Artful and Me

I’m Chris Nichols. I live in the southwest of the UK, on Dartmoor. I spend a lot of time on the coast, here and further west in Cornwall.

I love the Moor. Not because it is wild (it mostly isn’t wild, it’s bleak and wonderful), but because it is an endless testimony to the ageless dance of humans to make a living in a challenging world. Dartmoor is marked by human habitation, industry, and farming. It’s the interaction that makes it what it is.

On the other hand, the coast is the real wild. That’s where I am happiest, far from the towns, on a remote strand of coastal trail, dropping into a remote cove, or sitting high on a headland looking out to sea.

In lots of ways my life has echoed this difference, it’s been a dialogue between the wild and the inhabited, my need for the southwest and my way of making a living. I’ve spent a lifetime travelling. From my home to work, in many parts of this country and the world. I’ve lived far away – in Australia twice, in New York, and in many parts of the UK.

Age and the coming of the covid pandemic have put a brake on some of the travels. Brexit has brought a limit to my freedom to be in some of the European places I love to be. I now must think consciously about my 90-days-in-180 EU visit allowance. And it’s given me a little more time to collate my creative work into this site, which is something I’d never quite found time to do over the past few years.

Chris

Why artful exploration matters to me

Art in all its forms can say something about everything. Mostly, in my organisational life, I’ve found that the language and ways of seeing aren’t open to artful insight. It’s a shame – a tragedy – because the language of organisational life is literally too small to address the challenges the world faces. For two decades now I’ve been actively trying to coax open the windows into a more artful exploration of the organisational world, particularly the business world. It is happening, and it is desperately necessary.

I’ve had the fortune to work with some pioneers in this field. Most importantly for me was a ten-year partnership with the late Dr Chris Seeley. We taught together on an MSc programme in sustainable and responsible leadership at the old Ashridge business school, and at Schumacher College at Dartington in Devon. Chris S was an artist and was artful to her core. I learned a great deal from our explorations and will be forever grateful that our paths crossed.

Chris S published a brilliant small report, with Ellie Thornhill (you can view it here). I still think this is one of the best accounts of which artful organisational work matters. I wasn’t involved in writing the report, but I was involved in the earliest stages of the research, when for two years Chris and I ran an artful organisations research week at Schumacher. This is where we created the central two-by-two device by having the group “walk the quadrants” and “inhabit the model”.

The final artful knowing conversation on film

When Chris got sick it brought the teaching phase of our shared work to an end. I continued to work with her until a few days before she died. The final work she wanted to do was to record a conversation between us, to record our work and to share it with our students on the MSc and at Schumacher.

The film still exists, and you can find it here. There is both a long version and a number of clips on particular themes. This is now one of the last remaining ways to enjoy some of Chris’ magic as an artist and teacher. It is so poignant to me that she wanted to do this just a few days before she became unconscious for the last time

My personal practice

I’ve included art in my organisational work for about 15 years now. By art I mean both visual work and broader arts – music, poetry, stories and more.

Early on my practice generally used the art of others – famous poems, film clips, pictures from the legends of art. Sometimes I used to take groups on “street wisdom” style art gallery explorations.

Later I began to use my own work. Sometimes bringing my art (paint, sculpture and writing) into the meeting room. Sometimes the flow went the other way, and the organisational work led to new art.

These days I am involved with GameShift – a collaboration I co-founded that is based on the principle of extended ways of knowing. The reason GameShift exists is to open new windows into ways of human flourishing at work, because without better and richer ways of seeing and knowing, we stand no chance of working well in the complex systems within which all of us exist.

There’s more about this in the GameShift section of this website.

My own practice continues to develop. I do a lot of courses. It keeps me at the edge of being a beginner in seeing things. Recently my development has focused on poetry – I find poetry hard. I’ve done a lot of courses at The Poetry School. Most recently I’ve been back with visual art, mainly through art school in Exeter, and at St Ives and Newlyn.  There’s more about my edges of development in the “Forming” section of the site, including links to the courses for those interested in exploring.

Say hello

I am always up for conversations about creative work. You can contact me using the below methods.