Obsession and melancholia

March 13, 2011

I was catching up stored documentaries this morning and a BBC documentary on Sir Kyffin Williams RA, whose use of the word inspired me to name the Cynefin framework. Names by the way are more than labels, they create a vector from which you cannot escape. I only possess etchings by this greatest of artists, one day I will find a way to spend the fortune that an oil will cost me. The documentary fits with the Cynefin conept as it asks the artist to select four places or moments that represent turning points in their life. We start with a wonderful quote:

To be obsessive is far more important than to have talent, talent is a facile thing it is something that is done easily and therefore there is little depth in it. Obsession means you feel deeply about something, maybe about something that is not worth while but then you are barmy.

I am able to communicate because I am obsessed and love what I do, if you have no love for anything you cannot communicate

That was said of his first defining place, namely Wales, the place and the people have dictated what he is. More than any other artist he is able to weave complex, passionate narrative around the landscape of wales both physical and people. His paintings of shepherds and their dogs in the Welsh hills are the most typical, and the most wonderful examples of his work. Too see the transition from sketch (see screen shot) and painting was fascinating.

In his book, quoted in the documentary Kyffin says:

My welsh inheritance must always remain a strong force in my work, for it is in Wales that I can paint with the greatest freedom. I have worked in Holland, France and in Austria in Italy and in Greece but in none of these countries have I found the mood which touches the seam of melancholy which is in most welshmen a melancholy which derives from the dark hills, the heavy clouds and the enveloping sea mists.

It is a powerful statement and easily recognisable, melancholy by the way, in this context is not necessarily a negative word. It’s origin is from the Greek melankholia, meaning black bile and excess of which was thought to cause depression. Fair enough, but the absence means a lack of understanding or empathy, a failure to be a part of your land, your cynefin. Agree or not, you will never understand the welsh (and most celts) if you don’t understand the importance of this quote. Of course you may not want to but as the artist says: Being obsessive makes it difficult to be tolerant of fools.

His second moment is the war when he turned to art by accident. Epilepsy prevented him staying with the Royal Welch Fusileers. He was advised by a Doctoer that he should do something that does not tax the brain – try art , so he end up at the Slade, then evacuated to Oxford where a painting by Piro, Christ rising from the Tomb “polaxed” him for the emotion and the mood. It was the moment where he realised that art is not about reproducing soemthing that is front of you, but about communicating something that goes beyond representation.

The third moment is more prosaic, but also more mystical. In 1947 he went south to paint Cadair Idris (tempest torn to quote Dylan Thomas). He was painting when a young man came along and called him a muse something that surprised him. As he carried on painting into the half light of evening he started to thing that he might be an artist. I wonder if that young man ever realised what he had sparked? Small things, if we pay attention and they create contrast can change the world.

For his final place he had to choose between Patagonia where he spent the most exciting and memorable time of his life, and Venice, so different from the light around Snowdon and Anglesea. He chose Venice for its contrasts, as he says There are no bright colours in Venice only a pale silvery light

Something well illustrated in my final screen shot

Screen shot 2011-03-13 at 08.44.21.png

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About the Cynefin Company

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.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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