Assignment Two

In this assignment I am to choose a piece of text by a contemporary author that explores time and/or place. I am then to carry out a close reading of it and write about my response, interpretation and feelings about the writing and its themes. I am also to mention: plot, structure, character, narrator, point of view, language and language techniques, as well as possible themes of time and place. (Word limit – 1500)

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale. Chapter 1 Page 1

The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year. Across the city, when children wake to see ferns of white stretched across their windows, or walk to school to hear ice crackling underfoot, the whispers begin: the Emporium is open! Christmas is coming, and the goose is getting fat … If, at a certain hour on a certain winter night, you too had been wandering the warren between New Bond Street and Avery Row, you might have seen it for yourself. One moment there would be darkness, only the silence of shops shuttered up and closed for business. The next, the rippling snowflakes would part to reveal a mews you had not noticed before–and, along that mews, a storefront garlanded in lights. Those lights might be but pinpricks of white, no different to the snowflakes, but still they would draw your eye. Lights like these captivate and refract the darkness. Lights like these can bewitch the most cynical of souls. Watch out, because here one such soul comes, hurrying out of the night. He is a barrel of a man, portly to those who would look on him kindly, corpulent to those who would not. Outside the Emporium, he stops and gazes up, but this is not the first time he has been enchanted by these lights, so he steps through the door to be met by the whirlwind smells of cinnamon and star anise. Ribbons of navy blue stream apart and, in the vaulted ceiling above, miniature bells tinkle, spiriting up memories he has tried hard to forget: sleigh rides through parks too painful to remember, wassailing on the village green, Christmases in better, more innocent times. (Words 280)

This was an easy extract to choose for this exercise. I read a lot so am accustomed to good writing, even so, on reading this first page of ‘The Toymakers’ I was immediately entranced. I recall at the time actually noting how remarkably swiftly the author had constructed a sense of time and place. Months later on reaching this exercise in the course manual, I knew exactly which book to use.

The extract is longer than the instructions in the assignment, it proved to be awkward to edit down. The initial lines are essential to setting the season and atmosphere, the last few lines provide more depth to the character and situation, because of this I chose to keep both end of it and just use a longer extract.

The first theme which I notice in this extract is ‘Time’. The reader is immediately made aware that the narrative is set in a previous era, this is made clear in a variety of ways. The very first words of the extract, ‘The Emporium’, conjure up images of antiquity and discovery. Language choice as the passage continues, for example ‘first frost of Winter’, further this themes establishment. Word choices such as ‘mews’ ’emporium’ ‘garlanded’ and ‘corpulent’ are not in such common use anymore. They speak of an older era, possibly Victorian, it brings to mind the kind of architecture that is traditionally on the front of Christmas cards. It took me a while to figure out what Dinsdale had done with his approach to the language used. It didn’t seem to be old English, but at the same time, it is not as casual as the wording in contemporary novels. I eventually realised that he had just chosen to use correct English without any shortenings. For example, ‘It is the same every year’ vs ‘It’s the same every year’. This technique gives the whole text a flavour of coming from a different era but without alienating the modern reader. References to traditional Christmas elements such as the fattening of the goose, and ‘wassailing on the village green’ which are no longer mainstream all conspire to whisk the reader back to a world we quite often only see depicted on the front of Christmas cards.

Much like in the excerpt of The Road there is a man character who provides our focal point without actually being introduced to us or saying anything. The sense of ‘Time’ is so strong in this extract that by the time the character is introduced he comes automatically clothed (for me) in a long coat and a top hat. Possibly even clutching a walking cane he strides onto the scene so clearly that I can see it as if it were the opening shot of a film. Dressed as he is as in something you would expect from the Edwardian/Victorian era, this brings me to the second strong theme in this extract, ‘Place’.

We are given a location, ‘the warren between New Bond Street and Avery Row’, which to most readers will say ‘London’. A maze of streets, dark, full of swirling snow, this is an easy thing to ask a reader to picture. We can already imagine walking through the snow having been primed by the authors previous mention of ‘ice crackling underfoot’. As we, with the character described, see the lights garlanding our destination we are even told how they make us feel, how they draw us in. This is a clever use of language to manipulate the readers engagement and something which it took me quite a few read-throughs to notice. The lights are mentioned four times within four consecutive sentences. this intentional repetition reinforces the visualisation.

