Open CPD, Visual Thinkery, art school: my week made me think

This post is inspired by two things I did this week: first, taking part in Wednesday’s @LTHEchat on the topic of Open CPD with Chris Rowell and second, reading my weekly delivery of Visual Thinkery in Saturday’s newsletter. Both are highly enjoyable, interesting and rewarding so if you haven’t already I strongly recommend you take a look.

CC-BY-ND @bryanMMathers http://bryanmmathers.com/
CC-BY-ND @bryanMMathers http://bryanmmathers.com/

Both of these activities made me think about being online and what I do when I am online. Is it part of a process, a place or a platform? How do I do what I do and why? It’s useful to step back at times and take a look at what I do and the reasons behind it.
In my case a lot of how I work and think was shaped during my years at art school. For six years fine art and specifically making sculptures was what I spent most of my time doing. It was where I first developed a creative process, learnt to do research, gained critical thinking skills and so forth. In practical terms being in a sculptor’s workshop is not at all like being online: it’s all about physical materials, sensual perception, working with your hands and a lot of messiness. Making something has its own pace, too. Some days go by fast and productive, on others nothing happens and sometimes you spent all your time doing something that turns out to be a disaster. In my last year at art school I learnt how to carve marble. Or rather I attempted to.

Marble
Marble…. largely unchanged

I learnt the technique – but then discovered how LONG it would take to actually carve something. I ended up making a single mosaic over two terms and had a small block of marble still sitting on my table largely unchanged. While I don’t make a lot of things anymore the skills and processes I learnt serve me well in my work now, especially online.
One thing I learnt was to be comfortable sharing a process, rather than a result. Like many people, I think of most of what I do as a process and some of the formal output is just a by product. It’s necessary, but it’s not the main aim. Similarly, place is important. Whether it’s physical or virtual doesn’t really matter, it’s equally important to me. Both in the chat, when we talked about making time for CPD and creating safe spaces in which to share/experiment/fail, and in the drawing Bryan included in the newsletter (which I have included also in this post), I thought about having control over your own places and spaces. It might be a desk or a domain, an office or an open course, a train compartment or a tweet chat. Different places for different times and activities depending on what you want to do. What’s important is to make use of it effectively. A sculptor’s studio is usually a growing collection of inspiration, sketchbooks, materials, models and more. It’s a place which you can use to think, talk, create – but it doesn’t dictate what you do.
In a university setting I shared the space with others, had my tutorials in it or gave presentations. My place became the platform from which I launched my handiwork into the realm of critical evaluation by others. My work became my platform later on, when it sat on the floor of a gallery or in a portfolio. In many ways what I do now is the same. This blog for example acts both as a workshop and a platform, it’s about process and being part of a community of peers.
The Visual Thinkery newsletter and the tweet chat alike made me reflect on how I use technology, how I engage in online activities and spaces. Am I doing it on my own terms? Or am I letting technology dictate the pace and mode of interaction?  Is being connected overriding other aspects? Jaron Lanier’s you are not a gadget comes to to mind here and on that note I think I have found some inspiration for the week ahead.

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