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FAQs for experimenting

Jo Dane
Jo Dane by Osian Grant 2007
Why is experimentation important in Art & Design?

There are two ways of finding things out: one is to read, hear or observe other people's experience and the other is to try things for yourself. In art and design, that's what we call experimentation. It involves finding out what you can do. It's a form of research. If you don't experiment (which also means taking risks) you don't learn about the potential within you and what your imagination can come up with.

What is the role of play in Art & Design experimentation?

Very important, and I think that it's not just confined to studio, either, but extends equally to theory. We love playing with ideas. Sometimes I think that's why we enjoy having ideas, not to store them jealously and one day show off how much we've got secreted away in our heads, but to play with. Sometimes, if you read theorists and art historians sympathetically, you can detect a ludic, witty streak in them. They're having fun and playing with the ideas they've unearthed, and through this play, they discover ideas they wouldn't otherwise find.

How will experimentation make me a better designer or artist?

Not just a better designer or artist but a better theorist too! It's the fun way to be brave with ideas, to own them yourself, to feel confident in putting two ideas together and seeing what the result is. You have to be prepared to fail. Experimentation is risky because we're flying beyond the world of formulae. But that's art and philosophy in a nutshell: they're about clinching in some monumental form the naturally organic flux of ideas.

How can I begin to experiment?

If ever you've drawn anything, you've already been experimenting because you've tried different ways of encapsulating perception. It's all based on conjecture and trial and error. Think of experimentation as natural rather than something that you have to strain at. Artists and designers actually find it hard NOT to experiment.

How can I learn from experimentation?

That's the hard part. You have to scrutinise the outcomes very honestly. You have to recognise which were the parts where you achieved fruitful connections and which were the parts where you were just having fun. This process of distinguishing between the good and the mediocre can be stressful, because it sometimes means discarding material that you've grown attached to. It's very helpful to see experimentation as part of learning and not to see everything you do in monumental terms. A lot of what we try out is for the sake of a process rather than a finished artistic result. In art and design (and in the theory of both) you can't afford to be precious or vain.

How can I share the results of my experiments with others?

Communicating your experiments can be rewarding but also sometimes premature and inappropriate. Experimentation is for the sake of a process; hence, so long as you view the communication and sharing as part of a process - rather than some kind of exhibition - it could yield helpful feedback to plough back into the process. By all means let others in on your experiments, but make it clear to all that this is a work in progress.

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