TLC - A Love story
A Foreword by Mike Grady
It is often assumed that art and creativity are synonymous but contemporary experience tells us that there is a lot of art that lacks creativity and many instances of creativity that are not apparently related to art. In fact it is only since the advent of modernism in the mid-19th century that creativity had much of anything to do with art – especially as it was taught in the ‘academies’ of the time.
Creativity today is sometimes almost seen as an optional aspect of a formalist and academic/modern/post-modern view of art education largely held throughout the world. It is highly prized as the crucial aspect of ‘great’ art as well as for its ability to add financial value to institutions of all types.
Regardless of artistic merit, creativity is seen as the ‘competitive edge’. When creativity actually appears, however, is it often mis-understood, dismissed and under-valued. A senior member of the New Zealand arts community once sniffed that he saw TLC as essentially ‘remedial’. Although the term was used with an air of condescension, I realized he was correct in a way he did not intend. TLC is a remedial institution and the thing it remediates is clearly outlined here. It remediates the antiquated style and often outmoded ideas of art and creativity as they have been taught at art schools the world over for more than a century.
Alice Wilson-Milne’s meditation on her years as co-leader, co-visionary, teacher and administrator at The Learning Connexion School of Art and Creativity, in Wellington, opens us to greater possibilities. Most art education programs are clearly ‘modern’ in their orientation – built on a commonly held set of aesthetic and philosophical precepts, which informed Alice’s and her husband and TLC partner Jonathan Milne’s early ideas about art and creativity. Their past three decades have been an intentional and systematic exploration of entirely new approaches to the nature of creativity and its relationship to art, science, the environment, culture and identity.
They have achieved a revolutionary integration of creativity, art, organizational development and personal growth that is reflected in no other institution the world.
TLC goes far beyond modernism ironically by affirming and re-stating its essential ideas first articulated two hundred years ago – exploration, innovation, spiritual awareness and social praxis. Manet and Debussey would surely have agreed with the TLC axiom –‘IF YOU’RE NOT HAVING FUN, YOU’RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT’. TLC has re-created and expanded modernism in a contemporary era of environmental awareness, cultural fusion, appreciation of ‘difference,’ and social justice.
The Milnes may have conceived the world’s foremost example of the oft cited ideal, from college accrediting agencies and qualification boards around the globe, of a ‘learning institution’ – one that is constantly innovating, reviewing and assessing data, that informs a continuing process of self-examination and further innovation. In support of their particular learning objectives TLC, as a living, learning and
creative and socially aware organism, has discovered that art and creativity are indeed inseparable in that they are both fundamental aspects of interconnection and self-awareness. This apparently obvious discovery is actually the result of painstaking and sometimes personally painful learning by many people over many years. This struggle for increasing clarity, creativity and expressive integrity, reflect a new set of values that expand upon the modern notion of art as a creative act and expand to teach us that creativity extends deeply into many other areas and endeavors.
Two Wings to Fly explores the details of how the organizational structure, philosophy and connectivity of the entire organization create such an intense crucible for creative discovery. When this process is seen as a whole, it looks a lot like love.
Unlike more traditional art schools, TLC does not emphasize careerism, but has been extremely successful in helping its students embark in new careers which often involve making and disseminating art. TLC does not teach students to be consultants, or entrepreneurs or fully-functioning individuals, but graduates often attain those things as a direct result of their experience with the TLC Community. The name of the school implies clearly, the basic revelation of their curriculum and their very existence – that art and community and creativity and environment are all inexorable aspects of ‘connexion’.
Sometimes centers of higher learning become works of art in themselves. Like all works of art they add something to the larger conversation of aesthetics, identity, and awareness. Schools like Plato’s symposium, the Bauhaus, in its day, and the Black Mountain School, Antioch University, Freie Universiat and The Learning Connexion might all be considered works of art in themselves – intentionally pushing the limits and offering innovation in the service of personal and cultural expression. They are all works in progress, and like all artistic oevres they continue to unfold and grow and improve. Like truly great works of art their effect lasts far beyond their historical existence, broadening and enriching not only their students but the community, the environment and the culture.
Similar to the creative process itself to limit these schools to a pre-determined outcome is antithetical to their entire reason for existing. While there are great tangential benefits to students in terms of professional and personal growth, the schools themselves must not be limited by a single utilitarian function – or even a category of predictable outcome. Like art, science and creativity in all its forms, they must be free to discover the ‘new’.
TLC’s integral approach to education uses formal skill development, appreciative inquiry, community awareness, spiritual connection to the environment and to other people, and the celebration of diversity and play as hallmarks of the creative
process. This process extends from the school into many aspects of the community and the culture. TLC students use their training to make their own new art, to solve
problems, to examine the world and to discover their place in it. They are offered powerful tools with which they are quietly changing the world.
As the world continues to recognize the essential nature of creativity to many endeavors including art, science, engineering, economics and social sciences, the need to adjust our ideas about the value of traditional art education will inevitably broaden. This is beginning to happen despite the resistance of the ‘academy.’
The changing perceptions of the value of creative thinking in all its varied forms, have given rise to new ways of bringing art to the world. Social practice, community arts, art therapy and relational aesthetics are all democratizing art today.
In Two Wings to Fly, we discover a unique approach to learning as a democratic and integrative process, perfectly suited to teaching artists to deal with the realities of the contemporary art world rather than the art world of fifty years ago. The Learning Connexion calls itself purposefully a school of ‘art and creativity’, in distinction from traditional ‘art’ schools.
Wilson-Milne’s book captures the paradoxical complexity and the simple elegance of the creative process. Two Wings to Fly is a love story. It is a paean to love, family, environment and inter-connection that the author has brilliantly revealed is the essential basis for creativity and innovation. The creative process requires awareness of self and other – inner and outer.
In the TLC system, the study of creativity is the study of interconnection. Discovery and innovation cannot be limited to a single activity, or outcome. Once the creative process is truly set free, it must be allowed to pursue everything. The creative spirit defines and embraces connection itself, and leads us into increasingly higher planes of awareness, increasingly adaptive ways of seeing and building and expressing.
Alice’s book is about an art school, but it isn’t really about art. It is certainly about organizational development and innovation, but it really isn’t really about that either. She has written about her real family—a great community of artists, scientists, organizational theorists, students, teachers and free-thinkers that do not fit easily into distinct categories.
Two Wings to Fly is a gift to all of us. It is a loving and compassionate admonition to go farther – to do more with less – to not only ‘think outside the box’, but to ‘swing outside the tree’, or ‘dance inside the moon.’ She gives us all permission to shed our fears and limitations and dare to move towards our greatest individual and collective potential.
-- Mike Grady, 2015