Art for art’s sake

September 24, 2010

One of the things I love to play with is perspective. I see Cognitive Edge has at least a few artists within its ranks – thanks Mark Spivey for your great post considering works of art. I grew up with my mum’s pictures in conte or charcoal and paper of different grades taped up all over the walls. She wanted to view them from all angles so she could decide if she wanted to tinker with them, hide them away for another look later or mark them for destruction. The intent was always to find a new angle and re-perceive them, trying to find them worthy in some way.

Occasionally she would make the same image or object or follow the same theme in different media, so the house would small of turpentine and acetone, or all the surfaces would be covered with little jars or tubes or sometimes fibreglass or the makings of terrazo. She once got into a welding phase, which was really interesting! Her tools of trade were certainly not kept tucked away and the process and results were left out for all to see. Although it was a bit embarassing at the time as a teenager, I appreciate now having been privileged to see the steps in her creative process. It was only in the last year of her life that I asked her how she looked at things at the start of a drawing, for example, the bit that was happening in her head as she put charcoal to paper.

I recently interviewed my dad with the same purpose, this time from an engineering perspective. Engineering is a creative process too, and there is even some evidence that it is a social process. Anyone with hundreds of patents to his name must have a gift for perceiving a problem in a unique way. His description of how he goes about solving an engineering problem emphasised movement – travelling, talking to people, making models, testing concepts. He was very insistent that part of the solution was being able to physically build things to test out physically the ideas he had in his head. Nothing either of my parents said allowed me to say exactly what they did or exactly why it worked. Mark’s idea of the success of a work of art being tied to movement struck a strong chord with me in an intellectual sense, but it’s the personal stories that really help me understand why I agree with him.

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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