Student stories: Sarah-Jane Field - The Open College of the Arts
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Student stories: Sarah-Jane Field

Just over six years ago, after a momentous and destabilising life-changing event, I signed up for a course called The Art of Photography with the Open College of Arts (OCA). At the time I had no intention of putting in for assessment or going on to do a degree. I wasn’t sure what I wanted from the course. I only knew that I was interested in studying photography further having completed an online course elsewhere, which was predominantly camera-related, covering f-stops, histograms and speedlight settings. 

Some photographers told me to simply get out there and find work, and to learn on the job. Had I wanted to be a wedding photographer that might have been good advice, especially considering I was in my 40s and actually needed to earn a living. Thankfully, I ignored the study-naysayers and forged ahead into the world of art and academia. 

By the time I completed the first module, which with my tutor’s encouragement was submitted for assessment, I was clearer about what I could achieve by studying with the OCA. I signed up for Understanding Visual Culture next because the description I’d read was teeming with names I’d heard mentioned by clever people, but who I didn’t know much about. Names like Derrida, Lacan and Deleuze. For some people these heavy-hitters are anathema, but I’m afraid it turns out I’m a bit of a sucker for dead French philosophers. And then, as I was introduced to semiotics, phenomenology and structuralism, I became more and more enamoured, especially when I learnt about female philosophers Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray. I started to worry that I was on the wrong course, but another module or so later, I became determined to finish what I had started. And I’m glad I did. Had I left at any point, perhaps switching to a traditional bricks and mortar course, I would not have learnt as much. 

The time taken to get through the degree might be seen as a luxury, but with three kids to bring up and part-time work, I could not have done it any other way. It also gave me the opportunity to experiment and head off in strange directions, which is less likely to have happened over a shorter period. What’s more, I have been lucky with tutors who have all supported my various meanderings. I could not have asked for a more positive experience. And even better, I have met talented and supportive fellow students who have become good friends. OCA students, especially those beyond the first couple of modules, understand the risks each of us takes and can appreciate our efforts, even if they’re not drawn to a particular genre or style. I’m not sure I could have got this far without the peer support I’ve had. Studying also gave me the confidence to step outside the OCA, to meet people and become friends with artists at different stages of their careers. 

I began this blog by touching on the personal difficulties I was experiencing when I started with the OCA. As I head towards the end of my degree, with a finish-line in sight I did not envisage in 2014, I am pleased to say that life is more manageable nowadays. Studying has, without any doubt, been an integral part of healing for me. And when I look at early OCA work, for example My Mother’s Name is Eve, there are similar questions and inquiries to the ones I’m asking now. But what a difference a six-year period of study makes!

From My Mother’s Name is Eve (2015)

Visit my online installation why is there an astronaut in a field of flowers/ to find out more about my final OCA project.

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Posted by author: Sarah-Jane Field
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12 thoughts on “Student stories: Sarah-Jane Field

  • Your work has been a constant source of inspiration for me. My decision to start studying with the OCA was confirmed, in part, after finding your photography online and thinking: wow. I always guessed you’d be someone to watch. And I was right. Congratulations, S-J!

    • Thanks so much, Andy. That’s such an encouraging comment to read. Good luck with all your coursework – I think you’re completing the degree soon too?

  • The continuous development in your work, always probing, always asking more questions of yourself has been an undoubted inspiration. You finished up in a really important place and it’s totally deserved, Realising your talent ‘later in life’ is so challenging, but you have really gone and done it! Congratulations and all the very best in the future!

  • well done and many congrats to go through and with the challenges all along your journey. I was and still am honoured to have being part of your journey since you invited me for a collaboration on ‘Self & Other’ at times we both perhaps didn’t know well how this would evolve. With being my UVC star, I do appreciate your energy and creative intensity that resonates so well . All the best with your upcoming new intensities xx

  • Brilliant! Great to read about your journey and course experience Sarah- Jane. Thanks for sharing this here and at your recent very well-attended talk! I really recommend anyone who hasn’t seen it yet to visit your online installation. What’s next for you?

    • Thanks, Dan. And for your speedy responses these last few weeks with various requests from me. Watch this space re. what’s next… !

  • Intrigued, I took a look at flowers trampled by astronauts. The work is astonishing and unsettling, yet also inspirational. It is about as far removed from The Art of Photography* as you can imagine. The difference is the result of what you did imagine, of how you evolved that, then interpreted it for the rest of us. Whatever persuaded you to persevere beyond TAoP was the nucleus of what we see here: a drive to set your internal creativity and imagination all the way up to 11. * For anyone who isn’t familiar with TAoP module, think yourselves very lucky.

    • I do so love your ‘flowers trampled by astronauts’ line! It made me laugh out oud. Thank you for taking the time to visit – I might have to nick your words, ‘astonishing, unsettling and inspirational’, in any more publicity aimed at driving people to the site. I’m so glad you think so.

      Poor old TAoP – I sometimes feel a little protective of it. Although I am sure its replacement is excellent and much improved, I got so much out of working through it with Andrew Conroy as my tutor – saying that, I constantly took liberties with the language in the course document, and was routinely told by me peers, “that’s not what you were meant to do” (and I always did it anyway, even though that often felt quite terrifying)!

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