Megan Dowsett is a creative consultant working in museums, galleries and the arts, an illustrator who is finding her voice through personal and local projects, and a parent to two young beings who can't help but influence her creative journey.

Through the name Norris and the Flamingo, she shares the sense of adventure that runs through all of life, wherever we are on our journey. A sense of imagination, of possibility and discovery, for children and adults alike.

15 June 2015

Yes Artists

These thoughts began on the back of paper scraps found in my bag, one sunny afternoon while my daughter slept ... Illustrated with a few of my own more participative projects.

I quite often find myself drawn into conversations with artist friends, about why we do what we do, about what we're trying to achieve and how best to achieve it.  About the values behind our work.

IMG_6076 I think I've always assumed that most artist educators share more or less the same values as myself - an intense passion and belief in the importance of sharing a love for art; an absolute wish for non-judgement of creations by the people or communities we work with; and a desire to enable everyone to see themselves as an artist in some way.  We want to abolish the phrases 'I'm not a creative person,' 'I can't draw,' and 'I'm no good at art' forever.

But I've become increasingly aware and fascinated by the different kinds of artist educators.

There are those who teach.  These people are often, I feel, artists in a specific discipline, who need to support their income (well, aren't we all, to an extent?).  And so they share the skills and techniques they have, developing people's ability to work with clay, or printmaking or ...

Sometimes I'm a teacher.  I far prefer to explore with a group than to teach them, but sometimes that's tricky, when people want to learn a specific set of skills that you are able to share.  And it is, of course, joyful to share a tool-set that kicks somebody off on their own creative journey.
Front Cover
On the other side of teaching, there are those who's practice fundamentally involves participation.  In some form, their art does not exist without the contribution of others.  I think these people describe themselves variously as 'participation artists', 'community artists' and similar.  I admire these people enormously and I long to count myself in their numbers.

Participation artists inspire me every time I see their work.  With the contributions of individuals, groups and communities, they create large, beautiful, imaginative and often highly ambitious masterpieces.  I want to do this too!

But what I realise increasingly is that all too often, this kind of work involves a judgement, a sense of quality control.  It limits the freedom of the participant to take the seed you offer them and transform it into something else entirely, because by then it may no longer fit the criteria of the artist's project.  It begins to seem to me that the collaborative, participative works that so often leave me green with envy sometimes involve more selection and intervention than sit happily with my own approach to work.

To name a few inspiring projects ... Gethan and Myles, David AllsopMichelle Reader ...  I'll talk more individually about their work in a future entry.
Whitefarm Lodge February 2013 007
The other aspect of this kind of project, is the need for an artist to 'finish it' or 'put it together'.  In itself, this isn't a problem, but again I need to recognise that the final, incredible outcome that I'm seeing is not simply the  work of a community but signifies a lot of polishing, neatening and finishing from the artist's hand.  Thus the nature of collaboration.  I have delivered a few projects like this myself, and the need for an artist to finish a work sits far more comfortably with me than the need for an artist to select or limit the contributions to the work.  Surely the former is possible without the latter, and still with an exquisite outcome?

What is emerging in my mind, however, is a third kind of artist educator.  I think it's the group of people with whom I work most often and with whom my values are aligned, and of course it overlaps with the other styles I describe.  We are 'yes' people.  I return to my core values mentioned at the beginning of this post.  What I want more than anything else is to get everyone excited by art, and everyone believing they can be, in some way, an artist.  And this means accepting everything as an important or valid idea, drawing, contribution, creation.  The best artists in this category provide the means to be brilliant.  They offer frames, formats, contexts, tools , and the freedom to take them in the direction that inspires you.
I believe it's possible to be this kind of artist, let's call it a 'yes artist', and to create the beautiful, finished, collaborative works described previously, but it's an enormous challenge.  It's extraordinarily tempting to 'forget' to include a piece of work, or to add to it, for the quality of the outcome.

I have come to realise that I would rather compromise the quality of the outcome for the sake of the inclusion and equality of everyone's work.  That's just the kind of artist educator I am.  But I continue to believe in the possibility or a beautiful, comprehensive product that celebrates everyone's contribution equally.