Aesthetic aporia

January 12, 2021

Matt riches OO8AEXFQtdI unsplashThis is the second post in my three-part series on creating aporia and I will admit I was worried yesterday that I would struggle to get to three approaches in the aesthetics category. But when I thought about I realised there was a lot more and I ended up with a round dozen in three groups. I am using aesthetic in the sense of anything which is not linguistic or physical.  None of these boundaries are definitive of course and the three posts and sub-divisions therein are simply ways to organise the ideas for easier understanding.  Nor is there any particular reason for the sequencing of the posts, indeed as art comes before language in human evolution there is an argument I should have started with it.  In effect, this post is about art, aesthetics, semiotics and the like, but not about playing games with language itself.  Thomas Merton sums it up well:  “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.

Yesterday the banner picture was of my collection of Welsh Poetry and the earlier post had a picture of one of my bookshelves so for today I took a picture is of the ‘wall’ behind my desk.  I say ‘wall’ but it is, in reality, the back of a set of bookcases that face a wall of bookshelves to form a book corridor.  There is another book corridor to my left and I sacrificed the floor area for books several years ago but I am starting to reach capacity again.  So all the history books are about to move to the sitting room, and the novels will move from the sitting room to new shelves in the spare bedroom and all will be well for a period.  But all my many and various works of art are not on display.  The banner picture has a part of my collection of  Gaping Void illustrations and when I can I rotate them.  IMG 0119Gaping Void are long-term friends and also partners who are brilliant at using art to achieve understand and manage change.  You can also see that a part of the Starbucks city mug collection is also visible (158 & counting).  I couldn’t fully eliminate the reflections from the glass of the picture frames for which apologies.

Not all the paintings and drawings, not to mention awards, I have gathered over the years are on display.  But the ones with real sentimental value are, and the monumental oil painting I bought in Melbourne has its own place (see right).  Unfortunately, my wife didn’t like it so it is in a more confined space than I planned but I never get bored with it.  You can also see various artifacts gathered over the years.  The Beer Steins were brought back from Germany by my mother when she studied there in the late 40s and there is the storyteller doll from Santa Fee along with some other items of my growing collection of works by indigenous artists using modern materials and techniques; I’ve always been interested in fusion, in art as in cooking. There is a drawing of Wales at the time of the Treaty of Montgomery before the loss of Welsh independence (we are England’s first and will probably be their last colony).  The Raven, my spirit animal, was a gift from Canada, an etching of my sacred mountain, Tryfan is then followed by a line drawing of Nye Bevan, creator of the NHS (although Lloyd George another Welshman got that started) and drawn for me by Conrad Taylor back in the 70s when we were both at Wick Court.

I’m not unique in acquiring such material or in displaying it. I haven’t shown you all of the window ledges stuffed with memorabilia from four continents but the picture to the left shows more of the Mug collection along with two oils and one etching with all of which have a strongly Welsh context.  There are more books, family pictures, and various electrical items used for the bike and for walking.  The glass shelf has many memorabilia, including (near to shot) the first-ever speaker gift I got at an event in Milan.  IMG 0120It is a shell with a silver exterior and still one of the best gifts I have received.  These days I tend to accumulate local Gin!

Meaning in invested in objects, and we love things that feel or look good and which, critically ask in questions.  Art in human evolution is critically linked to innovation and the ability to think differently about things.  They are part of the scaffolding (to borrow a term from Andy Clark) of our consciousness, and a form of communication in their own right.   What other people display is important information and I always make a point of looking at people’s bookshelves if I am invited into their home or office, it can tell you a lot about a person to see what they are reading, or rather the dominant pattern of that reading.

In my normal style, I have probably spent too much time in setting the context and doing so from a personal perspective  But that is one of the attractions of blogging as a means not only of communication but of gaining understanding,  The enabling constraint of bear daily blogging is wonderful for creativity and I often work things out as I write. The process of writing myself into the blog post is a creative act in its own right. In another related context, some of my best ideas have come from teaching or speaking.  But it’s time to get to the approaches and I have organised them into three groups to make it easier to navigate.