The third theme which I noticed is ‘Emotion’. At the start of the extract the author begins to remind us of the excitement that is felt in the run-up to Christmas. Most people have happy recollections of Christmas no-matter what their individual variation of it actually looks like. By staying traditional and generic with his use of festive references Dinsdale allows every reader to interpret these emotional triggers with their own details. When I was small we never had a goose, and my parents routinely chose the more practical approach of cooking a mass of legs and breasts as opposed to a whole bird. Despite this the mere mention or sight of a goose roast dinner sends my inner child giddy at the prospect of Christmas and all it’s associated fun. All these early references are designed to trigger positive emotions. On sighting The Emporium with its garlands of light we are instructed on how to react, we are told that we are ‘captivated’, ‘bewitched’ and ‘drawn in’. Fairy lights are another traditionally cheerful festive association, town centres even hold events when the lights are officially switched on! It is at this point that Dinsdale introduces the contrast of the character and his emotions. Whereas the goose being described as getting fat was a positive association, the nameless man is described alternately as ‘a barrel’, ‘portly’ and ‘corpulent’. These are more negative word choices which lead into the direct contrast between the positive sights and smells of the Emporiums interior vs the negative Christmas memories that they trigger within the man.

Writing in the second person allows the narrative to further envelop the reader, it feels as though we are in the scene itself alongside the character. I think it is this factor which makes the scene so vivid for me personally. I feel like I could storyboard the beginning of this as a film quite easily. More generically the use of a second person narration allows the reader to focus on the sense of place being generated by the text, senses are stimulated through triggered memories. When these are positive memories there will be increased external buy-in. This in turn allows greater engagment when the character is introduced.

The juxtaposition of the positive Christmas atmosphere that Dinsdale has created with someone who seems to have negative attitudes towards it is designed to intrigue, what has happened to this character that he can not only withstand the positive triggers which we the reader are subjected too, but further, can give them a negative overtone? Although in such a short extract there can be no real sense of the plot of the story, the building structure of the opening has already given the reader something to discover, the reason for the mans negativity and hopefully, the pathway to his recovery.

I find Dinsdales writing, specifically the way he can create such immersive scenes, utterly enchanting. The themes are explored alongside the plot allowing the reader to pay as much attention to them as they choose. When I initially read this book I was concentrating purely on the plot line, but having completed this Part 2 of the Creative Arts Today module, and having learnt so much about particularly The Heroes Journey and poetic devices, I will certainly be reading it again soon!

Word count: 1,137

Dinsdale,R. Published 08 Feb 2018. The Toymakers. Penguin Books. United Kingdom.

Part Two

To conclude I am to write a commentary of about 500 words, drawn from my learning log and notes, reflecting on what I have learned in this part of the course and how I have put this into practice in my assignment piece.

The main thing that I have taken from this part of the module has been a greater awareness of poetic devices. I had always just assumed that poetic devices were restricted to poems themselves, now that various exercises have pointed out to me quite how obviously they are used in a variety of applications I am surprised that I have never noticed them before!

I was also intrigued to learn about how many different sort of poetic device there are and how they are key to constructing a good narrative within a novel. Since working through this module I have become more aware of what I am reading and how it has been constructed, this in turn has heightened my enjoyment of the text because now I can identify why I am finding it so immersive. Using this knowledge I was able to return to the extract of text and find a new level of appreciation for the skill with which it has been put together.

I was also surprised at how poetic some extracts of novels are when taken in isolation. I’ve never particularly liked poems, I’ve always thought of them as pointless, following this section of the module this is an opinion which I will have to re-visit.

A skill which I have learnt from this module is that of analysis or close reading. Trying to spot the different poetic devices felt like quite an enjoyable game and I’ve found myself looking for them in other items that I have been reading. It’s assisted me in identifying why I find some authors good and others not to my taste. Having learnt to carry out close reading I spent some time studying the extract properly and highlighting all the uses of poetic device that I could identify. I used the same technique to pick out where the different themes were introduced and incorporated.

