Tag Archives: art

Reaching Stage 5 – non STEM

Required reading

This post uses a key framework: Chapman’s version of Robert Kegan’s theories of emotional, cognitive and social development, it is summarised here.

This post is in dialogue with, and an expansion on, Chapman’s recent post about moving through stages 3, 4 and 5 in modern society (and the lack of support for it) here.

This post will not make sense unless you have read the other two posts first. They are somewhat lengthy, but I will be returning to these ideas as a basis for my blog posts for a long time, so it’s worth settling in.

Reaching Stage 5

As previously discussed, it might be harder than it used to be to reach stage 4 in current society. Humanities students may have it pretty bad (and presumably the other 60% of the population with no higher education at all). STEM students have the best chance of achieving stage 4.

Employment is the other stage 4 structure which might support stage 3 people. But as Kegan has pointed out, up to one third of the adult American population are stage 3 people living uncomfortably inside a stage 4 society, including stage 4 employment, without acheiving stage 4 themselves through their working environment.

So Chapman focusses on creating new structures to support stage 4 STEM educated people to progress to stage 5 with less difficulty. He is correct to identify this group as potentially the lowest hanging fruit.

In this post I will talk about my own experiences of (I think) reaching stage 4 and 4.5 not quite through STEM education, rather through a mixture of politics and STEM-type things. The purpose is to potentially identify next-lowest hanging fruit and possible cultural change that will support more stage 4 development that is not through STEM.

Personal caveats

I’m currently reading one of Robert Kegan’s books – one of the source materials for the stages theory I am talking about – and I feel struck by the possibility of my own uneven evolution through the stages.

Uneven in the sense of mastering some childhood stages above – averagely quickly but then possibly remaining stuck in a stage long after the average age of transition is expected during childhood, teens and 20s,  then perhaps being in the next stage for a very short time before finally entering my current one.

Uneven also in the sense of perhaps being in one stage regarding abstract reasoning that is much further along than the stage I’m in regarding emotionally relating with other people.

As with any framework, Kegan’s stages are illuminating for many situations but not applicable in all. No doubt there are also huge pitfalls with attempting to analyse oneself with these things, however with these caveats we will move forward anyway! For now this post will focus on abstract reasoning ability.

Humanities education

Up to school leaving age I think it is remarkable that I mixed together technical subjects with humanities subjects in equal measure. I enjoyed the scientific method and computing as well as my earlier love of English, literature, history and languages. The pressure to take courses between the age of 16-18 that “obviously” go together was pretty strong, to thus futher specialise during higher education. For exmaple, taking Maths and Physics at age 18 to go on to do Engineering at university. This happens less in the States, where a ‘major’ subject is also supported by other learning at college.

In this context I was being wilfully strange by taking humanities and STEM subjects together.

I waited a few years before attending college during which time I wrote poetry and worked in bookshops. At college,  I made a strange sideways choice to study Fine Art, a surprise to everone, not least myself. I was pretty shit at art so steeped myself in philosophy/theory instead and yes, was indeed taught about postmodernism. It was an elective module that I duly elected. In my own personal case I cannot agree that my tutors did not understand postmodern thought properly and I feel I was left to make my own investigations into its territory in the sense that I wouldn’t get a bad grade if I didn’t internalise postmodern principles.

We focussed on postmodern (and crucially, post-structrualist) thought exclusively within arty, theory, air fairy domains and so I was free to consign it to ‘only relevant to philsophy’ in my brain.

None the less I learned the important idea from Baudrillard that rationalists condense down into the phrase ‘the map is not the territory’. I also got a strong sense that post-structuralist thought was critiquing the idea that human behaviour could be discovered if the rules for the scaffolding could only be worked out.

I liken this to taking a rubbing from a gravestone. The old and time-worn words on an ancient stone are not easily legible, but if one takes a piece of paper and a wax crayon and makes a rubbing of the stone, the crayon will highlight in much greater relief the contrast between the smooth stone and the indented words.

In the same way, persons of the sciences as they are applied to people hoped to simply interrogate humans enough so as to divine the underlying structure which would explain all human behaviour.

(I’ve mentioned in another post how terrifying it would be if such knowledge was put in the hands of people in positions of power over others).

The post-structuralists pointed out the absurdity of looking for structures (or even just one structure) that explains all human behaviour when it is almost definitely not there.

This idea seems a bit obvious to a postmodern teenager, but being forced to discover what modernism was or what structuralism was gave me great insight into the evolution I had been born into.

