An Educational Journey
I was lucky. My father always supported my art studies and painting, hiring very good painting instructors for me from age 9 (the Baltimore-based Spanish neo-classical artist, Ceasar Villacres, and a series of lessons from the NY-based Dutch New Realism painter Roger Van Damm when I was 15). He challenged me to go to university and ‘prove myself,’ even when, for years, that wasn’t my plan at all. It was always a deep desire, but it took me until I was 47 to actually go back to university and give myself to it, complete my BA, then go on to an MA, an MPhil and a PhD, with all the graduate degrees from English universities (York and UCL). (I had heretofore only attended Jr. or Community College night classes while working a full-time job, although years later all the credits ended up being transferable to the University of Victoria, CA.)
I was always self-supporting, and until the scholarships and my Marie Curie PhD Fellowship kicked in, it was hard going. I worked part time and went to school full-time on student loans. My father’s goad was always there, at the back of my mind, driving me alongside my own natural drive for knowledge and recognition, and he was so proud when I’d got the MA. He died before seeing me get the rest, or my publications. He knew I was intelligent and thought I could do anything.
Encouragers along the way included Sylvia Skelton, who edited my pre-degree 2nd solo-authorship book, The Journey of the Bard, and rendered the comment that the study was worthy of a Masters degree — not to me, but to her daughter, Alison, my great friend and supporter, who told me about the comment right away — and I thought, “Ok then. Why not”? The other great proponent for the idea of me going to university was Georgia Nichols, the Vancouver-based astrologer, who holds a degree in film-making from Oxford, and told me she wanted ME to go to Oxford. (I tried, for my Ph.D., but they had no one who could advise me on my topic. The only one who could was the great art historian Joseph Leo Koerner at UCL, then the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, now Harvard, who became my mentor, supporter and friend, and who has very kindly written the Foreword for my book, ‘Abject Eroticism in Northern Renaissance Art,’ coming out from Bloomsbury on November 26th.)
I’d had a reading from Georgia for my 45th birthday, and she told me (probably based on my Mars in Scorpio and my Sun in the 8th House) that higher education and intensive research was my “sandbox.” She said it would be where I played best. When I enrolled at UVic two years later I called up her mum and asked her to tell Georgia that her advice had helped propel me back to school. Which made her mum proud of her. After I got my first masters degree, I was able to teach art history at the post-secondary level, which — next to being a writer — is my best use as a human this life, so…. No regrets.