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Crossing Boundaries

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Could the experience of making a painting help in running a country?

When you make a painting each new mark affects the whole work. You get used to the fact that everything is happening at once and each change affects everything else. Experienced artists become highly sensitive to the need to connect every action with every other action; it’s all networked.

Countries have a lot in common with paintings even though they have more layers and there isn’t a lone artist orchestrating the ‘picture’. The fabric of a country is coloured by everyone who lives there, along with all the other life forms, the weather, seismic events and so on. Some of the ‘colour’ is deliberate, some is accidental. The master watercolourist learns how to combine intentions with accidents, in the same way wise governments manage a nation.

Artists assist their marks to get along with each other, helping to create work that has meaning. It’s the same with countries. If people get along fairly well and believe that their country is good, then they’ll be more resilient when things go wrong (perhaps capable of turning disasters into something new and creative).


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The experience of making paintings helps people understand complexity. This is not the same as knowing smart answers and being good at algebra. Rather, it is a sense of awareness that everything we do can affect everyone.

Art has value for the process of running a country because it improves understanding of ‘messy’ situations. It adds value to the traditional approach of studying history and viewing the panorama of events that emerged from thousands of years of human decisions. The cerebral knowledge of history contributes to a more potent mix when combined with the visceral experience of art.
One of the messages of history concerns boundaries. Ancient hunter-gatherers had to have ‘unbounded’ knowledge or they didn’t survive. The shift to agriculture led to specialisation that continues to this moment. Not so long ago Michelangelo (Renaissance artist) could work as an architect (St Peter’s Basilica and other projects1). Today the practice of architecture is so tightly guarded that artists are decorators rather than instigators of spatial transformation.

Instead of being fluid, like water paint, much of our collective knowledge has become rigid – a paradox of the internet age. In the midst of breath-taking inventiveness rigidity has led to a scary assortment of large and small follies. The disconnection of local communities isn’t that different from the big stuff (dangers of economic collapse, epidemics, wars, global warming and so on).
Water painting is merely a single example of a discipline that embraces creativity and meaning and is relevant to many other fields.

The goal of the 2015 New Zealand Creativity Challenge is to explore a trove of different models that cross boundaries and reconnect. It is an essential step in shaping a better world for all of us.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelangelo

The New Zealand Creativity Challenge 2015
April 17-19 April 2015 Lower Hutt, New Zealand