital single. Bandcamp)
I Can Only Dream – The Undertones (from ‘The Sin Of Pride’ LP)
We Sell Hope – The Specials (from ‘Encore’ LP)
Cheer up Charley – The Delines (from ‘The Imperial’ LP. Bandcamp)
Looking For Love – Carpenters
Atlantic City – Dawn Landes (from ‘Covers’ EP. Bandcamp)
Darkness Be Gone – Lindi Ortega (from ‘Liberty’ LP)
Goodluck Man – Carson McHone (from ‘Carousel’ LP)
We Were a Happy Crew – Spirogyra (from ‘St. Radigunds’ LP)
Ineffable – Prefab Sprout (from ‘We Trawl The Megahertz’ LP)
End of the Rainbow – Barry Gibb (from ‘In The Now’ LP)

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Magic. Illusion. Void.

Last week we looked at Amanda Harman’s photographs of the Somerset Levels and it occurred to me that really I ought to have mentioned Peter Benson’s novel which had such an enormous impact on me when I first read it all those (thirty two!!) years ago. Back in 1987 the landscape aspects of the novel certainly did not affect me as much as the narrative, yet there was certainly something beguiling and magical about it all that led me to pore over OS maps of Somerset, orientating myself around the place names and references in Benson’s words. Strange perhaps then that despite moving from the South West of Scotland to the South West of England five years after reading the book, the Somerset Levels remained (and remain still) something of an ignored treasure. Something to do, perhaps, with being just outside easy travelling distance, particularly as I only learned to drive in 2014, and perhaps too because there is a desire to keep the mystery caged and wrapped up in words and imaginations.

I have cycled across parts of the Levels in recent years, on solo sojourns and as part of the Bristol Belter sportive ride, yet I admit that when I am on my bicycle my thoughts are primarily about the process of cycling and only rarely, fleetingly, connect to the landscapes through which I am moving. The movement is the thing, and I have often wondered how I might go about using cycling as a process in which to fit art. My ‘tiny moments’ writing project of a few years ago is probably as close as I have got, although if there was some way of being able to make photographs or drawings whilst cycling in the same way I have done on train journeys then perhaps I would do so. Perhaps too I should simply admit to the fact that for me at least the act of cycling remains explicitly ABOUT the act of cycling and nothing else.

One of my most regular cycle routes takes me along the Exe valley, past Dulverton and up towards and occasionally onto Exmoor. On that route I often pass the Bridgetown cricket club and it’s delightful looking clubhouse/pavillion. I have never stopped to make a photograph of it (see above about the movement being the thing. I hate stopping on a ride even to refill bottles and much prefer eating on the move to stopping in a cafe) but you can see a glimpse of it on Google’s Global Surveillance Project (aka Streetview). Every time I pass it I think it would be fun to do a project around clubhouses before figuring that someone probably already has, or is doing so. I’m sure I stumbled on a blog at one point where someone was documenting village cricket pavilions of England and it delights me to see that Amanda Harman has built a body of work herself around a similar notion of clubhouses.

Harman’s Clubhouse images are varied in terms of the activities and sports they serve yet are all united by the absence of the people involved. What we see are the spaces devoid of the individuals who create them. We see the objects they leave behind them, sometimes related to the activity (a green fixtures book on a burnt sienna table top; cricket bats and pads on a changing room bench) but more often universal (a bar stool and a mobile gas heater; washed dishes draining beside a kitchen sink; assorted chairs; towels hung beside sinks). There is something of a fragile fragmented determination in these spaces, a sense of time draping gently into a distant past mixed with a hesitant hope extending into the future. These spaces are clearly communal yet we see them emptied of the chatter and shared experience of people. Instead the memories of moments linger in the air, unseen and unspoken but marvellously real. For me the photographs immediately bring to mind a scant few years of my youth spent at the long disbanded and dismantled Troon Sailing Club, dragging boats up and down the beach and slipping into the forbidden spaces of the clubhouse as a pre-teen waiting for my father to come back from his races on Tornadoes. I suspect these emotional attachments are, like those dishes on the draining board or the towels next to basins, universal. Many of us will have such memories and connections to fall back into and build upon on seeing these photographs. It’s one of the ways in which photographs should work, after all.