It could still be true that I had this training in the absence of systemic training however my personal scientific mindset was already present and the disciplines of film photography as well as painting methods had to be fully mastered before receiving anything close to praise from tutors.

Also during university years I discovered feminism. This political line of thought said: there is a system called patriarchy and while it is not so obvious any more it is still fucking you over. Understanding that system and understanding it’s critique was another subject of my university years.

Feminism and other social justice goals became my stage 4 system for a few years. It was the personal system within which I made meaning. It was a framework that shaped my beliefs, projects and political opinions. I think I retained some hesitancy over absolutism or fanaticism though, due to my earlier brushes with postmodernism, as well as exposure to extremely sophisticated feminist thought. 

For relationships, I have said before that polyamory probably provided that bridge to stage 4 in emotional terms. 

So far, we have seen that all of this development was from a humanities input, and informed by a much earlier interest (age 15) in computing and science.

political upheaval

In 2011 I was experiencing a resurgence of anxiety and panic attacks. I felt that something was missing from life and my part time library work and part time activism were not stimulating enough. It was also the year a series of riots broke out, the first in my home town of Bristol. Globally,  the Occupy Movement began and I was involved with my local chapter. I was excited by the newness of the movement and the potential for change but dismayed by reports of sexism and homophobia in the camps, as well as knowing that Occupy was about questions, not answers.

My solution to this anxiety was radical upheaval. I made myself homeless and went on and odyssey of knowledge.

It was in these years that my politics was challenged by a rationalist. They asked me to articulate the other persons point of view on a political issue. I managed it, but it was an unfamiliar exercise. Throughout the subsequent protest I was morose. The idea that the people I was protesting against might actually have a point was a very difficult one.

I subsequently dived into LessWrong, probability theory, Slatestarcodex and the rest but ultimately I feel it was emotional reactions to a political system that began the process of stage 4 to 5 transition.

I think I must admit that my process was deeply informed by scientific and rational principles, plus I’m extremely self reflective but I think my 3-4-5 transition was largely in arts and humanities areas.

My thoughts on this story are perhaps less specialisation between arts and humanities should be encouraged. Cross-specialisation is needed.

I also think STEM minded people have a tendency to dismiss emotional frameworks as unscientific or not useful because they don’t understand them very well, so STEM background people need humanities training just as much as the other way around. 

You might want to check out my cross pollination zine for ideas about how rationalism and feminism could learn from each other. 

I will talk about the emotional difficulties of tr asitioning from stage 4 to 5 in much greater detail in a subsequent post. 

Advertisements

Modelling For Photographers

This is a statement for anyone interested in working with me as a nude model for their photography.

I’ve noticed nude/art photographers tend to want a very particular “feminine” look in their work and I do not necessarily represent that. I have an excellent, very “feminine” figure but I am also a person.

I have an unusual hair cut, it is shaved at the sides with a long section in the middle and it is often dyed pink or blue. My sense of style is varied but often tends towards the tomboy. I am a very active person. Myself and most of my friends live our lives with alternative ideas about gender, sex, sexuality, relationships and social norms.

I previously had little idea that these things could affect nude photography but they very much do. I am unlikely to be a passive subject in your work.  I will desire to be expressive, and in ways that may seem unusual. I will stare into the camera. I will want to talk to you. I like being happy, and find it a strain to act demur.  I do not sit, stand or walk in a “feminine” way, although I am able to. My mannerisms and the way I occupy space with my body are not feminine in a traditional sense. I do however love being female. I am in touch with my body and celebrate its femaleness, it is simply that my female expression is far from the more popular cultural norms.

I would be interested to work with photographers who would like to explore this set of elements in their practice and I know it can lead to extremely interesting photographs.

Please also let me know if you have read this and are no longer interested, I much prefer to be told “no, thank you” promptly than to be waiting on a reply that never arrives.

photo

Review of ‘International Art English’ by Alix Rule & David Levine

‘International Art English’, finally a name coined for something that seems to exist but is hard to define (Rule and Levine use the striking analogy of pornography: ‘we know it when we see it’), a curious version of English that is ’emphatically not English’ used by that collection of art individuals and organisations known as the ‘art world’ to describe and promote the latest fine art.

This essay, simply titled ‘International Art English’, attempts to describe the special language used within the art world by analysing the text of thousands of press releases from prominent online art feed e-flux. The essay points out the curious vocabulary and sentence construction prevalent in IAE and goes on to suggest the likely origins of its peculiar syntax. After a comment on authority, the authors speculate on the ‘implosion’ of the language, since its functions of authority and exclusion are becoming lost amidst a growing, indeed global readership who are becoming conversant in it.