When I’d successfully identified them I was able to establish a hierarchy and look for what I believe the author wanted to make most prominent. The themes of time and place were most prominent which would fit with the start of a novel. The most important thing is to establish a scene for a reader and immerse them within it before introducing the action.

I also found it interesting how much an author can say about a character without the reader knowing basic information such as a name or having witnessed any conversation. The extract from ‘The Road’ in Project 4 introduces the reader to a man and boy and through narrative device ensures that the reader forms impressions about them whilst knowing very little. This is another thing that I had never noticed before but will certainly learn from and use in my own work.


Part 2. Project 3. Exercise 1

For this exercise I am to read extracts from three poems; ‘The Herefordshire Landscape’ by Elizabeth Browning, ‘Slough’ by John Betjeman and ‘The Lost Land’ by Eavan Boland.

I am then to answer the following questions;

Which one…

  • Speaks about the place in relation to identity and exile?
  • Purely evokes a sense of place?
  • Makes a social comment about progress and place?

‘The Herefordshire Landscape’ by Elizabeth Browning.

This is my choice for ‘Which one purely evokes a sense of place?’. I chose this because within the excerpt there are only descriptions of sights and smells which relate to the subject.

‘Slough’ by John Betjeman

This is my choice for ‘Which one makes a social comment about progress and place?’. I chose this because within the excerpt there are several refences t the social situation at the time. It is clear that it is set during the war whilst Slough was being bombed. The food convoys were being attacked by the enemy so the country was highly reliant on preserved food. Living under conditions such as these affects peoples mental health which is being alluded to with the last line ‘tinned minds, tinned breath’.

‘The Lost Land’ by Eavan Boland

This is my choice for ‘Which one speaks about place in relation to identity and exile’. I chose this because of the language used by the poet. The excerpt speaks of leaving a loved land, of comparisons between that land and family.

Part 1. Project 3. Research Point

Make a list of the artists mentioned in Dean and Millars essay. Look up at least one piece by each of the artists mentioned whose work incorporates text. How many of these pieces are relevant to the theme of place and how do they reference place?

  1. Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid I’ve listed these two together as they worked together so closely that even when just one of them made an image they chose to sign them together. They created a series of paintings called ‘Peoples Choice’ where after using questionnaires by country they would identify the factors most and least wanted in a painting by that countrys demographic. Below is Americas Most Wanted. (2019). painting by numbers. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Jul. 2019].

This is relevant to the theme of place as in the majority of countries, it was a place or location which the questionnaires respondents listed as a desirable scene. It is also relevant to place as it is an accumulation of views taken from one specific geographical location. The responses will be governed by the different living conditions, economic hardships and political structures present in each particular country.

2. Graham Guissin

Blurred, Vague, Unstable
Paintings, T. and Image, M. (2019). Blurred, Vague, Unstable | Graham Gussin. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Jul. 2019].

These neon letters bolted to the wall seem to be something of a contradiction as they are neither blurred or vague nor unstable. I imagine that they could be deemed as relevant to a sense of place as something like a comment on the fleeting nature of an average lifespan and everyones quest to leave the planet, their place, in better shape than they found it. I struggle with this as I really do not see how neon lettering can be thought of as art.

3. Roni Horn

Tate. (2019). ‘Thicket No. 1’, Roni Horn, 1989-90 | Tate. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Jul. 2019].

I’ve read the blurb that accompanys this image on the Tates website. The blurb itself does not mention place at all, I had a different thought process entirely when I looked at it myself.

To me the references to place are quite heavy despite being unspecific. The nearest thing to philosophy that I have seen that I like is the old question ‘when a tree falls in a forest does it still make a sound if thee is no-one to hear it’. This piece with it’s two lines reading “to see a landscape as it is” “when I am not there” reminds me of that old question. I think of trees and forests which I love, of deforestation and the relentless spread of humaity over the planet and into the wild places which I hate. It’s quite sad.

So, for me, this piece invokes a sense of place.