Elsewhere in Harman’s work we see shots under a collective title of Tidal Reach and here too are the tendrils of memory that reach back to my sailing club moments. The water, the sands, the horizon and the unflinching skies. My favourites of these images are the ones which are most formally constructed in terms of horizontal planes for these conjure thoughts of Rothko paintings and begin to enter the meditative realm of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s seascapes. Is it possible for anyone to make photographs of seascapes and not have Sugimoto’s work drawn in as a reference point? Probably not, but this is fine for there are surely none better.
I have come very late to Sugimoto’s work and this may be to do with the slow dissolve of an instinctive mistrust of spiritual meditation which has accompanied me for most of my life. In recent months however I have become ever more drawn to his work, intrigued by the notions of time within his long-exposure images. Our instinctive response to the function of photography is to see it as the freezing of fragments in time, a vehicle in which to store memories. I have found that this is one of the hardest barriers to overcome when teaching photography at GCSE level to teenagers. It is perhaps analogous to the development of the brain and connects to the way in which most teenagers cannot get past an infatuation with ‘accurate’ recording regardless of the medium.

It is a long time since either Sugimoto or myself have been teenagers (and I for one heave a sigh of relief that this is the case) so perhaps this helps explain a move away from an infatuation with freezing moments and instead looking at ways to acknowledge time as perhaps the crucial dimension as a factor in our experiencing (and hence recording) the world around us. The most obvious response to the dimension of time is the moving image, and whilst this is intriguing in its way it feels somehow too real to be real. Only at its extremes, like with Warhol’s film of the Empire State Building, does the moving image really, ahem, move me. More interesting by far are the ways in which illusions of time are captured within the single, still image. Sugimoto is a modern master of this and his theatres work is simply breathtaking in both its conceptual and formal execution. Ditto the seascapes and particularly the Revolution development which (literally) moves the composition on its side, further into the realms of abstraction and, if we can bring in this idea again, of meditative spaces. And here is that connection to Rothko again, taking into account the Rothko chapel and the supreme meditative space of the Rothko room at the Tate in London (personally I have much fonder memories of the paintings within the ‘original’ Tate Britain than in their ‘Modern’ context but I appreciate this is more than likely down to where I first experienced them). Even within the context of the printed photo book Sugimoto’s work resonates with an otherworldly presence. These images vibrate and send tingles of electricity down the spine precisely because there is almost nothing there. The lightness of most of the seascapes is such that they almost literally become weightless whilst the darkness of the Revolution series echoes that depth of void hinted at in Sarah Jones’ rose bushes. These photographs draw us is, envelope us in their delicious emptiness. They seem to say that only in nothing can there be something; the only thing real is unreal. Magic. Illusion. Void.

In The Black

I have been doing work for ‘my’ GCSE photography project and, inspired by Sarah Jones’ work, I have been playing with mirror diptychs and the notion of ‘black on black’ (this draws in connections to Ad Reinhart and Kasimir Malevich too, of course). The ‘content’, in case you are wondering and can’t make it out (if you can’t, that’s partly the point) is 1/32 scale plastic soldiers, which means the photographs are also at least partly about the muddied waters of nostalgia and loss. I’m also intrigued by the inverse of this, which would be intentionally overexposed shots, perhaps like Malevich’s white on white squares, so in other words letting so much light into memories that they literally burn up in the process… Anyway, here are the photographs. (I’m actually delighted by the fact that the thumbnails just look like black rectangles.)

Dancing In The Dark

For a few years there I had fallen out of touch somewhat with what the Caught By The River crew were doing. Sure, I’d still occasionally drop in and read the Antidotes To Indifference series for some recommendations of things to listen to and read; and sure, I’d always try and read anything Kevin had published on there but still, I always had some nagging feeling lurking away in the corners of my soul that cynically harboured fears that all this interest in ‘nature’ was somehow contrary to all my instincts and was little more than following trends.

The Claim sang that being wayward and cynical never left a lasting impression and I know that’s true but there are things we perhaps cannot change about ourselves no matter how hard we attempt to shift our habits. Lord knows I’ve been trying though and one of my habits from the past six months or so has been to follow through on the few subscription emails I receive (GDPR has been a pain in the ass in many respects but sheesh, it’s certainly had the effect of making ‘unsubscribe’ requests actually work) and checking out the Caught By The River site on a regular basis has been one of those.

All of which is by way of telling you how I came across the photographs of Amanda Harman, whose shots of the Somerset Levels have been published by Another Place press. The work, under the title of ‘A Fluid Landscape’ is a collection that mostly pays attention to the closer rather than the wider landscape and this is something that very much appeals to me. Harman’s photographs of grasses and plants lying partially submerged, sometimes with reflections of overhanging foliage and the broad strokes of boughs are very much my favourites in the book. One sequence of five or six pages is especially appealing, containing as they do compositions that show spots and lines of colour and tone within flat planes of water. The first are on a ground of milky white, like miso soup in a china bowl. These photographs remind me of Cy Twombly’s ‘Quattro Stagioni’ paintings and whilst they look lovely in the intimate context of a small format photobook I long to see them displayed as large prints. The shots which follow these in the book are literally by contrast on an inky black ground, the arc of stems dipping and disappearing into inner space. Simple gestural lines score the canvas. A sly dab of colour and then on… on to more complicated compositions of reflective pools that bring to mind Jem Southam’s glorious Painters Pool or River Exe bodies of work, and surely Southam is an inspiration or at the very least an inescapable reference point to any photographer working with landscape?

