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Saturday, 28 September 2013

Barely controlled chaos

Having successfully completed the portfolio preparation course, and been offered a coveted undergraduate place at Glasgow School of Art, my dyslexic son, whose reward for 12 years of schooling was three Standard Grades, a swimming certificate and a bad attitude to adults, has been asked to deliver a presentation to the new intake of fresh-faced, aspiring artists.

It's a massive leap beyond anything he's ever done. But he seems cool with it. "I know what I'm going to say," he tells me, in the kitchen of his Garnethill flat, as he rustles us up some pasta and quick-fried sprouting seeds.

"In the morning you make a list of things to get done during the day. You mostly ignore it. But it's there to stop you floating off and writing wee poems on banana skins."

"What kind of idiot would do that?" I say, having a fair idea of the answer.

"I was completely lost one day," he says. "Hadn't a clue what to do next. So when I'd written on the bananas I got yellow tape and stuck it all over my face. Then I went home."

He looks out the window at the steep banking, overgrown with grass, that passes for a garden in these parts. "I've had better days," he says.

"Worse too, I'd imagine," I say.

"Oh yeah," he says. "It's ups and downs as an artist. You have to like the rollercoaster."

Grabbing the frying pan, he decants a heap of still-sizzling seeds onto my small pile of penne pasta. "This is a great way to get good food fast," he says. "Bit of olive oil, dash of soy sauce, salt and pepper, fry for a few minutes. Fantastic."

"So what else are you going to tell the new intake?" I ask. "You want my help, by the way? I've been doing presentations forever."

"Nah, I've got it covered," he says. "If you're doing art, I'm going to tell them, you get lost all the time. How you deal with it is the thing.

"Some students in our class kept asking what they should do next. But that's not what the tutors are there for. Their job is to create an atmosphere of barely controlled chaos. And give you paint."

As I masticate his mung beans and pasta, and savour the surprisingly satisfying mélange of curly, crunchy, soft and squishy, I ponder this core message he's planning to convey. I'm not sure "barely controlled chaos" will go down well with the Art School staff.

But my experience is engineering, so I know about people, politics, deadlines and delivering. I know nothing about the art worldHe does. Or seems to now. 

"Will they be happy with you saying that?" I ask.

"Yeah," he says. "They told me I'd got it, when I was doing the course. They said I was one of the key students, a benchmark."

He tosses this off casually. But to someone who got plenty of pain at school and very little pleasure, that has to feel good.

As I listen to him speak with some authority, I realise it also feels good to a dad who attended untold meetings of teachers, psychologists and school management, none of whom had a good word to say about the lad for 12 long years.

"Nice that, intit?" he says, nodding to my emptying plate.

"Lovely," I say. "Must try making it myself. So you were a benchmark?"

"Yeah," he says. "The tutors would quite often say, 'Take a look at what Dougie is doing'. Or rather 'Duggie', because they're English and can't say 'Dougie'."

"Did that annoy you?" I ask.

"Nah," he says. "I answer to anything - Doug, Doog, Duggie, Dougie, Dingly, Dongly. It creates confusion. I like confusion."

"Me too," I say. "A benchmark? Well, well. That sounds great. Is it something to do with you being a long, flat piece of wood?"

He laughs. "That'll be it," he says, picking up my empty plate and dumping it in the sink.

"Just call me 'Duggie the plank.'"

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