A Review of Art For Work’s Sake – Manchester

A review of the learning gained from a recent Art For Work’s Sake workshop run in Manchester

This post is a review, including some of the learning gained from an Art For Work’s Sake workshop run in Manchester on July 24th 2014. I’m grateful to Paula, Cassie, Alistair and Mark for being open to trying out new ways to think about work, for taking part in the session so enthusiastically, and for agreeing to show their work to you.

The session started with everyone being invited to think quietly about the kind of mood they would like to experience together – and what they might like to get from our time together. We should maybe have tried to doodle these ideas – but hey…there’s always next time.

After we’d noted these things, we discussed them together. We observed that when people meet, we often feel there is no time for quiet contemplation, instead we usually charge straight into our work. We enjoyed this chance to ease into our work.

I often ask people to think about mood, tone and expectations when we start work together – and I would usually invite people to talk about these things together. Based on this experience, I will modify my approach now and make the time for some personal space and thinking time at the start.

We took part in a sketching and reflection exercise similar to the one detailed here. This is a helpful way to get people comfortable with using less familiar tools and materials – and a way of using non judgemental questioning to explore thought processes and ideas for change and improvement. The exercise itself is quite brief (it lasts only around 10 minutes) – the conversation often flows much longer afterwards.

People’s observations about the exercise (which is particularly useful for 1:1 and team coaching) were that it helped:

  • Simplify
  • Focus – identify what is important
  • See how one thing informs another
  • Don’t try to do it all at once
  • Improve quality

Next we decided to visually interpret the questions about mood, tone and expectations. At this point an abundance of materials were introduced. Paints, marker pens, charcoal, different paper, and a set of Stabilo Woody 3 in 1 pencils. Forgive me while I nerd out about these pencils briefly. Stabile Woody’s are chunky, and they have a waxy pigment which blends really well with water. They’re good fun and though I don’t always use them in these workshops – they prove pretty popular when I do. Here is the work people produced (on 12″ x 9″ 300gsm cold pressed water colour paper). I have titled the images – the artists may have other, better names for their work.

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The details of the conversations and the stories about our work will remain with the group, and we agreed the opportunity to record thoughts and ideas in ways other than writing was a stimulating experience.

We then shifted towards a more restricted way of working. One guest drew this card from the Stop Doing Dumb Things deck, and so we gave it a try.

Capture the Essentials

We came up with many different results despite the task feeling quite constraining at first. The subsequent conversations were about interpretation of rules, and making do with less, seeing what you can achieve through scarcity.

Sticking with limitations, we experimented briefly with writing haikus. An haiku is a form of Japanese poetry, comprised of three lines of verse. The first line has five syllables, the second has seven, and the third has five. I’ve introduced poetry into these sessions before now, but in a much gentler, flowing way. Poetry by stealth perhaps. Time was running out on this occasion so we just dived in – and maybe struggled a bit as a result, which is useful learning in itself. Here are two haikus about work which I wrote:

Go to work each day, No one understands my job, Come home kick the cat

Saw a colleague smile, It put a spring in my step, Small things can make change

Finally, we made postcards. I will post these cards back to the artists in a few days as a reminder of our time together.

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We worked together for three and a half hours. The work and conversation flowed well, we didn’t take a break, and we finished without exploring all the possibilities we would have liked. Things we discussed and didn’t experiment with this time included:

  • Photography – capturing mood, values, stories and ideas through a lens (you can use video to help with this too).
  • Cutouts – identifying pieces of our work and having the ability to reposition and reprioritise them.
  • Symbolising – representing our work, values, challenges and opportunities using symbols, drawn and photographed.
  • Cocreated work – I had with me a huge roll of paper onto which we sometimes design a plan. You can see some examples here.

For me – the opportunity to facilitate these workshops is a huge privilege. People’s enthusiasm, and creative ability is there in abundance – despite the fact that work often unwittingly tries to hide it away. I am in the process of asking for feedback from everyone who came along and hope to share that with you too.

Before I headed home, I took some time to wander around Manchester and put together a short (27 seconds) video of what I saw – to act as a reminder of my trip.

I had a lost of interest from people in the Manchester area who said they’d like to come and couldn’t make this date. I will organise another in the late Autumn and keep you posted. For now – this work moves on to Chicago, Ohio, then back to London again in October.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

2 thoughts on “A Review of Art For Work’s Sake – Manchester”

  1. I really enjoy hearing about lived experiences of learning sessions so thanks for sharing this.

    1. It’s my pleasure Sukh – I feel that sharing is an important part of the process, it helps me to review and think too.

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