237.130 Communication for Makers Bachelor of Fine Arts Reflections on studying

Reflections – Going Online

Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes

Across the Universe
Fiona Apple

New Zealand is locked down this week, because of the COVID pandemic. Our lessons shifted online and we attended over Zoom. There were about 35 of us, and it kind of worked. We were split into breakout rooms at various points, which are a pretty pale imitation of doing group work face-to-face, but we did OK.

I found it interesting that last week I was pretty nervous, and my young peers were quite chatty, but this week I was fine online, but my peers seemed pretty subdued. Perhaps because I spent all of the main NZ lockdown working really actively all-day-every-day in Teams, and you get used to it, so you wade in and get your point across because you have to. No idea. I doubt any of them are ever going to read this and clue me in.

Perhaps first year students don’t initially realise that, in any modern career, communications isn’t part of the job; it is the job. This is a hyper-connected world, and even if you’re not all that comfortable being thrown into a virtual room and told to work together with a bunch of strangers, just say, “screw it”, and get stuck in. In your entire career, you’re probably never going to come across as safe a place to do that as university.

If you can’t do it, then stand up, walk, talk. Sitting in front of a screen is a mode of existence designed for solo work, and being sat down in education in general comes with a strong sense of, “I’m about to be taught”, especially when you’ve been in formal education for over a decade. Hard habits to break.

Maybe “Communication for Makers” is their most important course of all?

I also thought about interviewing people for junior roles, which can actually be tougher than hiring for senior positions, although usually a lot less risky. I can’t really hire you for what you’ve done; instead, I’m trying to hire for potential. I’m far more interested in how you communicate. How do you take on information and process it? Do you restate what’s being asked so you’re sure you understand? How do you tailor your response to your audience? Did you assemble your thoughts into a coherent story before you open your mouth. And so on.

This morning I met my three final year project students, to talk about the app they’re building for me. They were really professional, engaged, showed up with a meeting agenda, took minutes (and sent them out afterwards!), and so on. We met, naturally, on Teams. Now, these are IT students in their final year, not Art students in their first year. There are many, many differences between them, and I’ve no idea what the key differentiator is. It could that be all three of “my” students have worked in a professional environment for a while, be that as an intern, during vacations, or alongside their studies. Then again, I’ve worked with a number of students fresh out of university that have the communication chops too though.

Let’s hypothesize that it’s university. I just haven’t figured out how yet.

237.130 Communication for Makers 237.130 Studio Notes Bachelor of Fine Arts

237.130 – Week #1 Notes

Session 1: The Consequences of our Making

On judgement

I was interested in the comments on judgement versus being judgemental. Interesting point on consent. Consent should be given to be judged. We ask to be judged.

Q: by making Art, are we inherently asking to be judged? Do we seek criticism through the act of making Art?

Constructive criticism as an approach to judgement.

On help

We watched a video on disability, considering it as a physical state and a social status.

I really enjoyed having the space to think through this topic.

Of particular interest was the concept of help/helping. Is “help” a human right? Should help be something we can expect from people?

In the video, Sunaura Taylor described her interactions in coffee shops. Considering how she could need help, and does ask for it, but also sees the difficulties in both asking and giving.

It’s interesting to think through the layers of context here. There’s the legal framework, like, a coffee shop may need to have an accessibility ramp; then, as this was a US-centric video there’s tipping culture, which could I guess act as either a barrier to helping (thinking reducing the number of server transactions) or may enable helping, although that feels like paying for help? Surely the US’s individual-centric culture itself also has influence.

Then there’s the individual themselves. How does the context of their upbringing, home life, good/bad experiences, education, and so on – their “character”, if that’s a thing – affect their willingness and ability to help.

On disability and appearance

I was really struck by the concept of “no ideal morphology”, and considering what the boundaries of being “human” are.

Reminded me of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

Note to self: read What Can a Body Do? by Sara Hendren

I perceive Sunaura as a “human being”, and don’t feel any nuance or shades of grey there – she is human. For full disclosure, I had written, “in every way that’s important”, at the end of that sentence? Should think more about that.

Conversely, when I’ve experience artificial human-like constructs, for example in the Miraikan in Tokyo, even though they have been noted by experts as being extraordinarily lifelike, I do not perceive them as “human beings”. The photo below hints at what’s missing, but don’t let the image fool you – there is something that’s just not there when you see one of these “things” move and interact.

This is coming too damn close to religion for this old Atheist, so I will need to ruminate on this further.

Q: Do humans have the ability to see a human “soul”? That word’s too overloaded with religious meaning, so let me rephrase is as, “can human beings perceive and assess consciousness?”

Then again, there are the human and animal-like robots built by Boston Dynamics. I experience feelings of pity or wrongness if one falls over or, worse, somebody pushes one over. They’re clearly artificial and “inhuman”, so why have I been hardwired to feel pity at their misfortunes?

Finally, in a class discussion we heard about caring as an evolutionary adaptation. Interesting to consider altruism versus selfishness. What’s the evolutionary advantage in selfishness?

Key takeaways

Is disability more about designed environments than morphology?

Does, “can I get help?”, really lead to, “do we live in a society that helps?”

Where are the boundaries of “human”?

Do these things link together? Do people help others that are more (or less!) like themselves? So I guess I should ask, what’s the societal boundary? Do people, perhaps unconsciously, draw boundaries around people they’ll help versus not help? How do they do that?

Examined Life - Judith Butler & Sunaura Taylor

Sunaura Taylor

The Sparrow (novel)

What Can a Body Do? by Sara Hendren

Miraikan, Tokyo, "Android - What Is Human?"

Boston Dynamics

Compassion helped Neanderthals to survive, new study reveals

Discourse Theory - some definitions

Bachelor of Fine Arts Reflections on studying

Reflections – First Session

And I am so ignorant now, with all that I have learnt

Black Country, New Road

Quite an odd morning. Acting for my boss, who’s on leave, so my first meeting of the day was with his peers and manager; then, I met with three final year Weltec students whose project I’m supporting/sponsoring; then a few other meetings, a quick lunch, then off up to Massey to become a student again. Everything connects, somehow.

I left lots of time to get up to Massey, and managed to live the full fresher experience by getting hopelessly lost, but eventually got my student ID and found the lecture room with all of 5 minutes to spare, all hot and bothered.

Naturally enough, I am the old guy in class. Literally every other student, and there must have been 50 or so, is straight out of high school. I’m always amazed by how well spoken and grounded young Kiwi adults are, and this lot was no exception. Calm and thoughtful, chatty, witty – not at all what I remember being like at 18.

I did feel very out of place. There was group work along the,”think about a time when”, line, which is always interesting, but in this case also quite nerve-wracking. Being realistic here: I’m likely to have more experiences to draw on than the other students, so I feel like I should STFU and let the others talk. I badly want to approach university like I did at 18, but that’s probably going to be impossible!

Then, something really positive happened. We had a couple of minutes break, and one of the tutors, Matthijs, came over for a chat. He was so kind. He asked a little about my background, and let me know that I have just as much right to be in the class as anyone else, and that I should jump in and contribute. It doesn’t sound like therapy, but it helped a lot.

So, maybe I’m not out of place after all…

…and now I have homework to do, just like everyone else.

Bachelor of Fine Arts Reflections on studying

Reflections – Is this thing on?

So I’m going back to university tomorrow, to study Visual Arts.

It’s been some time since I graduated as an Engineer.

If I’m counting right, it’s been 28 years and 8 months. This is obviously “some time”.

I am nervous about this. I have an intense technical job and manage a team of 25 or so. But still, becoming an art student is… stressful.

This is a leap, you see. I will explain why elsewhere.

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