Although much of the press reception of this essay has mentioned the labels that describe the art works in museums (a version of this kind of ‘English’), this essay focuses exclusively on the ‘purist articulation’ of International Art English – the art world press release. I think this fact is pertinent, because museum labels (as distinct from contemporary exhibition hand-outs) can commit sins that IAE is in part trying to avoid, namely telling the audience what they are supposed to believe about a piece of work. As a speaker of IAE (I have an undergrad in Fine Art and spent more time writing than making) I appreciate the difficulties inherent in art labeling. I was recently in the Museo Del Prado in Madrid and found myself consciously offended by the descriptions accompanying Bosh and Goya, prescriptively describing the themes and intentions of the work to what the writers seemed to be assuming was a stupid and disinterested audience. Most infuriating was the tone of the text, which left no room for my personal desire to read the works in psychedelic terms (I had just returned from a 14 day trance festival, how else was I going to read El jardín de las delicias?)

This leads us to the question: how should a work of art be described without unduly influencing the audience’s reactions? Provoking some kind of sensation in one’s audience is one of the key preoccupations of the artist. It is also a key truth among art makers that no two people will react to a work in the same way, or if they do, the range of reactions across many observers will in no way be predictable. How then, to interest a potential audience without closing down their possible reactions? As novelists say, how is one to “show, not tell”? IAE may be one way of answering this question. The authors of the paper describe the tendency for certain words to be over used, for some words to change their meanings, meaning more than one thing at once, or even losing their meaning entirely; for the ‘antieconomy’ of more words, not fewer, causing a propensity towards lists, grouping unrelated words and pairing of like terms.  For those initiated into the world of IAE, there is a sense of pleasing vagueness that describes yet clearly does not describe the work before them. Of course, for the uninitiated, IAE illicits an opposite yet also successful reaction of ignoring the gallery text altogether.

Perhaps we are being too hard on IAE: how is one to use words to describe works of art that are exclusively visual or sound-based? How often are excellent novels translated successfully into film? It is no wonder that words like reality and space are over-used and recodified with new and ambiguous meanings. The activity of describing visual art in written language has always been a ruse,a sleight-of-hand and the quirks of IAE have been ignored all this time because it is only polite.

Now, by naming the language which has been growing and metasticising (‘Germanly’) in its own innocent art bubble for the past forty years, while its idiosyncracies were politely ignored, Rule and Levine risk bringing about the implosion they fear in their essay.

One part of the essay, however, was highly reassuring to me as a former art student, namely, the acknowledgement of the desire to admire IAE for its linguistic frippery rather than its content. While my fellow students racked their brains over how to understand and replicate this codified language I secretly gloried in the aesthetics of the sentence construction, enjoying the particularly poetic tone of some of the less dry pieces and rising to the challenge in my own work. As a not so very good artist I spent many hours in the wordier worlds of art, from my dissertation to writing about my work to agonising for hours over a clever title, or creating whole works of art out of them. I even spent much time steeped in the work of Deleuze and Guttari, the very philosophers who, in translation in American art journal October are the supposed culprits for the entire IAE phenomenon (as one friend of mine on Facebook exclaimed “damn! I knew it would be the French!”). To have acknowledged in public the peculiar literary delight one might take in IAE is to scratch an itch I did not know I had. Rule and Levine allude to interns writing press releases as one of the few creative tasks in their jobs. My own tutor once described his desire to somehow apprehend art, to make it less intimidating, so he decided to write about it. It seems obvious to me that a large part of the ridiculousness of IAE is surely to do with its position as a creative outlet for artsy people who, for whatever reason, do not actually practise art.

Of course, all of this is poppycock to anyone outside the art world, since who outside reads these press releases anyway? Rule and Levine slip into IAE in their own essay and this review has done the same, written as it is by an acolyte of the mystical church of Fine Art. Any form of art writing has always been to make one sound as if one knows what one is talking about and in more recent years to make buyers of art sufficiently baffled as to part with ever increasing wadges of cash, an aim to which it has clearly been highly successful. Rule and Levine do mention the idea that if IAE is abandoned, it is likely to be replaced by a form of elitist English for the ‘reliable distinctions it imposes’. They encourage us to enjoy IAE in what is possibly its golden years before it all becomes even more insular, and decidedly less funny, than it was before.