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Finding the Future in the Past

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By Jonathan Milne, Managing Director of The Learning Connexion

What does the picture mean? First, the context. Years ago I was involved in the international ‘Underground Press syndicate’. The theme loomed large when I was a panellist in a seminar at Victoria University (29 May 2021, The Sixties Counterculture in Aotearoa). I couldn’t resist comparing my earlier ideals to my worldview today. The image# is from Earwig magazine, circa 1973. It features Orcus, a god of the underworld and punisher of broken oaths. The magazine is now a collectable – there’s a copy available for $68 via the web (original price 40 cents).
The first incarnation of Earwig was at Palmerston North Teachers’ College in 1967-8. The title arose during an accidental event involving collected insects. An earwig turned out to be the survivor.

Later I reinvented the magazine in Auckland and, with the support of a small collective, it became part of the background noise during a bumpy period of New Zealand history.

Our ‘underground’ beliefs included honesty, openness, fairness, peace and other goals still considered idealistic by those who believe in survival of the fittest (excluding the earwig, of course).

Some of the old idealism turned out to be achievable. Nelson Mandela was freed, apartheid officially ended, America departed from its war in Vietnam and the Berlin Wall was removed.

Turbulence doesn’t rest. Today global warming is the biggest concern, although for many of us the most immediate problem is the cost of living. The housing market is distorting the whole economy and hence this particular project is focused on earning a living.

What can we do for ourselves to have the best chance of living fully, not just surviving?

In the days of Earwig, it was fun (and hard work) to assemble a publication that contained lots of poetry, art and humour as well as earnest social commentary and some misguided youthfulness. The problem was that it ran at a loss and was kept afloat by the sale of posters and prints, diverting us from the audacious goal of changing the world.

So what are today’s options as we look into the murky future? No matter what your creative interests, how can you make a living?

The good news is that there is still a large bundle of skills that computers don’t (and perhaps won’t) do well. We know that human skills, combined with technology, are better than humans or robots working alone. And, when humans work together, they can be more effective than working in competitive isolation.

Art Thinking – Intelligence beyond IQ:
Dogs can identify Covid19 by sense of smell. This is intelligence – they are able to analyse information in a different way and wouldn’t get a doctorate. Are aspects of human intelligence overlooked because they don’t fit with the prevailing approach to education?

Art brings people into holistic thinking (always relating the parts to the whole) and experimentation in ways that are valuable to humanity. Art thinking isn’t identified by IQ tests, although it features among inventors, entrepreneurs, innovative teachers and so on. It may be an essential tool in getting through massive global changes.

Empathy and communication: Empathy is another intelligence that doesn’t always get credit. Combined with effective communication, it builds strong communities. The arts provide a natural zone of development for empathy. In some ways whole communities might be seen as works of art. For example, the sensitivities of Maori culture developed over thousands of years and have many lessons for the rat-race style that still dominates Western societies.

Your empathy may be a highly desirable employment asset extending far beyond vocations such as art therapy and counselling.

Creativity and open-ended problems:
When people decide to be partners for life there is no guarantee that this will work out. On the other hand, we’re brought up to search for ‘right’ answers. The experience of art teaches us to accept that life is complicated and doesn’t always go according to plan. Art is a tough option because artists have to discover how to juggle what ‘is’ with what might be ‘possible’.

There’s a lesson to be taken from the hard-headed world of professional sport. In team sports players are rigorously coached and may also be encouraged to ‘express’ themselves##. Translated into TLC language they are invited to be creative. The arts, like sports, bring together a combination of discipline and inventiveness that can generate results that are much better than discipline alone.

Imagination and vision: Looking back on the ‘underground press’, I was among thousands who believed in fairness. A creative writer might build a marketable story around the theme, ‘What if everyone was 100% fair to themselves and others?’ How would such a world manage psychopaths and survivors of trauma? Are there situations in which fairness is impossible? Is it fair to use more of the world’s resources than others? This was a challenge for communism – see this link (it turns out that the problem remains unsolved).

If we rethink the practicalities of imagination, we might see the core element as experimentation. The artist tests things and then makes choices. Suddenly the options go beyond the arts. Should anyone in any career be free to imagine, test and choose?

Check a superb little story of creativity
Project – Connecting art thinking with a changing world
Project 35 explored the nature of creativity. This time, consider practical idealism. In particular, we’re inviting you to think how distinctive aspects of ‘art thinking’ might fit with today’s needs and connect with earning your living. Step one is to identify your present skills. The diagram (below) presents a model of personal exploration.
List your strengths, mixing ‘creative’ and other attributes. Step back and view what happened to you at school and in work. Look beyond the usual academic and trade requirements (although they are worth noting if you were good at them). Limit the list to 6.

Identify social/environmental issues that are relevant to you today. Possible examples: communicating across cultures (or social boundaries), global warming, extinctions, nutrition, health, poverty and many others.
Identify any links (no matter how fanciful) between your strengths and the issues. The story of Scott Tulua (above) is an example. If you’re already inventive in a particular area, might it have wider applications?

Decide on at least one small experiment to explore a new area where your skills might be relevant.
Possibly a role at a checkout counter might indicate whether your patience and empathy fit the demands of hectic interpersonal work. If you’re successful, it could open doors and be highly creative as well as disciplined. You could offer your art to decorate a coffee shop and see if there are any buyers. Maybe some work at an op shop would give you practical insights to social needs where you could make a difference.

Choose something, figure if you can cope with it and give it a try (or look for something else).

Find connections in a messy world.
Identify your strengths (symbolised by the wiggly lines).
Reach into the world and find where your strengths are relevant (the coloured blobs).
Keep experimenting until you find combinations that are worth testing.
Keep exploring. Note what happens. Are you able to share ideas with like-minded friends? Pay attention to anything that sparks excitement.

If you’re already active in making art, reflect more deeply on what you’re actually doing. For example, making a painting requires you to be intensely aware of the parts and the whole because every brushstroke will change the whole picture. This is a skill that can transfer into teamwork, design, research and so on. (I remember many art teachers who had the skills but didn’t understand how to extend them into other fields).
Is prediction worth the effort?

Scientist, Neils Bohr, famously said “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future!” Weather forecasts illustrate the problem. A one-day forecast is fairly reliable (even in Wellington), although beyond 10 days the accuracy is only around 50:50. See how accurate are weather forecasts and Why the weather forecast will always be a bit wrong
So how can we make decisions about our personal future? The idea of a ‘career’ has much less relevance. In the USA, people spread their working lives over an average of 12 jobs(!). The figures suggest that many people never find a job that fits. See How Often Do People Change Jobs? The purpose of this project is to help you improve your chances.

# Reference to the Earwig cover: Check Wikipedia for ‘Orcus, Gardens of Bomarzo’. The sculpture goes back to the 16th century and the photo was taken (minus the colour) by Herbert List in 1952.
## 'He wasn't a warm character... I do believe he did stifle some creativity' (msn.com)
Some resources:
Carlo Rovelli’s rebellious past and how it made him a better scientist - YouTube
A delightful 7 minute talk on Carlo’s remarkable career trajectory. In terms of creativity, he’s every bit as much an artist as a scientist.

Art Thinking (Amy Whitaker) is an excellent book with plenty of ideas (along with sketches – Amy set out to be an artist). We’ll share some of the tactics in a later project.

Sharing your work/play (including new links and stories of how you managed) is a gift for everyone.
I look forward to receiving comments, questions and images: jonathanmilnetlc@gmail.com


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