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Learning and discovery

The exploration of visualisation through abstract painting offers a powerful laboratory for experimentation and new ways of seeing and thinking. it is comfort good for the mind!

As a laboratory of the mind, abstract painting enables the artist to avoid the immediacy and perhaps urgency of depicting objects. Of course, once an abstract painting has been produced, it is now, in some way, about something, perhaps signifying something, inside or outside.

Some have written of paintings as ‘quasi persons’ [see Isabelle Graw, Daniel Birnbaum and Nikolaus Hirsch, Thinking through painting, Institute fur Kunstkritik, 2012], which posits that a painting takes on a type of agency, almost like a person; it does something to the viewer, and interacts with the world, often not in the way intended by the artist.

This is to be expected as an abstract work is as much a creation of the viewer’s and artist’s mind as it is a public object open to multiple interpretations. This differs from representational art, which is a ‘ding an sich’ as Kant would say: it is what it says it is and no more: it is a portrait of this person or a landscape of this place.

Alva Noe, in Strange Tools, 2015, suggests that we see art, painting as a type of puzzle to be worked through, experimentally. His concern why art is so boring, as he puts it, lies at the heart of the ennui so many of us feel when we look at some art and wonder why it is mute. In part, mute art could be a failed experiment, a puzzle that hasn’t been solved yet, or it could just be failed art itself.

But what does a failed abstract painting look like? How can we be sure we are experimenting and not just ‘messing about’?

Let’s begin by abstracting “beyond the vase, or bowl of fruit”, to consider developing new forms of expression, by capturing, for instance, what a really good piece of chocolate tastes like.

Much of the approach taken in art education focuses on developing technical mastery of drawing, and a requirement to keep a sketch book. I have never been able to figure out what the point of either is. What is a draft of a painting — isn’t it the paining itself? And why sketch if you want to paint anyway.

Einstein was sitting at dinner next to a guest, who kept a notebook of good ideas he’d had. He asked Einstein if he kept a notebook of good ideas. Einstein said “No, I’ve only had one good idea”. But what an idea!!

The point here is to avoid the tyranny of the sketchbook as evidence of good ideas. It is just what it is and no more. If you don’t need it don’t use one and if you can’t draw or sketch, don’t get anxious.

But for many, drawing can be a challenge as it presents so many assumptions about talent, and what it means to ‘do’ art. And not being able to draw has discouraged talented people.  Henry Peacock in his book “Art as Expression” noted that his students who were good at drawing displayed in his view less creative insights of what they saw than those who drew badly. The poorer drawers, therefore, were better at interpreting what they saw and more likely to express their creativity.

Here are some courses, see if any suit your requirements.


Imagination offers an introduction to abstraction. This means learning to see more than the vase, bowl of fruit or tree. It means being able to speak to others through paintings that express emotions, feelings, beliefs, attitudes, and rich images. It will appeal to people who would like something more than the usual still life or figurative art class.

Using traditional and familiar objects, forms, techniques and methods accessible to all, the course  will enable the development of abstract visualisations (called an abstract painting). This course is flexible and can be a single one-off session of a couple of hours, a half-day or a day or more depending on interest. But it is intended to get individuals to the point where they may be comfortable developing their own abstract vision.


“I” is a 5-day experimental learning process using structured creativity exercises for painting explorations. It is summer only and residential, and subject to demand for between 5 and 10 participants.

Experimental environments such as en plein air (outdoors),  or in a village or  built environment, or historical building or a  ruin, are designed to encourage abstraction.

Work & Art: Abstraction and Creativity in the Workplace

Work and Art builds on my experience (having run an MBA programme, designed and led leadership programmes, and worked with executives in the public and private sectors), to address workplace challenges using creative processes. My experience is with government, industry, non-profit sector and professional organisations, mainly healthcare and life sciences/pharma.

These are short, focused sessions with a strong creativity and business or government focus and can address such issues as these:

  • business strategy
  • market development
  • leadership, e.g. management, governing boards
  • team development
  • innovation opportunity development
  • creativity and problem-solving
  • visualisation of complex/wicked problems
  • policy development

In addition, these can be tailored around blending creativity and art with corporate retreats. They can be held residentially to suit specific requirements. I have over 25 years experience in these areas.

Special Topics

Specialist sessions are offered on a half-day basis for individuals and small groups in such topics as

  • still life: abstraction and things that don’t move (still-life)
  • air: abstraction and the outside world (landscape, seascape, cityscape, escape)
  • non-figure: abstraction and things that might move, but do look like something (figurative) and why painting figuratively isn’t enough for the mind
  • hardcore: abstraction and unbounded creativity at the outer limits of imagination


Café is a series of sessions for those seeking sustained working time and a desire to develop their own approach to abstractio. It comprises 5 half-day sessions spread out over a couple of months. This is designed to challenge individual artistic sensibilities over the five sessions and offers a refreshing outlet for those looking for new forms of artistic expression.


Materials are not supplied, but you only need something to work on (paper, small canvas), something to work with (paint/brushes, crayon, pencils), no more than 5 colours plus white and black, and an easel of some sort (sheet of plywood or plexiglass). There are minimum requirements for participants in order for some of the courses to be held and I’m exploring ways to make these accessible for online/distance learning (please ask if this is a preference).