The Missing Piece

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One of the least known things about change is how to deal with it before we have to deal with the negative results. No change is completely beneficial or completely non-beneficial. There is always a mix, including the lack of either a positive or negative benefit.

So often we see some new technology arriving that leads to a Rah Rah, gamechanging blah bah situation, with a rush of people joining in. I remember that about the time I moved to Poland there were dozens of computer shops being set up, all of which eventually closed to be replaced by mobile phone shops. If something becomes fashionable, there is a rush to be part of it. So does a large number of failures have to accompany change? Yes and no.

As a development engineer it was my job to create and then eliminate failures, because the finance had already been set aside to pay for the failures. Failures here are good, because they set the boundaries of what is possible and forces us to think about what we are trying to achieve.

In general business there is no finance for the failures, because failure should be avoided by appropriate learning beforehand, and then if failure is met then an expert can be called in to fix what has gone wrong. This is a largely unplanned failure process, one that can only be fixed by people who understand how to create a planned failure process.

Unfortunately, education teaches people to believe in the power of courses and experts, which leads to unplanned failure processes, because educators are mostly the products of courses. They are never there when we meet the unplanned failure.

Therefore, the next time someone suggests getting a cat to solve your problems, ask yourself whether they will be there for you when you meet failure.

 

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Discover Art

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If we are teaching culture then it could, I believe, be worth examining that peak of valued culture – art. If we have an opinion about art, it should surely demonstrate something about how we view the rest of culture, and maybe also the actual process of describing what we see.

So what is art?

We know this already, there are museums and galleries full of the stuff. However, just because the world exists, does this mean we understand how the world came to exist? Or, to put it more bluntly, could we produce another one? The fact of something existing is not quite the same as knowing the whys and the hows of its existence.

Here is a test – go to some library or bookstore, physically or online, and see how many books there are explaining all about the artists, types of art and methodologies. The average small bookshop will probably have dozens, while a decent library will have hundreds, all full of interesting knowledge about how to see, recognize and do art.

Now count the number of books about how to evaluate art that is freshly painted by students, and out of those hundreds of books available to us locally there maybe half a dozen on how to look at a picture and express its worth in artistic terms. Now read one of these, and compare it to all those other art books – and we will find that while most art books have an authoritative style, those for evaluating fresh art are vague. What we see here is that most people who talk about art actually know very little about how it works. Sure, we can recite history, talk about styles and technique, but the best that we can know about something is to get the consensus of some group as to whether they like it. The key questions in this revolve around what it is that they actually like, and why.

If we randomly pull a coffee table book about a field of art that we either have no or little experience with, then we will have pages and pages of new visual experiences to enjoy, although if we ignore the text we have no way of choosing between the good and the less good, other than by previous life experience (guessing) and assuming that if it has been included in such a book it must have some worth (other people’s guesses). If the subject is something we are uncomfortable with, such as abstracts while we prefer ‘proper’ images of things, then we might override common sense and call it all rubbish. Common sense being that we all like different things, and that we know that some group of experts has stated that this set of art to be very good.

One of the elements of our upbringing is the insistence on criticizing those things outside our experience: even education participates in this by forming elites, groups, subjects, and defining what is proper and what is not. Rather like supporting a specific football team, the truth is that these groupings and the resulting denigration of other people’s choices are not about quality but just the need to feel included somewhere. Those groupings are largely random – a different upbringing would have impressed the values of a different group upon us. We take this need to belong and denigrate into our adult lives, partly disabling our ability to make good quality decisions in the process.

What this tells us is that our ability to evaluate the significance of any human activity relies heavily on being involved in some way in that activity. Relying on the opinion of someone else who is not involved is no safe guide at all; therefore we and the people we trust as sources have to go out and experience things in order to have an opinion that has any kind of value. We need the results of the actual experience, and the experience in having experiences in order to value the process of gaining experience.

The benefit to us and our students is that the more experience we gain in different groups is the discovery that there are more people out there in the world caught up in other groups who share our values – we are merely blocked from reaching them by our own, artificial barriers.

My new booklet on the Lublin region!

Kazi 04 water boatman

As I write this I am about half way through proofing a new project – a booklet about this region of Poland based on about a dozen of my images and the kind of things that interest me about the region and which actually led to me creating the images.

I want to produce an alternative to the rather boringly similar other guides I have seen, and I have seen many, something that talks about stuff one does not need some qualification in the history or architecture to appreciate. Basically, I tie together a series of reminiscences to form a kind of story, introducing a little bit of many things to make the region more understandable, to have a bit more depth.

