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.