Decades of impact: TAD292 lives on

TAD292 Art and environment (1976-85) was a distinctive course chaired by Simon Nicholson (1934-1990) who had studied at the Royal College of Art, London, and the University of Cambridge and between 1964 and 1971 taught at the University of Berkeley, California. It sought to develop ‘strategies for creative work’ and it dealt with

the processes and attitudes of art not so much as these were evidenced in products of art but as they underlie the very act of doing art. This can be seen already from the titles which were given to some of the units in the course: ‘Boundary Shifting’, ‘Imagery and Visual Thinking’, ‘Having Ideas by Handling Materials’.

TAD292 students were offered a range of projects on this 30-point course. These included the suggestion that the student stop activity and engage in listening. Another was to compose a score for sounds made from differently textured papers and a third was to enumerate the household’s activities and categorise these in terms of role and sex stereotyping. The aims of the course were attitudional, sensory and subjective rather than cognitive, relating to feeling rather than knowledge. They were ‘more phenomenological than conceptual in nature’. Assessment involved a student not only submitting the product, such as a self-portrait photograph, but also notes describing the process and rationale. The criteria were not specific but involved formulations including enthusiasm, imagination and authenticity. See Philippe C. Duchastel, ‘TAD292 – and its challenge to Educational Technology’, Programmed Learning & Educational Technology, 13, 4, October 1976, pp. 61-66. The course received considerable publicity. In 1976 The World  At One, a BBC radio news programme, reported on TAD292 at one summer school:

Bizarre games and happenings formed a part of experimental residential course for a group of students at Sussex University. They were encouraged to make prints of various parts of their bodies. Some made bare bottom prints, other dragged rubbish through the streets and one group appeared to be aimlessly kicking a giant rugby ball about.

This was used as part of a report on the TAD292 Summer School at Sussex on Open Forum, 31, 1976. Recording made available through The Open University Archive. Others took up this matter. The Times Higher Education Supplement headline was ‘OU students get behind on project’. Students on the course were so enthusiastic about it they formed a society, Tadpoles, to ‘share skills, experiences, ideas and knowledge of creativity and personal growth’.  It is still going strong. They organised a camp at which they developed the learning and activities associated with the OU summer schools. Soon an annual camp was instituted and the Tadpoles arranged a system of offering accommodation to one another, held weekend events at their own homes and travelled abroad together. There is an account here. One Tadpole who is still involved said, in recent interview, that

it was just being in another reality for a weekend when you went away.  We’d all go and meet in each other’s houses and it was like so much of ordinary life was suspended… There was always an element of creativity

Now there is a further spin off from this course. Artist Olivia Plender (born 1977) has become interested in the TAD292 TV programmes. They are being reshown as part of her installation, Rise Early, Be Industrious in the Long Gallery, Milton Keynes Gallery, 900 Midsummer Blvd, Milton Keynes MK9 3QA. This is very near to the theatre. The television can be seen in the middle of the image used on this posting. The gallery is open six days a week (details here) and the exhibition will be there until 17 June 2012. It will then be travelling to the Arnolfini Gallery Bristol and the Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow. An interview with Olivia Plender filmed at the Gallery is to be archived on the Open Arts Archive.

The exhibition is supported by Milton Keynes Museum with help from The Open University. Olivia Plender has received support from the National Lottery through Arts Council England. The interview with a former TAD292 student is one of a number for a project about them which has been funded by the Society for Research into Higher Education.

For another recollection of TAD292 see here

8 Responses to “Decades of impact: TAD292 lives on”

  1. Wendy Burrell Says:

    I’ve heard something about the TAD course from Tony – OUSA’s rep from this Society and the tales that he has to tell about the experience sound so exciting and the activities that they took part in so innovative and forward thinking that I’m not surprised that they didn’t want the experience to end after the course finished.

    And it seems that they still don’t because Tony still regales us with stories of the activities that they organise all year round after all this time.

    Must have been such an inspirational project to be a part of.
    Will definitely be catching this one at Milton Keynes Gallery so that I can report back to the Tadpole Society.

  2. Tony Whitaker Says:

    Wendy, just home from another TADCAMP, about my 25th. There were around 40 at the AGM. Dan Weinbren came for the day and interviewed several ex students.
    We agreed to have another camp next year and I continue as the OUSA Rep.
    We have a good programme of events planned for the next year.
    As the first TAD 292 Unit said “There is no beginning, there is no end”. Tony

  3. Gay Slade Says:

    This was my first OU course, as an associate before my A101. It was a true inspiration that has stayed with me ever since.

  4. Geoff Smith Says:

    Absolutely fantastic course, the memories will remain with me always

  5. Timothea Armour Says:

    Really fascinated to read about the legacy of this course, as the course itself has become an integral part of the topic of my undergraduate history of art dissertation about developments in British art in the 1970s. I’d really like to get in touch with some students of the course, to ask questions about their work and experiences. If any TAD292 students who see this would be interested in this – and wouldn’t mind doing me a huge favour with my research – then please send me an email to! Would love to hear from anyone involved, whether you have time to contribute a few small anecdotes, or have lots to say, or just have a resource to recommend where I could read more. (I have the course materials, and have found a few things on the OU archive so far…) Thank you!

  6. Mel Du Botting Says:

    Really, is it not time that people stop just extolling the virtues of this wonderful little course with its great ideals and started talking about raising a phoenix from its ashes – be it under the umbrella of the OU or not.

    TAD certainly turned my life around – and I’ve never looked back. I may not have become a great and famous artist or writer but the ‘creative fire’ unleashed by the experience burns brighter with the passing of the years.

    Creativity … and no surrender!

  7. ford crossovers Says:

    ford crossovers…

    click here for the greatest minivan around…

  8. Steve Young Says:

    This course reached the parts that other courses failed to reach(!) and I felt that I was as creatively able as anyone else after completion in 1978! I loved the course and still have a small booklet about “water and art” that was part of one unit of work and which I still quote from on occasion! TAD292 followed hot on the “new scenes” that emerged during the late 1960’s and 1970’s , the philosophies, ideas and dreams generated by the course obviously live on within a lot of those who completed it all those years ago.

Leave a Reply