A couple of interesting things made their way on to my horizon since my first post here a few days ago.
They’ve certainly helped crystallise a little where I’m going with this, and in different ways have brought to life a really key element of the idea I hinted at before: that of the fear of making mistakes.
Depending on your point of view, the fact that these examples crossed my path is either serendipity, or just evidence that we notice more clearly things that underline our existing point of view. Whatever it was, for now I’ll take it as a signal that I’m on the right lines here. Give something a go, and things start to fall into place
The frst event was the shortly after posting. I was browsing through TED, and happened across what I now know to be one of the most famous TED talks ever – that by Sir Ken Robinson, educationalist and specialist in creativity.
His critique of existing education systems is insightful, devastating, and hilarious. He quotes Picasso’s idea that all children are artists; the challenge is remaining as an artist into adulthood. He talks about the idea of creativity as the courage to be wrong. For, to be different, by definition you need to do something that hasn’t been tried or thought of before. This feels risky to most of us. And this is largely because as it exists now, education sandardises rather than inspires. It fosters the idea of a very narrow, conventional idea of intelligence, and encourages children to aspire merely to being the same as everyone around them. The only – and rather depressing – conclusion seems to be that creativity is something we grow out of, rather than in to.
Think about that for a minute. The very thing that business, organisations, society purport to want, the approach that would help us innovate and improve – creativity – is the thing that is most systematically eradicated from the way individuals think and behave.
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Told you it was devastating.
This idea coalesced even more a couple of days later, when I was talking to my wife. Over recent months she’s been attending an art class on a Saturday morning. She’s painting, and has recently had to select a new subject. Conversation in the class turned to different approaches to the picture being attempted. The teacher – reassuringly strong French accent, smoker, red wine drinker – was very clear, not to say prescriptive. Initially it sounded like the kind of standardised, didactic hell described earlier.
What he was advocating, though, was far closer to the Picasso / Sir Ken approach. It was no good, he admonished some students, zooming in on small, defined areas of the picture, hoping to build the painting from the inside. Good art, he said, is all about intent: what are you trying to achieve, how are you going to articulate it. The painter needs an idea of the painting in its entirety, from the outset: its physical parameters; the staging; the beginning, middle and end. The painting needs definition at the start, a bold statement that sets out the narrative of its creation.
People who don’t have this sense of their work stay in a small, constrained space, where it’s safe, manageable, and where you can remain in control of the situation. People without this sense of their own work fear the big gesture, and won’t risk the grand stroke that you can’t take back. They fear its indelibility.
Real artists don’t run away from the need to make their mark on their canvas