Monday, 8 December 2008

Tell me, what is your question?

I have been experimenting with Participatory Action Research (PAR) of late to be able to understand group processes in organisational settings (e.g., labour market training initiatives, young people’s involvement in volunteering etc.).

Central to PAR is a relatively short and reiterative cycle of observation, analysis and action. It employs a set of ongoing inquiries – for oneself, personally; for the group setting which is at the centre of that piece of PAR and the wider context. So, at any time, many questions are being asked. The course I went to over the weekend was Part 1 in Group Facilitation run by the Business and Management School at Bath University.

As part of the weekend, we were early on asked to formulate such inquiry for ourselves. It’s a different take on asking about participants’ expectations for a course. But, formulating it as a personal inquiry is more specific as it:
  • Has to be compelling
  • Needs to energise you
  • Makes you want to answer it
  • Leads you into the unknown.
The last point is rather crucial: how many people do ask questions to which they actually already know the answer? It’s about comfort zones: doing stuff as usual and knowing how you will get an ok result. And: both in question and in our way of going about answering them, that comfort zone will show.

I think this goes for any piece of (social science) research but also for fine art pieces, doesn’t it?
Learning, however, really only happens outwith that comfort zone: when stuff is difficult, when it’s something new, unknown, experimental and a bit scary.

So: the unknown bit is crucial.

….

Part one on learning and creativity is thus about asking compelling questions: What is the stuff I want to find out more about? Get to know? Try out?

For pretty much any of my paintings, there were questions like this… some more compelling than others: how can I work with light? How can I include those fabulous clouds? Some were plain daft questions: when will cartridge paper dissolve?

If those questions weren’t there, I end up with pieces that clearly didn’t rock me; were so/so; quite ok but really rather lukewarm.

2 comments:

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I like the sort of pleasant surprises you can get if you do something you haven't done before - in a sort of 'controlled' way. Along the lines of 'what happens if I.......???' but done with one eye on the potential consequences (just in case the surprise isn't that pleasant!) :)

I think the approach is a really interesting one for approaching art. There's a lot to be said for abandoning usual media from time to time and trying to make pictures out of stuff you don't usually use. It jolts me out of my comfort zone - and interestingly always makes me realise afresh what it is I like about the media I use.

Gesa said...

Yes... it's the kind of 'I wonder ifs' that can carry you quite a long way... and accepting/looking out for how it may go wrong.

I know what you mean about going back after some exploring to tried/tested/loved media... it's very much like that for me with pastels. But much of getting to know is also about getting a sense of what it can't do.

It's funny: moving abroad was very much like that... getting a sense of how incidental/unnormal 'normal' is when you look at it from elsewhere. but also a clear sense of 'hm, this is something i really like quite a lot'.