4. Doug Aitken

Time for me to chew some humble pie. I’ve found a piece of contemporary art that I love.

fuck you
Putting Text Into Context. (2019). Text as object : Doug Aitken. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Jul. 2019].

For me, this piece is class. It summarises rebellious spirit, adventure and daring to push the boundaries of whats possible. In terms of place there is the obvious reference to Planet Earth, this itself refers to outer space. In terms of the viewer it took me straight back to being 18 with the world at my feet, when anything was possible. More of a time in life than a place.

5. Ian Hamilton Finlay (2019). The conflict connection | Financial Times. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Jul. 2019].

This is one of Finlays stones from his garden entitled Little Sparta. It references the Romans which immeadiatley gives the viewer a sense of context, it gives us a sense of time and place. It also makes a clear and easy to understand statment. The Romans (as Monty Python explained) did a lot for us. We have not had an era of such innovation yet which could possibly compare.

6. Alec Finlay

5 poem-objects (detail) 2012 hand embroidered linen handkerchiefs, with Jean Malone 5 parts 48 x 48 cm each (unframed); 57.5 x 57.5 cm each (framed)
Ingleby Gallery. (2019). Works | Alec Finlay: 5 poem-objects. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Jul. 2019].

This collaboration work references a sense of place in a broad sense. It gives the viewer the option of regarding where they are right now, where they were previously or where they intend to head in life. I like the idea that everything is connected, I dont think that anything is pre-ordained but I do think we can choose which route we take.

7. Marine Hugonnier (2019). Marine Hugonnier at Max Wigram London – [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Jul. 2019].

I found that with a lot of Marine Hugonniers work it was the isolation of previously established text which formed the artwork. In this example of a newspaper front page depicting the moon landing the star of the show should be the image of Neil Armstrong stood on the moons surface. Instead the text is all that remains so the viewer is forced to imagine the scenes for themselves to fill in the blanks. In this sense, we are forced to generate a sense of place for ourselves.

8. Robert Smithson

Image result for rob smithson ta heap of language
on site review. (2019). Robert Smithson: a heap of language, 1966. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Jul. 2019].

In Robert Smithsons ‘A Heap of Language’ in a very basic sense it gives me a sense of place. It visually looks like a hill and when walking in the hills I always find that they make my mind more eloquent…wordy. It vaguely reminds me of the opening sequence of Star Wars (the angle of the text) which in turn takes me back to being in our ratty local cinema. Except when it’s the only cinema you’ve ever been too and the biggest screen you’ve ever seen, it’s more of a palace. If I shut my eyes I can see the pink lights on the walls, smell the popcorn and feel the tackyness on the floor.

9. Guy Moreton

I could not locate any work by this artist that used text and referenced a sense of place. Whilst reading through his bio I did learn about a collaboration project that he carried out with Alec Finlay and Micheal Nedo entitled Ludwig Wittgenstein – There Where You Are Not. It explores landscape and the architecture of landscape, but from what I could see, without text. (2019). Guy Moreton | Biography. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jul. 2019].

10. William Blake

An artist that I have heard of! I knew that Blake was famed for being a poet but I had no idea that he also painted, exhibited at the Royal Academy and opened a print shop. I read a lot about his various work and found that he released a series of poems called ‘Songs of Innocence’. It seems that these poems were originally presented with watercolour paintings. I have not been able to locate examples of the two together but I did find the poems themselves online.

Poetry Foundation. (2019). William Blake 101 by The Editors. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jul. 2019].

11. Caspar David Friedrich

I could not find any examples of work by this artist using text which referenced a sense of place. (2019). Caspar David Friedrich – The Complete Works – Biography – [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jul. 2019].

12. John Constable

I could not find any examples of work by this artist using text which referenced a sense of place. (2019). John Constable – The Complete Works – Biography – [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jul. 2019].

13. Martin Heidigger

I could not find any examples of work by this artist using text which referenced a sense of place.

Martin Heidegger. (2019). Biography – Martin Heidegger. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jul. 2019].

14. Poussin

I could not find any examples of work by this artist using text which referenced a sense of place although I did find a large catalog of paintings which featured a lot of landscapes. (2019). Nicolas Poussin – The Complete Works – Biography – [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jul. 2019].