Getting back to those beautiful compositions of black water though, and I have to say that immediately I saw these I was put in mind of the spectacular photographs of rose bushes by Sarah Jones. Jones has been a favourite of mine ever since I stumbled on some of her work in the Tate Britain back in 1997 and whilst I have not yet seen her rose bush work in the flesh, as it were, I would very much like to savour the physical presence of her large scale prints. Now in one of those delicious coincidences that are really more about the laws of statistical probability, I had a book of Jones’ work on my desk yesterday when my friend Megan Calver visited. Megan has recently had work in the Materiality: Provisional States show at Hestercombe and it turns out that Jones had her rose photographs displayed in the same gallery in 2015 as part of the ‘Double Take’ show and that Megan was very much a fan too. I’m bitterly disappointed that I had not picked up on that show and frustrated too that the pressures and commitments of work seem to so often result in a kind of paralysis that leads to a failure to connect with the world outside of that of books and records and photographs. And if that sounds terribly self-indulgently self-pitying it is not really meant that way, for that commitment to the life inside feels ever more important in the light of contemporary history. We all build our walls and find our tiny cores of comfort, after all. It is probably opportune now too to throw in the fact that my cousin Gordon Faulds was artist in residence at Hestercombe in 2006 and to my shame I have never made the leap across the border into Somerset to touch base and share thoughts. Again, this says much more about that inner paralysis and commitment to the interior life than anything else but there we are.

Getting back to Sarah Jones’ photographs then, it strikes me when I look at these rose images that what appeals about Jones’ (and Harman’s) work is that these photographs flatten the picture plane and surrender themselves to the pragmatic reality of photography as a two-dimensional medium. Illusions of three-dimensions (or four dimensions) in a two-dimensional plane have their place of course, but the more I look at and think about landscapes it is clear to me that these illusions are not ones that particularly appeal to me. In these photographs by Jones and Harman depth is psychological as much as it is physical. The blackness in Harman’s shots is that of watery depth, clearly hinted at yet treated with a flatness that is mute and impersonal. Jones’ blackness meanwhile is literally that of blindness, of a world left intentionally underexposed. There is a world behind these roses but Jones hides it from us. We imagine there must be other plants, expanses of cultivated wilderness, suburban sprawl perhaps, but it is all just that: imaginary. In these photographs Jones plays with the illusion of depth and admits to the magic trick, like Springsteen’s delicious quip at the start of his Broadway show. Like Springsteen too, Jones (in the case of the rose photographs, literally) shines a spotlight on details and illuminates these in art. Jones has said something about her photographs being glass plates placed over the world to facilitate close examination and really Springsteen’s songs do the same. Each looks at details and draws out lines of gesture and suggested narrative. Dancing in the dark, indeed.

The Fugs of January (on ‘Rogue Male’ and landscape)

January has been up to its usual vile tricks in 2019, throwing the not entirely unexpected curve ball of illness (there feels like a ten day void in my memory as a result of flu) and the rather more surprising visit of the OFSTED inspectors (ironically on the day after I had finally dragged my aching and still befuddled soul into school). Still, what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger and all that nonsense, right? Right. So The OFSTED have buggered off and promised to leave us alone for another four years (Hurrah!) and the flu has done likewise, only without the same implicit promise (indeed I have strong suspicions it’ll be back around the same time again next year).

One frustrating effect of the Illness And OFSTED double whammy has been the slowing in my reading habits. That said, I did manage to speed through Geoffrey Household’s magical ‘Rogue Male’ in the tail-end fug of flu. Now I am no aficionado of the thriller genre but it struck me reading ‘Rogue Male’ that here is the bridge between John Buchan’s rip-roaring adventure yarns of Richard Hannay’s derring-do and the more psychologically charged tomes of Eric Ambler (still my top thriller writer of choice) and Le Carre. A cover blurb quote tells us that the 1930s ‘Rogue Male’ is (still) “Simply the best escape and pursuit story yet written” and whilst that may be true it is a quote that focuses solely on the obvious narrative of the novel and ignores the fact that, in my reading at least, ‘Rogue Male’ is a book about landscape and (quite literally) our connection to the earth. It reads like an almost hallucinatory anticipation of a utopian hippie idealism hinged on a trigger point of the rejection of fascist threats and as such it feels astonishingly prescient and strangely contemporary. Seen through that contemporary lens indeed it would be easy to view Household’s novel as the smudged blueprint for any number of middle-class hipsters’ mid-life crisis books that unfold with the premise of “I decided to spend A Year in The Country in order to Get Away From Technology and to Reconnect With The Earth (and to write a book about it, OBVS)”. Not that I’m cynical, but hey…

