Mystery and Collaboration

The content in the readings this week really resonated with some core beliefs of mine. From 2008 – 2015, I taught at a program in New York City called the School of Creative and Performing Arts (SOCAPA). One of the many courses that I taught, and my pride and joy, was a course called “Create Your Own Work”. I took a group of about fifteen 14- 18 year-olds and taught them how to create original work. My students struggled with a lot in this class, which was ironic because they could’ve created virtually anything for any assignment and it would’ve been ok. For some reason though, they weren’t able to get out of their own way: they were unsure of where to start, unsure of where to expand upon their ideas and unsure of how to convey what they wanted to convey. They blamed this on their “lack of creativity”. They thought, “Man, I can’t even think of one original thing, I’m so dumb.” I tried to show them that the opposite was true. Teenagers are one hell of an opinionated bunch and once they were given the permission to express those opinions, the floodgates opened. Once they realized that they didn’t need permission to express those opinions? Then – in my opinion – they left changed. Despite the fact that there was so much amazing growth in those classes, there was one thing the students were unable to get over. They couldn’t stop explaining their work.

One student, Peyton, created a piece where she took six or so floor mats and stood them up vertically, arranging them so that they made a maze. In the center of the floor mat maze was a small candle, a tiny desk, and a few pieces of paper with notes scribbled on them. The other students were really excited and intrigued by this piece and when it came time to ask questions, the first one was, “What did it mean?”. Peyton then proceeded to do what virtually every student in my years of teaching did in their first project: she explained every single thing about her piece. After she was done, I put the class on pause. “Why did you do that?” I asked. “Well, she asked me a question and I wanted to let her know what everything meant.” I asked the class if Picasso was present when his work was showed, if Lynch was at everything screening of his films, if Kinski explained his choices in Aguirre, Wrath of God. I told them what I told every other student who took that class. Your audience will form their own opinion and theirs is just as, if not MORE, vital to the piece than the definition you could give them. By providing them with a definition, the piece is concrete and sinks out of memory. But if there is allure and mystery, I may find myself thinking about it tonight, and tomorrow and perhaps next month. So for an artist to provide an answer to the question “What does it mean” is to remove it from consciousness, to make it more concrete.

The other core belief that the “Sketching User Experiences” reading touched on was collaboration. From 2010 – 2014 I worked with a theatre company that I founded to make work that focused on collaborating with other artists. Rather then take a pre-written play, we would all work together to build an entire show from scratch. Collaboration has really been an integral part of my life since…well, I guess since I joined a band when I was in middle school. It’s just sort of how I create. So a few of these readings have been sort of surreal to me because they make collaboration seem like a sort of new idea. The way Buxton – and Norman in readings past – talks about integrating designers into work seemed so…apparent to me. I was sort of shocked to read that it was something that needed to be brought up instead of something that just naturally happened.

I think this is why this program has been so refreshing: it champions the benefits of collaboration and the notion that work doesn’t need to be explained. In a weird way, it almost makes me anti-instruction manual. Why not just give a public a product and see what they make of it. I guarantee the masses will end up utilizing ‘it’ in a way in which the inventors and designers never imagined possible.


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