15. Dan Graham

I could not find any examples of work by this artist using text which referenced a sense of place.

Tate. (2019). Dan Graham born 1942 | Tate. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jul. 2019].

16. Joachim Koester

I could not find any examples of work by this artist using text which referenced a sense of place.

Koester, J. (2019). Joachim Koester. [online] Widewalls. Available at: [Accessed 18 Jul. 2019].

17. Jane Wilson

I could not find any examples of work by this artist using text which referenced a sense of place although I did find a large catalog of landscapes. (2019). Jane Wilson | artnet. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jul. 2019].

18. Jane and Louise Wilson

I wasnt sure which Jane Wilson I was supposed to be looking at so I also checked out the work of the identical twins Jane and Louise Wilson. Again, I could not find any examples of work that included text and referenced Place. (2019). Jane and Louise Wilson – 32 Artworks, Bio & Shows on Artsy. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jul. 2019].

19. Alexander Maris

I struggled to find a decent information source for Alexander Maris. From what I can see he is primarily a photographer and does not appear to use text in his work.

CULTURAL POLITICS. (2019). CULTURAL POLITICS. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jul. 2019].

20. Susan Maris

Again I struggled to find a good information source for Susan Maris. On one website under ‘biography’ all it said was “Alexander and Susan Maris is an artist” ! There is evidence of photographic work attributed to both the Maris’s but no solo work that I can see, and nothing that uses text.—Susan-Maris/E1D4F8F159634F66/Biography

21. Mette Tronvoll

On exploring the artists website I found that she has a lot of photographs which give a sense of place but none that use text. (2019). Mette Tronvoll–Biography. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jul. 2019].

I found this exercise quite frustrating. Although it was interesting looking at the different artists work and learning some new things, to find that so many of them do not use text initially made me think that I wasn’t reading around enough. After spending a couple of days exploring different sources and satisfying myself that my initial impressions were correct I do not feel that what I have submitted for this research point reflects the amount of time I have put into it.

But, on a positive note, I’ve found some Contemporary Art that I quite like. I’ll be looking at more of Doug Aitkens work at a later date.

Part 1. Project 3. Place In Art

“…there are more concepts of place than actual geographic ones’’ (Dean and Millar, 2005, p12)  What does this mean?

My initial response to this one question perfectly sums up what I’m struggling with with this section of the module. Although I know exactly what the authors are getting at with that statement, my initial thoughts were that there are an awful lot of places in the world and that I doubt they could come up with enough theoretical notions to beat the list I could make after just ten minutes with an atlas.

What the authors are trying to put across is that there are many different uses of the word place. I’m currently working out of the country, everyday for 2 weeks I have sat in the same chair at the communal meal time. Initially it was just a chair, now it’s my place which is left free for me. When I first arrived here my initial actions were to put my own photos on the wall and to swap the institutional bedding for some that I brought with me, doing that turned it from a faceless room into my place. Another example is the feeling of relief that I have on returning to the UK from working abroad or even holidays. Although other places are nice, England is where I belong, it is my place.

Place doesn’t have to be a physical location, it can be a notion or a mindset or even a memory attached to a set of circumstances which make it relevant to an individual.

Part 1. Project 2. ‘Entrance: Place- The First Of All Things’ Pages 13-14

In this task I am to read an extract from ‘Entrance: Place- The First Of All Things’ and make some notes about how closely related time and place are, in particular when I experience work at an exhibition.

Time and Place are two things that I had never considered together until beginning this module. When I read the two designated pages what struck me most was what the authors state on Pg 14 ‘When space feels thoroughly familiar to us, it has become place’. This is very true and not something I had considered before.

Contents of art works often represent either time or place or a combination of the two. When looking at pieces of art I often find myself transported to a different place either of memory or imagination, this can often go hand in hand with losing track of time in my present location!

I find I’m struggling to generate any further thoughts on these two themes. From having a brief look at other previous students learning logs I see that people have written reams of rather philosophical responses but I’m just not wired up to think in that way.