I am one ninth of the cohort who has just completed our MA in fine art with the OCA. Much has been made of the fact that this is a new kind of MA – a model of distance learning which has not fully been applied to fine art before, and if we are proof that such a process is possible, then all to the good for online education.
If much of the readership for this piece is already involved in studying with the OCA, then I don’t need to convince you of the great advantages of studying online, nor do I need to remind you of the limitations and challenges it also brings. If you sign up at all, then you are already a proactive person who is probably determined to find your artistic and creative voice in the midst of family, life and work. From what I understand, the MA works differently to the rest of the OCA courses in that we join as a group and all work through the assignments at the same time, so we share group crits and some collaborative projects along the way. The point of that was that we really all grew to matter to each other as a group of artists, and our understanding and development of practice was helped by sharing what we each went through within the group.
Without the support, challenge and collaboration of the group, and the critical exposure of our ideas within the group, I doubt if any of us could have got nearly so much from the MA as we did. Collaboration needn’t stray into individual art practice, but sharing ideas, intentions and questions is what makes us artists with something to communicate to the viewer. I urge anyone involved in the OCA to join in as much as they can, to create working bonds and to go outside the boundaries of the course by joining in to local and virtual groups where possible. Artwork is a conversation amongst artists and with the viewer.
As the first cohort, we signed up to four years, and subsequent groups now complete in three, thanks to tweaks in technology and course structure. However, I’d say it took us a good two years to get on the same page online, to develop levels of understandings and shorthand between us, and basically to get over all the sensitivities and miscommunication that can occur through the internet – we all know the sort of thing – people’s manner does not always translate well online. We were made very aware of that when we had visiting lecturers give a talk: they were unnerved by the silences as we switched off our microphones – we had become used to such active listening, taking turns to speak, and trusting that our words are being considered.
Completion of something is always a new beginning. TheNine are all making new beginnings – there will be exhibitions, residencies, research, teaching positions, further study and everything else possible for professional artists. And now that’s it’s all over, it seems to me that crucially the MA was not an experience of distance but a process of connection.