The Role of the Arts in Complexity Sciences

What can artists bring to the field of human social complexity, from making sense in our ever-changing world with exponential technology development, to transforming social conflict, to the more existential questions of our individual and collective purpose?

A great deal has been written (see references below) on how artists can be seen to be navigating paradox and polarities, working with fragments and integrating the disparate parts of our lives into new forms - noticing what is needed to make things whole.

 

The work of artists generates conversations and questions, opening possibilities for connections and relationship that were previously unseen.

Artists' oxygen is the very complexity and ambiguity of the human condition, as they explore the dynamics of our contradictions and edge of our sensemaking - creativity and hope therefore spring from their polarities with conflict, tragedy or decay.

This notion of "edge" I like to evoke when taking a step back, and considering if our work in this world is working in or on the system.

If you are not living on the edge, you are taking up too much space

Leonard Shlain,
Author of Art and Physics, Leonardo's Brain, The Alphabet and the Goddess

Photo: Portrait by Tyler of musician Stuart Davis in relation to a video portrait on www.InteriorTruth.com

My own personal journey having worked in diverse sectors across technology (e.g. aerospace and satellite communications), overseas development aid, and organisational development, has inspired a passion for integrating the sciences with the humanities (anthropology, sociology), The most recent development has been for me to extend that inquiry within an artistic practice, that contrasts my academic interests and analytical education, to a syncretic integration of disciplines and capacity to sense or feel the 'whole'.

I see this as my developmental edge as I cross the age threshold into my 50s, and explicitly connect my artist experiments with my spiritual inquiry over the past 30 years (e.g. attending a religious schools until 16 years old, then learning mediation at 18 from my ordained Buddhist brother and continued exploration of the Eastern wisdom traditions), 

There is of course a vast landscape of artistic and creative practices, ranging from improvisation theatre to conceptual art installations, to community therapeutic arts. From this diversity, there can however be essential qualities of the shifts in consciousness that occur for those participating with the creative process - a quality of consciousness that can add significant capacities for those working with complexity. 

Having established a first phase of contrasting artistic practices (in video, painting, sculpture) since 2019, I am now passionately drawn to how as an artist I can engage in the application of the artistic principles to individual, organisational and societal development, and connecting the arts to my professional experience in Sensemaking.

Below is an evolving list of the key qualities that an artistic practice can bring to the field of applied complexity sciences - speaking to a conviction of mine that:

"agents and facilitators of change, especially those leveraging the complexity sciences

practices such as in Sensemaking (using for example frameworks such as Cynefin, Integral Theory and

developmental psychology), should all have an artistic practice"

Principles and Qualities of "Being" at the Heart of the Creative Experience

BEGINNER's MIND

Artists live on the edge between expertise and non-expertise...practicing 'beginner's mind' where the naïve questions fuelled by curiosity can unveil deep assumptions and open up the field of perception. Beginner's mind is very effective in revealing possible blind spots or biases.

PATTERN RECOGNITION

Artists engage their full sensory field, integrating multiple  Weak signal detection...sample sizes...leading vs. lagging indicators

SENSING DEEP TIME

Accessing deep time - - Sense of timelessness... Kairos and Chronos
    - Sense of the ongoing infinite future

The central practice of wasting time, and unproductive time.

NEW DIMENSIONS OF PERCEPTION

Art's evolutionary purpose is in its power of honing and expanding our senses, and creating new layers of abstraction.

Abstraction is at the core of how human's understand their environment and make choices.

Art can provide a unique visual or sensual representation (in combination with analogy, symbolism, metaphors) as compared to intellectual or verbal descriptions. 

NAVIGATING TENSIONS

Complex systems are defined by their constant dynamic, in negotiating and adapting to internal and external tensions. They can be between competing (but equally valid) values or perspectives.

 

Artists leverage these tensions at the heart of its practice, inviting the observers' own inquiry. 

SEEING FROM THE FUTURE

Artists are unique in their capacity to work from a place where the future already exists. They take leaps that are not constrained by the present.

ABDUCTIVE THINKING

While deductive ('de-' = from) reasoning always follows necessarily from general or universal premises and inductive ('in-' = to) thinking forms a generalization based on what is known or observed, abductive ('ab-' = away) thinking is an inference of understanding from a collection of observations.    

TRUSTING IN ACCIDENTS

There is a visceral sensation of having to suspend expectations and control. Not-knowing is a faculty or muscle that can be developed.

With patience and a willingness to play, moving in non-linear ways, accidents turn into synchronicities and can be only understood retrospectively. 

Films by John Oliver in the Arts and Complexity Sciences

The Arts in Sensemaking: Narratives Signification, Interpretation and Informing Action 

The sensemaking method has a breakthrough positioning, thanks to its set of clear principles in how we can understand complex human systems or ecologies. Below is a just an extract of some of the principles. With its origins in organisational development, social and anthropological sciences, there is a now a large research and literature base from the past 50 years of its emergence. References to some key publications in sensemaking can be found below. 

01

Art as narrative - across multiple practices (theatre, poetry, painting, sculpture) there is always a narrative at its root.

02

Art's use of symbolism as a process of signification and interpretation.

Opening a terrain for intersubjective understanding.

04

Complexity is about a sense of direction as opposed to destination = vectors vs coordinates.

 

Art helps us perceive the dynamics between polarities and movement.

Complexity evokes a dance in unique contexts.

06

The artist is uniquely placed to integrate cross-disciplinary knowledge

08

Art springs from a deep curiosity and questioning...What if?

10

Artists a deeper sense of knowing, beyond the verbal - towards a pre-cognitive sensing

01a

Complex systems can't be understood by analysing the parts and then reassembling. Sensemaking uses narratives as one of the most powerful ways of observing systems in context. 

03

Art challenges our perspectives - inviting transgressive, counterfactual thinking: Sensemaking, sensegiving and sensebreaking

05

The creative act, and works of art play with our sense of time.

Playing with memory, projection and interpretation

07

Artists experience a process of perspective change between zooming-in and zooming-out, embracing the paradigm differences at each level 

09

Artists draw on conflict, marginalisation, injustices as material to be brought into consciousness 

"Science helps us understand the world, while artists create a world that we can understand" - Jordan Peterson in Conversation on Art

"Artist teaches us to see"

Jordan Peterson Opens Art Gallery Exposition by Tadeusz Biernot 

Art, Narratives, Sensemaking and Complexity Research References

List in process of being drafted....

 

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Intersections Art/Science

For the Francophiles among us, a supersonic voyage through a vision of the collisions/collusions between the sciences and arts by the eminent Aurélien Barrau - a French physicist and philosopher, specialized in astroparticle physics, black holes and cosmology.