Drawing and Thinking

September 26, 2007

When people begin to draw, they are often blocked because they conceptualize the world through concrete symbols that represent preconceived ideas rather than visual information. To draw one has to be able to perceive abstract relationships; direction, relation, proportion, and build towards an understanding through approximations and hypotheses.

This is exactly the same with thinking; the mind has the tendency to fix the world with symbols rather than perceive it as a series of relationships and a process. In order to deal with the complexity of the world, we have to filter, reduce and schematize; react quickly to what is useful or dangerous. However, as useful as our symbols are, they inhibit our capacity to see reality and to adapt, since we begin to ‘see’ the symbols as reality. This fixing of the mind is comfortable, but reductive and dangerous, because we begin to believe that those who use other symbols are simply wrong.

Invention and creativity take flexibility and adaptability; qualities necessary for survival. Yet we seem bent on standardizing and simplifying – “MacDonaldizing”. ‘Standard Operating Procedures’ block human initiative. Even the computer, new miracle of endless possibility, becomes a master, not a tool; we submit to the algorithms that are written for us and do what the computer can do, forgetting than we have powers way beyond those of the machine.

When I hear students complain that they “didn’t study Art History in a chronological order”: that a project ”did not have a precise enough brief” and that they “cannot create until they know a program”, I am at first shocked and then intensely worried. It shows a lack of imagination and flexibility; an inability to abstract themselves from the concrete and to move outside a fixed and reduced symbolic expectation of the world.

I frequently read reports concerning the necessity of developing autonomy, creativity and adaptability in our young; that, in the face of rapid change, it is necessary to understand principles rather than content – to remain flexible. Yet all a round me I see more and more rigidity.

A letter to my students

September 14, 2007

Breaking barriers

You have chosen to work in multimedia; the most exciting, creative quickly evolving profession that exists; its cool, it rocks and it’s endlessly challenging. It has no limits other than your own imagination.

I just got my Interactive Design annual for this year (http://www.commarts.com/CA/interactive/cai07/) and there is AMAZING stuff going on; people just doing stuff and learning as they go along – because they want to: because they have something to say and because they don’t know that you are not supposed to do it like that. Ever thought of making interactive, multimedia presentations with Flash and Video content for portable devices with Acrobat? It’s out there!

And all a round me I see people putting up rules, regulations and boundaries; procedures, limits and demarcations of territory. I see students looking dissatisfied and bored. Don’t let the system get you! Don’t let it nail you down; take the fun and humour out of it. I WILL NOT be party to making this pulsating living energy into something dry, dead and boring!

How do we get so afraid; afraid of failing, of not doing it right? I learned to ski by falling down a lot, getting up and laughing and trying again – not by spending my days doing snow ploughs behind some teacher.

I caught a glimpse of myself being a boring little fart; spouting the old exam, grade procedure shit – fuck it, let go; lets have some fun!

Reshaping reality

September 8, 2007

As a teacher I have long meditated on the relationship between language form, meaning and context; on the relationship between what I say and what each student will understand, particularly since I teach in a foreign language and within a culture that has different social values to British ones; I can only teach what I know, from my perception of the world and from my experience. The student cannot learn all that I am capable of teaching because his experience will not embrace mine. The student will learn more than I will teach; he will have experiences that I do not have and create connections that I do not perceive. Learning is multidimensional and the ostensible content of a course is only a small part of the learning experience. Our capacity to learn is related directly to our perception of ourselves, to the learning situation, and to our expectations and our relationship to the teacher and other members of our group. Fear, confidence, trust or mistrust, pleasure and perceived need will all play a part in our experience.

Like life, teaching is part the application of planned theory, part the outcome of unforeseeable accidents. WE attempt to convey certain information, approaches and certain cultural references: we desire to please, be accepted and survive: this is part instinct,part just what happens in the necessity of the moment and a whole load of emotional intelligence which cannot be made explicit:
I saw that reality might not be a fixture – crudely, inescapably there – but a continuing, spontaneous enterprise of the imagination. It might be shaped, remade, revalued again and again through each act of perception, each inventive gesture of relationship.
Lindsay Clarke, The Chymical Wedding

Reminders to myself

September 7, 2007

1. Set up clear aims and requirements.
2. Pose questions to focus thinking.
3. Create groups and exchange and change them frequently.
4. Provide access to reliable information.
5. Set up specific activities to accomplish with grids of comparison.
6. Provide specific examples and illustrations.
7. Set up oppositions that lead to discussion.
8. Structure the time into units of focus.
9. Provide key points as summary.
10. Don’t talk too much!