Kate Buckley had a lengthy career as a school teacher before starting a degree in 3D Contemporary Craft at York College. Her burgeoning artistic career is in part due to the support she has received from her tutor, Ed Poxon. This is a longer version of the article that first appeared in inTuition issue 31.
I’m originally from North Wales and following a teaching degree at York St John College (now York St John University) I taught for 25 years in middle schools and primary schools in and around Greater Manchester and Yorkshire.
I loved teaching but gradually, increasing curriculum expectations and time constraints meant that spontaneity and children’s enthusiasm had no space in primary education. In the end I felt de-skilled and demoralised.
I left education as it was making me unhappy, it had changed from being child-focused. At the same time, my brother died and my mother was diagnosed with dementia. It was a huge shock, and made me evaluate what I wanted from life.
I had wanted to do an art and foundation course after my A levels, but had been encouraged into a more academic direction by my parents. But I don’t honestly think I would have developed as an artist or achieved as much if I had not had to wait 30 years to do it.
Through project critiques and tutorials, Ed has ensured I have stayed away from complacency or the easy option and he has pushed me to test myself and see how far I could take my ideas.
He encouraged me to apply for exhibitions and art competitions and helped me work through the application process. As a result, I have shown work in several art galleries in Yorkshire and won a prize in a national higher education art competition. His support has helped me gain confidence in my abilities and to see myself, and my capabilities, with a clearer vision.
Ed has passion for, and a huge depth of knowledge, about art, design and the creative industry and a story to back every idea up. It’s important to carry a notebook when you meet him as he throws out useful names, processes, concepts and artists almost as an aside.
Ed’s approach to education is similar to the philosophy of Josef Albers, the influential artist and educator, who said that education is not first giving answers, but giving questions. Ed encourages students to find out for themselves. He relates project work to the craft industry and brings in outside specialist knowledge to help inform our understanding. He is constantly emailing craft industry opportunities to students.
I can’t speak for all teachers, but I think I make a good student. As a teacher you are continually self-evaluating yourself. In many ways it is what makes teaching the hardest profession.
At the root of everything I do is a fascination with materials, processes and concepts. I have set myself the highest standards in this degree and I now see myself as an artist, designer and craft-maker. My goal is to continue developing and to take my work in new directions.
In my experience teachers don’t tend to make great students, and this includes myself. Often teachers are like experienced car mechanics who drive terrible cars knowing they can fix it when it really breaks down.
But Kate is an ideal student in that she has a real sense of inquisitiveness and curiosity. Her enthusiasm and enjoyment in creating original artwork is infectious.
Kate uses research to inform her personal creativity and, by her own admission, she has a terrible memory and so writes everything down. This has the dual effect of being able to challenge things tutors have said before and it allows her to question in order to draw out deeper truths from the teaching and support staff. This is often done with a self-deprecating sense of humour which extends into her 3D work.
As a craft practitioner I am hands-on in that there are always traditional ways of creating work in any material or materials, and this is usually born out of success. I also believe that students should be allowed time to build tacit knowledge of a process, and that traditions can change and need to be challenged.
I like the Jean Cocteau quote “you cannot make art with theory”. I have heard tutors talk about the right way to throw a pot. A better question for me is “is there a right way for you to throw a pot?” And only by reflective practice will you find out what that is. Successful students become reflective practitioners.
This should be informed by looking at other artists and designers, but ultimately the work then becomes yours. In doing this the students develop a visual vocabulary and language. The subtlety and nuance of this language becomes the finesse that makes individual work outstanding.
Mastery for me can be a misleading concept in that many of my favourite craftspeople and designers, who could be said to be masters of their craft, talk about the continuous process of learning about their chosen material and process. Teaching for me is feedback or feed forward and has to include an element of self and peer assessment.
After completing my degree at Bath Academy of Art in 1986, I had several jobs including working for Kodak and as an interior designer. My first full-time teaching post was at North East Worcestershire (NEW) College Redditch as course leader of a HND Ceramics course.
After this I took an associate lecturer post at Coventry University, but I missed the range of students that exist in FE and HE colleges. I then moved to York College to take over the HND in Craft, and helped turn it into a full degree.
In addition to a degree in art, I have a City and Guilds certificate in adult education. I am currently in the middle of a self-funded, part-time MA in Design at York St John University.
I’m on the steering Committee of the Centre of Ceramic Art and this helps keep me in touch with current practice. We also have an alumni of designer makers who come back and keep us all up-to-date with the markets and concepts. Industrial contacts and live projects are also important elements that inform my practice, and the development of the course. I am also an external examiner for another degree course and this helps to give a wider perspective.
At the college one of the most successful professional development schemes involves communities of practice. This enables staff who would never normally work together to generate new ideas for teaching and learning.
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