Wednesday, 11 March 2009

a science of qualities

For much of today I've been thinking about scientific process, following my last post on wax temperature. I have been making batik since 1990, so that's nineteen years (wow! is it really that long!). For much of this time I've had a good feeling for when the wax is not hot enough, when the room/ambient temperature is not warm enough, when the wax has crossed the threshold of 'good', and so on. The same with dyes, colour mixing, in fact everything to do with the batik process. Some I learnt from my early tutors Jin and Latif in Malaysia, but most "knowing" has been gained intuitively, through practice and observation and awareness... and over time. For instance I've never needed a thermometer to know if the room was warm enough for batikking - I came to realise I just had to consider what I was wearing. Anything more than a t-shirt and sweatshirt meant it was too cold.

My experiment last Monday in wax temperatures at different Tixor Malam settings was generalised/experimental. It was not set up to be controlled and perfectly measured, because I was more focused on the artwork I was doing. My thinking today was that if it had been a perfectly measured and controlled experiment (when it would be hard to also focus on artwork) , then that would give me precise results for only those variables (eg that wax mix). Another experiment would be needed for each variable. How maddening is that?

But more than maddening, I feel such a method takes away knowledge and understanding rather than giving it. If I heat the waxpot from calculations based on test results rather than on an innate awareness of what is necessary, garnered from experience, have I lost something fundamental?

Which led me to thinking about A Science of Qualities. I first heard about this from Brian Goodwin, I think at a talk he was giving at the University of Plymouth a few years ago. It is akin to Goethean science, and draws on impressions, intuition, sensory perception and sensory imagination, context, history, seeing in beholding, appropriate response, dialogue and consensus, and evaluation. It was so exciting when I first heard of this approach - inside me was singing 'that's what I do!, that's what I do!', meaning it's how I approach working on a painting or design. Or visiting a place, seeing a new phenomena, travelling, whatever. I don't do it in such a structured coordinated way nor with an ability to add headings to each element of my process, but what I do resonates with the pattern.

The Science of Qualities allows both the essence and the bigger connections to be expressed, through seeing the whole rather than the parts (holistic versus reductionist). But somehow I don't think it is appropriate to demonstrate wax temperatures - but now I think: why not? Isn't it easier to tell someone that from experience I found if I am wearing more than a sweatshirt the room's too cool for successful batikking than to say from experimentation I found that the thermometer must be above a particular temperature? Although it's easier for them to measure their room with a thermometer than to get me to stand there with or without sweatshirt or more... the idea for them to learn their own clothing level is much better, as their space may have variables I have not accounted for (drafts, higher ceiling, different humidity etc).

I think why I've gone the reductionist route on much of my sustainability research is that, supposedly, there's more cred to the results. I can say x y z with certainty rather than 'in my experience' which anyone could dismiss as artist waffle. Sadly.

I dug out a few articles about A Science of Qualities - this one I've read before, it's long but page 3 has a few appropriate paras. There's also this and this. Page 5 here (scroll down) describes a newish book by Brian Goodwin which is now on my reading list.

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