A siren call

The inspiration for Blank Canvas (Strange, 2022) came from my career as a musician and educator. I have circled the industry as a musician and producer across all genres. I was brought up with popular musicians who were educated through the art school system. From my research, art pedagogues sought inspiration from a diverse range of areas – the science of plants to cybernetics, philosophers, politics, visual and auditory creatives.

What is Blank Canvas?

It contains four points: hierarchies, process, experimentation and relationships.

I interviewed a range of art school inspired creatives from Brian Eno, his teacher Roy Ascott, through Stephen Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire) and Gina Birch (the Raincoats) to Pauline Black (the Selector) and Bill Drummond (KLF), who wrote an art school inspired play for me. Not all art schools were radical but these successful artists caught the coattails of postmodern experimental and conceptual thought.

Blank Canvas refers to occupying a blank state – coming from a position where the personal self is maximised without interference from schooling. Art students get that. Music students tend towards conservatism. Visual artists innovate rather than imitate. As an example, Gavin Bryars, in association with Eno, Clive Langer and a smattering of art students, created the Portsmouth Sinfonia, the ‘worst orchestra in the world’. Its brilliance lay in the fact that everyone was trying to be great but the combination of lapsed and random musicians created a cacophony which was recently heard to powerful effect in EEAAO – multiverses splitting into fractals, breaking glass, falling beautifully apart.

Art school encouraged an exploration of the self: Roy Ascott (tutor for Eno and Pete Townshend) paired students to develop personality testing games; they then had to enact the opposite of their discovered characteristics i.e Eno talked a lot so he had to be silent, whilst Townsend was wheeled around in a trolley as he was hyperactive. For Ascott, art school pedagogy wasn’t about copying a Mondrian or Renoir but about exploring individual and group expression.

Gina Birch is currently undergoing a renaissance as a painter and musician, with London exhibitions and a music release playlisted by 6 Music. She lives and breathes art school, has done since her teenage years at Nottingham then Hornsey (Middlesex) where she discovered her people, embracing DIY, conceptual art skills and unfettered self expression..

Current music education would benefit from investigating the ethos and ideas brought during the art school heyday, utilising visual art pedagogical practices that centred on conceptual thought and cross subject interconnection could be an element towards the unlocking of a creative jam besetting the current music industry, redefining a new year zero for 21st century popular music. Viva la punk ethos.

Blank Canvas: Art school creativity from punk to new wave is available here:


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