Category Archives: Creative

The Art of Resilience

Wednesday 8th March 2017. I stood at the front of the stage, facing bright lights and about 200 people. Alongside me stood some of my art.

My friend, and conference chair Neil Usher introduced me. He said some lovely things about me, none of which I can remember!

I told the audience how nervous I was feeling. I did this as part of my coping mechanism, and also to explain that we all have a story to tell, and if I can stand there, overcome my nerves and tell my story, you can choose to do that too.

As a member of the Women’s Equality Party and with it being International Women’s Day, I felt compelled to say something about the speaker line up. I thanked Clare and Flick, the two women presenters among the line up of seventeen people, and thanked and encouraged the conference organisers to continue down this path in pursuit of a more balanced line up in future.

Introductions over, it’s time to get started. I’d been asked to deliver my session in the Pecha Kucha format. 20 slides, each one on screen for just 20 seconds. This is a tough presenting discipline, it requires a lot of planning, and distillation.

 

Here is a rough transcript of the talk:

What is resilience? In a search for the meaning of life, I approached Facebook and Twitter, asking, I say resilience, you say…?

I was overwhelmed with responses – almost all of them different. Too many to list and I hope to distil some in the next few minutes.

Writing in the New Yorker, Maria Konnikova says:

‘Whether you can be said to have resilience or not largely depends, on the way your life unfolds. If you are lucky enough to never experience any sort of adversity, we won’t know how resilient you are. It’s only when you’re faced with obstacles, stress, and other environmental threats that resilience, or the lack of it, emerges: Do you succumb or do you surmount?’

I take issue with this either or/binary approach – for me, part of resilience is being open to the possibilities. I use art in my consulting work because it invites inquiry, Its subjective nature helps us let go of our addiction to certainty.

The human brain holds many thoughts – let’s use more of them to nurture ourselves, and each other, in pursuit of better outcomes.

I’m going to briefly touch on my experience of resilience in relation to three important things.

  • Coping with loss
  • Connection and creativity
  • The beauty of impermanence

In 2012 when my Dad died, after the post death rush of the funeral, I tried to get over the loss. The harder I tried the more I failed.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and John Kessler wrote

‘The reality is you will grieve forever. You will not get over the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but, you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.’

Once I grasped this, and it took years to do so, I could then appreciate I am not the same, nor do I want to be.

We need to stop telling each other to get over loss, and encourage healing and rebuilding instead.

[My friend Stephanie Barnes suggests: This feeling need not occur just around the death of a loved one, but divorce, loss of a job, sudden/unexpected change in life circumstance. They are definitely not all the same magnitude, but they do go through a similar mourning/grieving process. Mourning the life you thought you were going to have, for example.]

Tash Stallard, a dear friend, suggests that when we undertake those simple things which bring us joy – taking a walk, reading, and in my case, painting, we dissolve the need for resilience. There’s real power in this idea. I love Tash and how she thinks.

As my art develops, my need for resilience may dissolve? I slowly become more confident, with colour, shape, and texture. I start to experiment with themes, currently I’m exploring a form of elemental art. Connectedness borne of what we come from, and what we need to survive. Each element; earth, water, air, fire, is made tangible in geometric forms, using acrylic paints, gold and silver leaf. I also find the confidence to share different, emerging work with you. I rebuild resilience through experimentation, and the sharing helps strengthen connections.

In April 2016 I began to make art and give it away in my local community of Wallington and Carshalton. So far I’ve made and given away 75 art works. The connections made with my practice, with community are invaluable. The people in my home town know each other better, in part thanks to the art. And it’s not just my immediate community – I’ve left work in Australia and the USA, as well as other parts of the UK too.

I’m starting to approach the community for ideas – what should I paint this week? These exchanges, small though they are, build connectedness, and resilience among us. As my resilience grows around the project, I take on ideas I wouldn’t have dreamt of previously. I’m asked, can you paint a turtle? It would appear the answer is yes.

There’s a lot of love in and around this project.

My third observation is this. There is beauty in impermanence and imperfection, and our resilience helps us see this.

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer containing powdered gold. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of the object, rather than something to disguise. Kintsugi pieces are prized precisely because they have been broken. The cracks you see in these pieces represents how the broken lines themselves are so beautiful, and so important, that they are rejoined with gold instead of glue.

In our lives, we often try to repair our broken places with glue. We quietly work to piece our lives back together after life-changing events, hoping that if we do a good enough job, the cracks won’t be readily visible. Sooner or later, we all carry scars, whether they be internal, external, or both. We will all break in different places, and in different ways. To me, resilience means acknowledging the beauty in those breaks, not trying to deny their existence.

But what really matters, as I learned in my search, is what’s important to you. I hope you find more of that here, today.

People responded in a lovely way, both immediately after the talk, and through the rest of the day. Yes it was a nerve racking experience, and I’m glad I did it, and I’m pleased to have been asked.

A version of this post originally appeared on The Art Sensorium.

Noise Annoys

I often hear noise being described as ‘unwanted sound’. As someone who grew up listening to a lot of punk music, I’m not sure it’s quite as simple as that. Sitting upstairs in my bedroom, I was frequently yelled at to turn off the noise noise noise, stop kicking up a racket, etc. This stuff wasn’t (and still isn’t) unwanted to me, and I readily accept it’s not everyone’s idea of good music.