Use of artists to create material

  1. The use of cartoons, or illustrations like those from Gaping Void – use the link above to look at their work on Culture Walls – these all have real bite.  The one with the red cross in the banner picture has the phrase “Same Cross different Nails” and the meaning is not spelled out, you sit back and think about what it means.  Think also of Dilbert and many others over the years.
  2. Fine art is different from cartoons but it can have a major impact.  Think of Picasso’s Guernica and its worldwide impact at the time of that horror and since.  I’ve previously talked about the way Caravaggio had a major impact on the development of the liminal aspects of Cynefin.  I used to know a person who blew glass dragons and when I wanted a special gift I would describe the person to them and they would produce a special dragon, always fascinating.  Art students in all the disciplines are an underused asset in organisational change.
  3. Photographs work in the same way, form the last Century think of the famous picture of a flower being placed in the muzzle of a gun or the naked girl burnt by Napalm in Vietnam.  Photographic exhibitions can be very powerful and can link into material created through the first of the learning approaches listed below.
  4. Then we get to the use of satire.  The puppets of Spitting image destroyed the career of David Steel in the UK by portraying him as a puppet in the top pocket of his more dominant partner David Owen (British political reference there) and satire is a British specialty.  Listen to the Now Show on Radio 4 and many other examples.  Satire deflates egos and satirical portraits are a great conference technique.

Real time performance

  1. It takes a little bit of work in the setup but I have used plays several times.  You set up the situation and bring in a group of improv actors and get them to explore a situation described by the group as a whole.  In a major project for Lend Lease, Sharon Fiona and I created a play to communicate a core set of values using improv, and years later we were still getting key phrases and experiences from that.  The AgitProp tradition can give you lots of material to work with.
  2. I’ve worked with graphic facilitators for years and the best is still the first, Annika Varjonen who I met in Finland when teaching.  She recorded a four-day masterclass with me going at high speed and did it brilliantly, giving me new insights.  It has since become something of an industry and slightly formulaic but choose the right person and it makes a significant difference in getting people to see things from a different perspective.
  3. Anthro-simulation is the game based environment I created years ago and which we are bringing front and centre to the post-COVID lessons learning work we are doing.  It works by displacing people into an environment based on a metaphor or a counter-factual and sets up situations in which they can only fail.  It is a great innovation technique
  4. And then we get the use of music.  On one leadership development programme a ballet troop performed their interpretation of the mission/purpose of the organisation for executives.  That was expensive but simply engaging people in music can make a difference.  There is a pioneering SenseMaker® project on the role of Group singing in the development of a healthy population – the about the project article in Nature is well worth reading.

Learning through art

  1. We have found in several SenseMaker® projects that the ability to take a picture of what they most or least like about employment can be hugely valuable and is easy these days with the pervasiveness of smartphones.  A picture can carry less judgment and thus can be used in difficult situations and a pattern of pictures over time can measure change without triggering defensive responses
  2. I’ve previously posted on our work using archetypes and their use to allow people to have conversations through displacement onto different characters.  Their use in storytelling and indirect processes of lessons learned is a powerful way of getting people to think differently.  In a major US project, we used archetypal siltations to get people to look at foreign policy from alien perspectives.  Animations also work as per the IBM Germany example in the link.
  3. Getting people to play-act, draw or teaching them to play an instrument are established techniques.  I tend to give individuals an artist who can realise their imagination rather than forcing them into embarrassing amateurism.  But breaking people away from conversation into some form of artistic performance can change things radically.
  4. This is a little left field, but the use of drawing instruments and CAD/CAM type applications, allowing people to design a living or working environment can have a profound effect.  I used to sit for hours with a drawing board, T square, and the like designing furniture or room layouts.  The act of design, with modern tools and instruments, can be a way of gaining different perspectives, and adding constraints to the process adds to that.


Macbeth first folio is by Matt Riches on Unsplash



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Physical aporia

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