Wednesday, 21 July 2010

What no Hat?!

Today I had my graduation ceremony, BA Hons in Illustration.  I got up the earliest I have in ages, dressed up to the nines (a smart shirt, and a skirt, and 2 inch heels no less!  What is the world coming to) and, looking like a rather professional young lady, if I may say so, trudged up to the hall to pick up my tickets and academic gown.  No mortarboard though, although we did get one for the official photo, was the only thing that puzzled us.  Why no hat?  What do you throw if you don't have a hat?  We made up for it by whooping far louder than was really appropriate for the occasion!

Now I don't know what the general opinion on gowns is.  Maybe you think they're a bit posh (probably true), over-priced (most likely) and deucedly difficult to put on, never mind keep in place (absolutely true!) but I have to say, once you have the thing safely attached, your hood clipped on and your huge flowing sleeves wafting around you like a rather villainous cloak or a set of vampire wings, you do feel a bit fantastic.  I don't know what I'd expected but they were layered and weighty, made by Ede and Ravenscroft of Cambridge, a city I'm still very attached too since I did my Foundation year there so I was unreasonably proud of that!  When I told my dad where the'd come from he casually mentioned, as he usually does "Oh, my company did some work for them a few years back".  I think he's done work for just about every firm in the country by this point!
Anyway, yes, proper robes by the Ede and Ravenscroft people, who even help you put them on, because like all academic things, there are far too many extra buttons and doo-dads on them than could ever be necessary.  Look!  I'm an important robe!  See how many buttons I have! 

The School of Arts isn't the most formal place to learn, a lot of the work is practical, there is paint everywhere most of the time, and we are supposed to be expressing ourselves so the dress code is pretty loose.  Which is great, but it does lull you into the mistaken belief that there is some kind of tension between the scientist and the artist, the writer and the performer.  That somehow your degree is a 'doss', not a 'proper' degree.  And now I'm in the job market I'm very aware of this as I try to phrase exactly why someone should hire me, and what skills does my obscure choice of degree give me exactly.

Well our speaker summed it up rather well.  Sir Christopher Frayling was being made a Doctor of Letters at our ceremony and addressed the congregation afterwards.  He seems to be one of those men that are a bit like Unilever -they've secretly been involved in so many things that you were never really aware that they were there- but when he opened his speech by cramming Doctors Hyde, Frankenstein, Cyclops, Mabusa, No, Strangelove and Who respectively into his opening two sentences and making a Dalek joke I decided immediately that I liked him!  Not to go on first impressions, but you can't really take a disliking to a man whose personal motto is "Perge scelus mihi diem perficias" (translation: Proceed varlet, and let the day be rendered perfect for my benefit) (translation:  Go ahead, punk, make my day!)  *

His view on the subject was that the percieved tension doesn't really exist, or at least it shouldn't.  The arts, for all their hoighty-toighty reputation, do something that not all degrees do -teach you to think for yourself.  Anyone can learn facts given enough time, anyone can parrot information, and these things are good.  But being an art student means having a different challenge thrown at you every week.  It means learning to be comfortable with instability, thinking your way around problems for yourself.  Taking the initiative, organising the world around you, and making things.  Creating.  Bringing things into existance that weren't there before, arguing and holding debate, and questioning the world around you.  It's not just about learning, it's about learning how to do.
Looking back on the last three years at first I was a little surprised to find it was all suddenly over, and you don't think of it as an achievement immediately because it was just something you did at the time, but now I think about it he's right.  We have worked damn hard, all of us.  We've pulled all-nighters, cried and partied together, collected a vast array of injuries and proved ourselves intrepid.  We deserve this.

*If, for some bizarre reason, you want to watch that ceremony in full, it will be available here for two of weeks following this post.  I make my brief appearance around 32 mins in, and Christopher Frayling's spot starts at 43 mins, beginning with him being presented for Doctor of Letters.

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