Fortunately for you – I usually enjoy my music when I’m working alone, or with headphones on – so it needn’t trouble you, but what about the noise that’s not so easy to avoid? How does that affect you, particularly when you’re trying to work?

I met Paige Hodsman at the Workplace Trends conference last year. Paige works for Ecophon who specialise in acoustic solutions to improve the working environment, and we got to talking about how noise and sound affects your ability to be creative at work. After the event our conversation continued, and continued, until we decided to offer up an interactive workshop for people, to explore and experience how changes in the environment affect our ability and desire to be creative. That workshop is called The Art of Sound, and it takes place in Central London on June 7th. Would you like to come and take part? You can book a place here. It won’t cost you any money, and we’ll provide lunch and all the materials you’ll need. It would be lovely to see you.

Purely by chance, since Paige and I decided to run this session, I have come into contact with Chris Moriarty from Leesman, a company which gathers and shares all kinds of interesting data to help people understand their workplace performance. Chris has kindly shared some data with me which shows the extent to which people are concerned by noise at work, and how it impacts creative thinking and a host of other things besides. I’ve not had the data for long, and I can already see that of the 160,000 people who have currently responded to the Leesman Index survey, just over three quarters of them indicate that noise levels at work are important to them.

On average across the Index only 55.8% of people agree that the workplace enables them to be productive. However, when you look at those that have indicated that noise levels are important and they are happy with them, you see that number rise to 82.2% against those that are dissatisfied with noise down at 32.7%. A 49.5 percentage points difference.
Noise is also impacting enjoyment, this time there’s a 37.8 percentage points difference (78.2% satisfied vs 40.3% dissatisfied). These are big gaps. If we are to improve the workplace and make it more conducive to creative, and enjoyable working, then understanding this stuff is important, for people in workplace design and implementation, and for HR people too.

I can also see that noise is affecting many of the tasks we need to perform at work, and I’ll keep digging through what Chris has provided and share some more details at the event on June 7th. I hope to see you there, and until then, I’ll leave you with The Buzzcocks doing what they do best.

The Art of the Possible – Analog Kid : Digital Man

Analog Kid

The boy lies in the grass with one blade
Stuck between his teeth
A vague sensation quickens
In his young and restless heart
And a bright and nameless vision
Has him longing to depart. N Peart

I was born in 1965, the same year the first ever desktop computer hit the market. The Programma 101 by Olivetti arrived, and overnight, computers went from looking like this:

To looking like this:

Olivetti Programma 101

Olivetti Programma 101

We took a very different view of computers back then. People were ‘a bit terrified of them’, and concerned that computers would be used to control everything and take away freedom.

I don’t recall ever using a computer during my school years. All our work was written in books, drawn on paper, listened to on tape and vinyl. Signals were likely to be distorted, there was interference, and feedback. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, the pen and the brush were among the devices I used which provided some of that feedback. The signals might be quite subtle, but they were there. The response of the writing and drawing instrument when crafting different letters, different shapes, and shades. You don’t get this subtle feedback from a keyboard or a stylus.

Digital Man

He picks up scraps of information
He’s adept at adaptation
Because for strangers and arrangers
Constant change is here to stay. N Peart

I started work in the mid 1980s, by which time computers looked something like this:

IBM PC 5150

IBM PC 5150

A decade later I was selling computers to earn a living, and they were common place in people’s homes and at work. I remember starting work for BT in 1996 and being surprised to find no computer at my desk. Some of my colleagues were quite happy to still be relying on inter office memos stuffed in envelopes, and though people were given email addresses – there seemed to be no compulsion to use them.

Fast forward to now, and for most people who read this blog, the idea of not being connected to your work through computers and other devices is practically impossible.

IPhone_6S_Rose_Gold

Love them or loathe them, etcetera. And yet…

Analog Kid : Digital Man

…for all the advantages of digital, there remains something distinctly ‘connected’ about working in analog. Those subtle signals I mentioned earlier – the feedback a pencil gives you when you write and draw – that’s a very desirable thing. I recently spotted my friend Euan Semple talking about Blackwing Pencils on Facebook. I followed the crumb trail and discovered you can pay $25 for a box of 12 Palomino Blackwing 24 pencils, produced as a tribute to Pulitzer Prize winning author John Steinbeck. In truth, you’ll be lucky to find these available for sale, they are a limited edition pencil (I swear I had no idea there was such a thing), and seemingly the only way to guarantee a set of these, or at least of future limited editions, is to join The Blackwing Club. Pencils as a desirable collector’s item, how about that?

I digress. Limited edition or otherwise, I believe the humble pencil, pen, and brush remain essential tools to work with. For all the speed with which I can ramble on here, each digit I produce on the screen feels just the same as the last. Q = W = E = R = T = Y. I know from my own experience and from the feedback I gain through arts based learning, that using analog tools to supplement your digital work, creates fundamentally different outputs. When we work like this, I and others see, hear and feel emotions much more clearly, and there seems to be a greater presence of something you might call humanity, when people are creating work together, by hand.

Humanity

I don’t want to get all dogmatic about this, working by hand is not the answer to making work better, it is an answer. Thankfully, not everything follows Moore’s Law.

More to follow…