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The Role of Artistry in Complexity Sciences

...science is looking for answers and art is looking for questions.

Marc Quinn

British contemporary visual artist 

The purpose of this page is to offer 'artistry' (vs. art or craft as objects) as a core human capacity that serves our navigation of the most urgent and challenging social issues of our time.

This page is therefore both a manifesto and continuing research project, in how complexity agents, from consultants to thought-leaders to politicians, can draw from the principles of "artistry".

Artistry is profound philosophical distinction developed by authors such as D C Schindler and Esther Lightcap Meek (see literature references section below), that offers a re-enchantement of what is real for the human condition. It is a term that is based on a rigorous examination of the underlying assumptions of modernity (e.g. linear accumulation of information as knowledge - and knowledge as our gateway to the real), and provides us with clear principles for engaging with the exponential complexity of human systems, at local, organisational and global levels.

I define "artistry" here therefore well beyond the creative arts, and more in terms of a specific quality of our consciousness which can touch every aspect of our everyday lives. Further details on this definition of artistry, the levels of consciousness and the spectrum of spectrum of practices can be found here.  
 

There is firstly a very practical and pragmatic purpose to my project, in terms of offering a distillation of the attitudes, orientations and "sensing" capacities that creatives describe, that can be directly applied by decision-makers, leaders and complexity agents. 

And secondly, 'Artistry' offers a rallying call for us to engage with and  manifest our values (walking the talk) that contribute to the "Good Life" - in other words, living out a life of meaning.

 

This is a major distinction in contrast to the more recent trends in focusing on 'happiness', by putting meaning at the forefront of the human condition. This offers a countervailing stance to run-away technological and economic development, not to mention how this is manifesting in the ambitions of Artificial Intelligence - explored in detail at the bottom of this page.

Quinn’s quote above echoes John Vervaeke's evoking an awakening from the meaning crisis, and call for how we need to seek meaning 'in' (vs. 'of') our post-modern material lives.

Lastly, in acknowledgement that the term the "Good Life" Is a divergent property of infinite interpretation across the generations and cultures on our planet, I am fascinated by the relationship between morals as cognitive structures, compared to ethics as a divergent and highly contextual aesthetics. I feel that Artistry can speak to the latter, as described by authors such as Webb Keane (Ethical Life), and that we can begin to weave together the Transcendentals (the Good, True and Beautiful; religion/faith, the sciences, the arts), as a whole.

And to be clear, this is far from being an 'anti-scientific' vision...indeed, my quest to capture and distil the inner landscapes of the creative experience, draws on scientific principles of experimentation (incl with my own art projects), investigation (filming artists and change agents) and analysis.  My personal interpretation on Artistry allows us to hold Science in context, as part of a greater whole. Such that it can be a movement between the three necessarily competing lenses of the Transcendentals, as an 'élan vitale' or essential vector of energy. 

Photo: Autoportrait by Tyler / John Oliver

Mapping the Inner Landscapes of the Creative Experience - As Artistry vs. Objects of Art

 

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.

Artistry provides us with a challenge, that speaks to the heart of our philosophical constructs of the "real" (ref. Esther Lightcap Meek). Art can only be understood from the "inside" as a 1st person practice - from which you can then arc through to connecting with 2nd person (dialogue) and 3rd person (identification of the universals). The acknowledgement of just how modernism has progressed based on excluding 1st person 'interiors', has been the treatise of many philosophers such from Ken Wilber to Jürgen Habermas. 

Artistry as not just...

self-expression, creativity, innovation...

but 'liquid philosophy'*, engaging with the real beyond information and knowledge.

*Esther Lightcap Meek

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"We are technium" Painting by John Oliver / Tyler.World

My Journey In The Pursuit of Artistry

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.

"Facilitators of change are complexity artists - in the terms of Artistry,

engaging with the "whole" and sensing the "interiors" of the system.

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:

Films by John Oliver in the Arts and Complexity Sciences

Having worked in narratives since being the co-founder of the Organisational Development brand Human-Equity Ltd in 2009, I have been focusing since 2019 on a particular corner of the narratives spectrum, based on the 'unconditional witnessing' filming practice pioneered by Nic Askew (Soul Biographies). My quest has been to film both artists and complexity agents (leaders, consultants, facilitators). The latter group in particular from my communities of narratives sensemaking and developmental psychology.  Many complexity agents are already integrating 'artistry' practices with their consulting, facilitation and educational work - with Dr Steve Marshall here below, as one example with whom I've had the privilege of regular contact and editing footage from a peer practice group in witnessing (filmed remotely by Steve):  

Dr Steve Marshall
John Oliver - InteriorTruth.com

Dr Steve Marshall

Artistry in Sense-breaking and Sense-making
Narratives Signification, Interpretation, Dialogue 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

NARRATIVE: Across multiple practices (theatre, poetry, painting, sculpture) there is always a narrative at its root.

03

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

05

REMEMBERING: The creative act and works of art play with our sense of time. Memory, projection and interpretation - we actively create our past through our lenses, offering new opportunities for sensemaking in the present.

07

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

09

DARKNESS and LIGHT: Artists draw on conflict, marginalisation, injustices as material to be brought into consciousness. 

11

TRANS-CONTEXTUAL: Art offers us powerful ways of observing systems in context - by shifting and experimenting contextual representations. 

13

RENEWAL: Artists often are the first to work with the broken, the disenchanted, the marginalised. We tend to run towards the burning edifices (as do journalists, activists etc.), than run away. Evoking the phoenix from the ashes.

15

CONSTRUCT AWARE: Art's evolution and arc of maturity, represented by movements from impressionism to cubism to pop-art, has at it's core a self-questioning, a self-examination. Art is a 'self-aware' pursuit that is about the representations of our constructs, including  its own.

02

SYMBOLISM: Art's use of metaphor, analogy and symbols - as a process of signification and interpretation.

Opening a terrain for intersubjective understanding.

04

MOVEMENT: 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

CONNECTING and INTEGRATING: The artist is uniquely placed to integrate cross-disciplinary knowledge, seeing new connections transversely, across silos, across boundaries and categories.

08

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

10

6th SENSE: Artists a deeper sense of knowing, beyond the verbal - towards a pre-cognitive sensing. Beyond the mind-body dualism.

12

SENSING THE WHOLE: Complex systems can't be understood by analysing the parts and then reassembling. Art helps us capture the 'syncretic' sense of the whole.

14

MANIFESTING THE UNCONSCIOUS: Research in consciousness challenges the fundamentals of how we understand our world and all living matter. Art is a powerful domain in which to access the 'pre-cognitive' consciousness, and bring our non-verbal senses and intelligence into our rational reflective domain - creating new conversations..

See below for an alternative presentation of the above principles in a table format, with segmentation into Being, Seeing, Doing headings

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Capturing the "particular" (personal narratives), to bring to life the "universal" (common constructs) 

My narratives sensemaking work (based on frameworks such as Cynefin), led me to the portrait filming work to included a wide ranging list of complexity agents and artists, to allow me to build the balance of the 'particular' and the 'universal'; that is holding the infinite variety of individual experiences, with the mapping of the common traits and constructs.

See below my video channel playlists of both artists and complexity agents. The portraits with artists has been a way for me to dive deep into the frontiers between creativity and spirituality, and bring to life the already extensive (if not mainstream) writings on the universal principles behind creative practices (from Julia Cameron to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) .