Anyway, here is a sample:

The Wisła River, or Vistula as we know it, forms the western border of the Lublin province, and has a number of bridges and ferries operating along its length. Rivers have always been some of the most awkward things to pass when we wish to travel on land as they are not something that we can simply go round. The particular ferry route we chose is quite ancient, lying as it does on the trade route between Krakow and Lublin, at the popular small town of Kazimierz Dolny. On this occasion we had intended on using the car ferry, but were thwarted by water too shallow for anything but a passenger boat to traverse. While this latter style of boat is today made of glass fiber, its general design is pretty much the same as the wooden boats that have long been used on local lakes and rivers.

I plan to publish it as an ebook, so it is available anywhere for very little money. I am sure I shall make some mistakes along the way, but it feels good to be doing something a little different.

Trevor

Wild Wagon Ride

Lublin 14 Wild Horse Ride smallWhen I came to live in Poland in the mid-1990s, there were still a significant number of farms relying on horses for wagon and ploughing duties. Today few remain, and since horse riding is quite a minority activity in comparison to other European countries, the actual number of horses has declined. However, the village museum in Lublin has a small stock of working horses, and on one visit I was lucky enough to view a re-enactment of an uprising event. I have no idea whether the equipment used was accurate to the period, but it was a fun event nonetheless.

Have you ever seen those pictures of racing cars with the car in perfect focus and the background nicely blurred. well, that is the effect I wished to achieve. You can see that the horses have hard, sharp edges, which is easy enough although time consuming to achieve, but you can get the blurred background by using a larger and then a smaller brush, using the larger to first define the color patches, then the smaller brush to blur the edges and get rid of any actual lines.

You can get prints of this on canvas at: http://shop.photo4me.com/picture.aspx?id=369253&f=canvas

Polish Cottage Interior

Polish Cottage Interior. My abstract view of an inside view of what it used to be like living in a cottage, and commentary on the future for such buildings.

Polish Cottage Interior

Grandmother's cottage interior, in Poland

Dom Babcie

When one drives around the rural areas of Poland it is still common to see old wooden cottages, although there number is decreasing as they are replaced by homes made of cheaper materials, such as concrete blocks. The two issues of most significance are that wooden cottages are expensive to maintain, and most are still owned by people who, in some form or other, have work related to agriculture. In a way it is sad to say, but the future of cottages is often highly dependent on being bought by people with urban work, who can afford to pay the costs of living in rural housing. This drives up the costs of buying homes in the countryside and in villages, making agricultural work more difficult to achieve as a profession.

Since wooden cottages of the types found in Poland can be readily dismantled, it is not uncommon for them to be sold as a kit, ready for you to reassemble on your own land. Sadly, though, many are just allowed to decay until the only solution is demolition, although some are being clad in thermal blocks to continue their life emulating a more modern home.

To purchase a print of this image: http://shop.photo4me.com/picture.aspx?id=365885

Down in the Market on a Saturday Morning

A market stall, shoppers and stallholder, with the stall loaded with fresh fruit and vegetables.

A small local farmers’ market in Lublin, Poland

This is one of my favorite places in Lublin, where we often go to buy our fresh fruit and vegetables. We used to go more often, but first Ania’s job moved away from the area, then we found a new flat less convenient for shopping there – and yet it still retains its charm for us.

These days we have to drive their, so we normally pop in if we happen top be driving past. Most of the people who shop there tend to be older rather than younger, and more likely to walk there from their apartments nearby. The stallholder used to be mainly farmers, but there has been a shift more to market people buying goods from farms, or farmers mixing homegrown and bought produce.

There are also some other shops there. When I first started going in the mid-1990s these were a standard mix of planned Socialist era shops, such as the plastics goods shop, the metal goods shop, fish shop and the like. Since then some of these have died (like the plastic goods shop) due to the other shops diversifying into their areas.

The original idea for the market when it was created in the late 1960s was to be a small mall of shops with broad ways between them and a small market stall area. Instead, the passages have become choked with stalls selling produce on either side, the shops role is secondary, and the proper stall area has become an area for cheap handbags and clothes.

In the small gaps and corners between the stalls you still see some very old ladies who bring in something like a small bag of peas, some eggs, or a plucked chicken to sell to eke out their pension.

On a rainy day there may be few stalls, on a warm sunny day you might struggle to get through the crowds. We love it!

http://shop.photo4me.com/picture.aspx?id=364395&f=canvas

Combine Harvester

Combine Harvester

One of the things I love about the countryside in late summer is watching the crops being brought in. I can still feel the same excitement I did when I was 5 years old and the seemingly huge, red combine cut the corn in the field behind our house, or discharged the crop into blue trailers being towed alongside the combine by tractors.

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