In the best spirit of embracing contradictions then let me also say that reading ‘Rogue Male’ resonated strongly with my own interest in landscape, by which I mean that I’ve been thinking about landscape a lot in the last couple of months, specifically around the notion that landscape touches/doesn’t touch me; that landscape is so difficult to capture well (in painting, photography, text, whatever media you choose); that landscape is real/not real; that landscape is natural/not natural. Will I take a year to think, write, illustrate, explore landscape myself? Possibly. Will I write (a) blog/book about it? Almost certainly/certainly not.

Stephen Prince did this (kinda) with his ‘A Year In The Country’ blog and book which I have also been (kinda) enjoying through the January fugs. The areas that Prince explores are often those that historically I have found peripherally intriguing yet simultaneously struggle to fully connect with. So all that folkloric film and seventies childrens’ TV: I have vague recollections of seeing stuff like ‘The Changes’ at the time but in reality they clearly did not have the same impact on me as they did on people like Prince (and it sometimes feels like almost the entirety of my friends in the virtual sphere, which is to say the only friends I have in the 21st Century which is probably true of all of us and that’s not criticism as much as observation) and that’s just fine. There IS something intriguing about the (electric) technological intervention in landscape that intrigues me but the more I think about it the more certain I am that this interest is almost entirely on a visually aesthetic basis. Sure, there is something mildly interesting in notions of (ancient) power trails over landscapes but I’m no Julian Cope and I still cannot help but treat that kind of dark folkloric spiritualism with a hefty amount of (modernist) scepticism.

I suspect this scepticism, cynicism, wilful misunderstanding (call it what you will) may be a thread that most obviously filters through my own investigations of landscapes in the year(s) ahead but I may yet surprise myself. In the meantime, here are some photographs of electricity pylons.

“I don’t know dude.” Or: the creative process unpacked

Several musician friends this morning retweeted the above thought by Mitski. I’ve enjoyed some of Mitski’s records (last year’s ‘Be the Cowboy’ had some great moments and often put me in mind of Jens Lekman) but I found the tweet even more interesting: “every song i write feels like the last song I’ll ever write, and the moment it’s done I fully forget how I did any of it lol. if artists were fully honest in interviews half our answers to Qs about “process” would probably be “i don’t know dude””. Perhaps unsurprisingly it is the reference to process that interests me, or more specifically the explanation of process. This is something our students are expected to do as part of their art/photography GCSE and it is always one of the most difficult things for them to do. The phrase I keep using in class is “you need to tell the examiner what’s going on inside your head” and I’m always intrigued by the differing degrees of response to this. Some are able to unpack that thinking process fairly well (I model it all the time when we do one to one tutorial sessions) but other just don’t seem able to do it at all. Of course this is all tied into metacognition and we know from research that metacognition is perhaps the ‘strategy’ that has the single most positive impact on learning.

Now I understand artists’ wish to keep the secrets of their creative processes hidden because it maintains the mystery and magic and it may be that Mitski is being somewhat disingenuous with this tweet because I really believe that if someone asked the correct questions (‘tell me about your creative process’ is rarely a question that will get you to that answer) she would have some really interesting insights into what happens. Mitski might genuinely feel she ‘forgets’ how she has written any one song but the ‘secrets’ of that process are clearly woven into her neural pathways. She does know, but she seems to be telling herself (or us) that she doesn’t. Perhaps this is a self-preservation mode kicking in or perhaps it is, as I said, a somewhat disingenuous dodging of the issue in order to maintain the mystery.

This is fine because as an artist you don’t have any exams to pass where someone is going to judge you on your ability to explain your creative processes, but from an educational perspective it is critical. It brings to mind a research project I did around 20 years ago (when funding still existed to facilitate such things) exploring the creative process within film editing. My findings from that project were largely around unpacking the creative process and debunking the notion of creativity as some innate skill or ‘gift’ and this has driven much of my own thinking (and practice) in education in the intervening years. My favourite phrase for a time (apologies to the colleagues who must have wearied of hearing it) was “the creative process is the learning process and vice-versa” and an intrinsic part of that creative process is that very metacognition that we know leads to progress. Mitski might want to think about that if she ever needs to pass a GCSE in art..