Collaborative Drawing

Even the breaking of rules has patterns which guide its execution.

Michael Soto
May 8, 2014

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with art.  I live in awe of artists and hate that I don’t feel like an artist.  For me, it is something magical – a pure expression from the soul.  Art exists as a practice of breaking  rules.  Yet even the breaking of rules has patterns which guide its execution.

My first post in this series was an ode to randomness.  An attempt to convey to you, my dear reader, that randomness is something good rather than something to fear.  Yet within the chaos of randomness there is often an underlying order.  A good example of this is a game I learned from a friend in the UK called Collaborative Drawing.  There are many different ways to play, the one that I have most often adopted entails a small group taking turns drawing on the same piece of paper that rotates between the participants.  Since each person has complete liberty to mark the paper as they wish, none of the individuals can easily anticipate the result.  Each person reacts to, builds upon and redirects the intentions of the rest of the group.

Inherent in the process is an element of unpredictability of the final form.  Nonetheless, despite this unpredictability there is a consistency in the highly creative nature of the drawings, evidencing how the sum is greater than its parts.  Beyond what is visible on paper, there often is a kind of intertwining of the personalities of each involved – without having spoken a word, the participants share an experience that begins to form commonalities.

Whether the exercise is ‘useful’ or not depends upon the desired end. As the Cheshire Cat cryptically responded Alice in this scene when she begged him for advice on where to go, “That depends upon where you want to get to, and if it doesn’t matter where you want to go then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”  If the end is to draw something predefined, collaborative drawing is likely not the best exercise, but it may be a good start to seeing things from another angle.

The goal with this post is to explain and convey, how what appears as chaos can, create its own order – what Pierre Bourdieu has called the ‘naturalization of the arbitrary’.  We often call order what we are accustomed to and chaos to that which we don’t understand.  However, in a different sense, order has to do with how things align to an end.  From this perspective, what may appear random or chaotic may consistently work towards a given end.  Random applied in a consistent manner, often actually produces a consistent product – a contradiction which resembles “institutionalising serendipity.”

For me, serendipity is like your peripheral vision – you can never look directly at it, no matter how hard you try.  So, the evolving buzz and ‘science’ of institutionalizing serendipity is, by necessity a contradiction in terms.  It is a bit like ‘innovation toolkits’ that pretend to convey how to be innovative (take a look at Nesta’s Open Workshop).  Both serendipity and innovation present benefits by changing the context, but neither can be consistently secured by following a ready-made instruction manual.