Bumps In The Road

Something about my creative practice which often fascinates, and sometimes confounds and frustrates me, is the unpredictable nature of the output. I often start to make without any idea of what it is I am seeking, other than to make something. Even when I do have an idea or two – the process often deviates me from the vision in my head.

Increasingly, the art you see is a result of layering, and overpainting. The art work I submitted to the RA Summer Exhibition underwent some serious changes along the way. You can no longer see the earlier layers of paint – but they are there, bumps in the road informing the final piece in their own way. Here’s an example of a recent before and after piece.

You can make out hints of the earlier design, and if you take a closer look you can see how previous paint effects are visible in the final piece.

This process is part of what makes creative practice so exciting, the uncertainty, the being open to the possibilities.

In my organisational development work, something I often see and which I am cautious of, is a desire for certainty. If we ask question x, then we expect answer y. If we make decision a then we expect outcome b. We seek to exercise control over a situation in order to minimise risk, but in allowing (or is it coercing?) ourselves to do so, we often increase risk, as we blind ourselves to a wider set of possibilities. in the book Creativity Inc., Ed Catmull writes:

There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convinced you are right.

I know that keeping this curious mindset open and functioning is hard. At some point we need to start refining what we are learning and take some action, without falling into the trap of making haste in the formative stages.

Later this week I’ll be taking part in the Workplace Trends Spring Summit. I’ll be making art during the day in response to what I hear and feel at the event, before bringing things to a close with a session on creativity at work. Among other things, I’ll be referencing the Age of Artists framework, which is a suggestion developed by the Age of Artists research institute in Germany, of how we can approach our organisational development work from an artistic perspective. The framework has flexibility – the design shifts and reshapes at times, here is a version of the framework which I drew and painted for the event.

Once the conference is over, I’ll come back to this idea of layering, overpainting, being more accepting of the bumps in the road. For now though, here are two further thoughts from Mr Catmull:

Do not fall for the illusion that by preventing errors, you won’t have errors to fix. The truth is, the cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.

Change and uncertainty are part of life. Our job is not to resist them but to build the capability to recover when unexpected events occur. If you don’t always try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.

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