I curated and installed my first ever exhibition on Friday 11th May at London’s City Lit as part of Inexpert 2018, a social experiment masquerading as a conference. It was a remarkable celebration of the power of inexpertise and not knowing. Speakers spoke on topics of which they were passionate but entirely inexpert. Videos of the event are here.

My exhibition was of inexpert art created by students on City Lit’s year-long Contemporary Practice: Personal Project course. They offered me their failures and I accepted them as masterpieces of invention and vision, if not technique and application.

You can download the catalogue that includes a guide on how to curate an inexpert exhibition. You can watch my introduction to the exhibition (entirely unscripted, professionally inexpert and on a couple of occasions sweary – so Not necessarily Safe For Work) here.

Curating the exhibition was a liberating experience. Creativity is a messy, mistake-filled and nerve-wracking activity. The Matisses, Bacons, and Giacomettis of this world did not stroll into their studios and knock out a masterpiece. They sweated, doubted, screwed up, started again and perhaps were never entirely satisfied with their works. As an aspiring actor in my younger days, I ultimately could not live with the spectre of rejection and not being “good enough” and moved into other careers, which have now coalesced into being an organisation consultant.

This is why Inexpert 2018 has been so inspirational. Steve Chapman, the convenor instigator grand experimenter, created with great skill a huge safe space for people to be inexpert.

He gave permission to be not good enough, to make mistakes and celebrated inexpertise and not knowing in whatever form it emerged.

With no pressure to curate expertly, I could cast off the spectre from years working as an OD consultant for the V&A Museum, a centre for curatorial expertise, and do as I pleased or thought best. And that often meant saying “Why not” instead of “Why”. It meant not worrying when a print fell off the wall because I had not stuck it on well enough.

I went from doubting myself to calm in the storm to self-confidence and even, against all my natural inclinations, to accepting praise for what I had created.

Why is this important?

Much that we do is constrained by the value we unconsciously assign to it. But when what we think of as poor or a failure is viewed through different eyes – those of a gallery visitor who really wants to buy someone’s failed painting, an audience who laughs or applauds at an unexpected moment, or a respected friend tells you they wish they could do what you do – we are given the choice to re-think ourselves and appreciate the value of what we have disregarded or not noticed.

In a world where SATs, rich lists, social media are constantly telling what good or best is, these moments of generosity and learning are becoming scarcer.

As work and organisations drive for more tangible outcomes, more often and faster, the value of making mistakes, our primary source of learning, is less and less tolerated. And this at a time when the World Economic Forum says that Creativity is one of the Top 3 skills needed to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Workplaces need safe spaces for experimentation and mistakes. A messy place of permission to create and innovate.  Ask me. I would love to show you how.

Since Inexpert 2018, I have been reviewing my recent work – drawings, writings, reports, presentations, as well as my inexpert exhibition – with a new lens.

And you know what? There’s some really good stuff!

And if some of it isn’t, to my mind, good enough, it might just be that the right person hasn’t seen it yet.

Thanks to Ian Tucknott and all the students at City Lit, all the Inexpert Team, all the Inexpert Speakers, but most of all to the genius being that is Steve Chapman.


This article was first published on http://canscorpionssmoke.com/inexpert/#blogs and LinkedIn