Hannah Mosley: Master and Apprentice Dynamics in Contemporary Practice

This month we welcomed as our guest speaker Hannah Mosley, who we have been looking forward to hearing from for some months now.

Hannah’s background is as an illustrator, however she has recently taken up an apprenticeship as a tattoo artist and it is her experiences of developing skills and practice in this field that led to the focus of her talk; the role of master and apprentice in contemporary creative practice.


Hannah began by posing a question to group members; how did you acquire your most valued skill? She set this against a background example of the tattoo industry which, despite coming from a history of strict and revered Japanese masters and a strong tradition of harsh relationships with long suffering apprentices, can now be apparently ‘learned’ via online video tutorials. Recognising that her own apprenticeship sits somewhere in the middle of these extremes, Hannah guided the conversation to a discussion of differences between traditional institutionalised learning and ‘on the job’ training, including the various pros and cons of theory versus practice.
Coming from a less mainstream (yet increasingly accepted) field, there was also a fair bit of eager but friendly interrogation from the group around the practicalities of tattooing; what is the difference between holding a pen and a tattoo gun? Would you agree to tattoo a face? Did you practice on anything before starting on a person? One of the most fundamental observations with relation to the realities of tattooing came from a comparison with Hannah’s earlier illustration work, which was largely digital. Recognising that there is no such facility as an ‘undo’ function in tattooing, perhaps underlines the importance of learning practical skill in such an area!

One concept that arose from this was that of a skills exchange between the teacher and the student; Hannah initiated her apprenticeship placement after learning that her mentor was keen to learn Photoshop skills, something she was able to provide. This led to a common consensus in the group that an ideal educational experience always involved some give and take and that teachers should be constantly learning from their students just as students should be asking themselves what they could bring to the relationship. This came back, I felt, to the idea of an apprentice being someone who earns the respect and trust of their mentor by demonstrating a willingness to carry out necessary but less glamorous jobs; recognising the need for such tasks and exemplifying a commitment to their chosen discipline with a willingness to work long and hard to achieve their ambitions. This is not something that on reflection I feel necessarily excludes self-taught development, however it certainly does negate the possibility of a ‘quick fix’, X Factor style, overnight success that certain examples at the online video tutorial end of Hannah’s example spectrum seem to suggest possible (no doubt to cash in on). 

Conversation eventually evolved into a discussion of perceptions of the modern artistic ‘elite’ juxtaposed against a more traditional, ‘purist’ perspective which prioritises aesthetic value and technical skill over conceptual interventions that require verbose (and questionable) artists’ statements to decode. It was eventually agreed that in creative areas (whose main goal is arguably communication of ideas) the ability to simply explain your concept could be applied as a litmus test of your own integrity. Despite a suggestion that this could be true of any area, it was eventually conceded that this should not always be applied to scientific disciplines which may lose significant details in the process of simplification.


Conversations continue as James shows David some of his textile work
As conversation stopped to allow some further peer support around website construction (James Sharp is currently building a new site), the rest of the group broke off into little discussions which reminded me of a rather focused cocktail party. This hasn’t really happened before, so while I am unable to report on the contents of those discussions I was very glad to observe that people had plenty to discuss!Though the focus of this month was Hannah’s talk as outlined, It would be remiss of me to end without mentioning that we also welcomed some new faces along, whom I hope very much will return to share their practices with us a standard CRITgroup session in the future. David and Shirley Hammond were very welcome new friends, along with Nick and Ahamani who came with Hannah. We hope to see them all again in the near future! Thank you to everyone who participated in a very enjoyable and dynamic session with lots of content and only a little tight on time!We have another talk next month from Jo Scorah who will be sharing her sculptural textiles with us on October the 31st. I may even be persuaded to provide some appropriate treats though we’ll certainly aim to avoid anything too tricky!
Written by Annabeth.