Talking to the Artist

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Did you know that artists and engineers share something significant? Yes, really.

Previously I talked a bit about the teaching of culture, mostly about the question of unknown or forgotten culture. This time we deal with the fear of the unknown, or why people walk or talk away from artists and engineers.

When I create a picture people can tell me what they think it is, which is fine, or they can tell me why they prefer something else, which is fine too. If instead I talk about my pictures while I am creating them most people cannot get away fast enough. The same happens when engineers speak about what they are engineering.

So I asked myself why. Then I asked whether other people experience the same under other circumstances. Finally, does this have any relation to the teaching of culture?

I think it mostly revolves around the unknown presented in its naked form. Education kind of encourages the view that things are fixed, as in fixed answers to set questions, or that if something new does come along it will arrive in a fully finished manner – fully tested and approved, presented by proper social actors, such as magazine writers.

When we talk to an engineer the product is unfinished, raw, and there is no social actor to give their approval. Oh no, the peasants cannot live on cake. Having one’s home remodelled is noisy and dirty. Old people do have sex.

So much of culture involves concealing the grubbiness of reality, the creation of an artificial environment that is remote from reality. Cleaner than reality. Superior to reality. The more artificial we make our life the more difficult it becomes to connect with people far from our safety zone.

Engineers talking engineering is too distant, too dirty, the engineering crude until the approved product lands on the shelves.

Artists talking about their current work is too distant, unless they speak the spiel as approved by the relevant social actors.

Fellow employees talking about some innovation is too alien, even if it will improve the way we work or the product we make.

When culture is taught to people from other cultures we have to pretend either that they are in our culture, or devalue their culture, the colonialisation of their culture with ours, because the one thing that is feared is that their culture is superior to ours. More than that, learning their culture takes away our superior position of giver to the masses, to that of receiver.

Hence, if we wish to teach culture effectively, one of our tasks is to learn not to steer clear of others when they describe the processes they go through in their work, for work they we consider distant from ours or dirty. We must be able to achieve meaningful dialogue with those who produce culture – not to talk the past, our knowledge, at the, to prove our knowledge, but to talk to them with the understanding that most of the learning will happen on our side. If we, as teachers, were treated the same way as we treat the producers of products and culture then we should feel offended, as we do not expect our students to walk away or to start talking about other things. It is worth remembering that we are mere manufacturers of standard knowledge.

It is something that takes practice, as in our minds we have to realign the social system that we carry in our head from a kind of hierarchy to that of placing everyone on the same flat plane, as our equals.

After all, no matter how distant or dirty a process may seem, they all appear from the same essential material – our minds.

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About trevorbutcher

My art is what gets me thinking, and living in eastern Poland gives me more than enough to think about. I generally edit photographs into works of art, a medium I chose through practicality - I don't have to lug heavy thing around with me to do art, and I can still start with a notebook and pencil - or back of a used envelope and pen. My tool of choice is the kind of camera you might take with you on holiday, it only needs to be easy to carry and gather a composition with suitable lighting. Detail is not important, that's the part I deal with, the camera is just a convenient, full colour sketching device. And that is it - well, other than the 20+ hours of toil over a hot computer to produce that final, exhibition quality image.

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