Art and the market

Here’s a little piece I wrote about the value of art for ‘The Venice Vending Machine’ which comes to Bristol this coming Friday. Details are below – if you’d like to join us you would be very welcome indeed.

“Art has an uncomfortable relationship with the market. Artists engage with other markets every day without a thought, yet when it comes to art we often feel uncomfortable. Why is this?

The market is a place of exchange that uses currency to create a common understanding of value so that an exchange can take place. But, does this really apply to the arts? Can money and the market give us an accurate indication of how we value art?

The Venice Vending Machine invites us to explore this and other important questions that go right to the heart of how who we are and the kind of society we want to live in. It invites us to explore who and what is and artist?; How we value art?; and who gets to decide what has value?

If it is down to the market to decide the value of art then our ability to participate will be directly related to our level of income. This is not just unhealthy, it is also unhelpful as the value we put on currency is inversely related to our level of income – a tenner has far more value to some of us than to others. So, we have to ask ourselves whether the market can give us an accurate indication of the value of the arts?

Even if we think we can get an accurate measure of the financial value of a piece of art we still need to ask if this is really a good indication of its value? This, of course, depends on what we value and what is important to us.

It has always seemed odd to me that there are many more reports about the financial contribution of our creative industries than there are those that suggest the arts may be important in other ways. This begs an important question: Is the value of the art that it makes money or is the value of money that it enables us to make and experience art? Isn’t the purpose of development to enable people “to live long, healthy and creative lives”?

Perhaps the reason we feel uncomfortable is because ultimately art, cannot sit easily in a capitalist paradigm? Perhaps we can only resolve this discomfort by understanding creative development as a different and often competing paradigm – one that values the quality of human experience above quantitative measures of income or property?

The capitalist discourse is indeed dominant and pervasive, but, perhaps it is not the only way to think and to live? Maybe it is time to talk about art in a different way? Isn’t it time we talked more confidently about what it means to be creative and more openly and honestly about being our true creative selves however uncertain, anxious or depressed we may sometimes be? Perhaps we could stop assuming that everyone else is competing with us and extol the virtues of collaboration and postive mutual development? And perhaps it is time to stop treating people – and our planet – as disposable and recognise the long-term impacts of our actions for all those around us?

It seems to me that questions like this that are become increasingly urgent for us all and I’m delighted that The Venice Vending Machine plays the vital and important role of providing an open, creative and playful space for us to consider them together.”

The Venice Vending Machine is a “collaborative live art public installation”, conceived by Venetian artist Marina Moreno. Its aim is to question the role and the value of Art in our society, whilst promoting emerging artists alongside some famous and established ones. 

Artists submit small pieces of art that are placed in the Venice Vending Machine and revealed through random selection ONLY by engaging in a conversation with the curator of the machine who will actively promote the artists as she facilitates a lively, informative and often surprising mix of live-art, performance and discussion.

It is OK

It is OK to be ourselves

It is OK to be in development

Being in development does not mean that it will all be OK just that it is OK not to be OK.

It is OK to be uncertain 

It is OK to be unfinished

What makes people awesome is not what we might become but who we are right here right now in this moment.

To be in development is to be open.

Open  to learning, open to new experiences, open to question  and open to others. 

We don’t need to ask  permission to be ourselves. We are the only expert in our own lives

We don’t even need to start, we are already in development.

We’ve been in development our whole life!

It is OK.

Are we open to development?

On a walk in development we consider questions from three perspectives: our own development, those around us and the wider world. This week I went for a walk to consider: am I open to development?

Are we open to development?

If you’d like to explore this too I suggest you:

Then seek a creative alignment to create our own research journal and identify a next step on our journey.

Do keep hold of your thoughts – or share them with me  or your peers.  This helps us explore our development frameworks and build up resources for future development.

(you can see how I got on here)

We are guests

Sometimes we walk on empty.

We may walk for miles and notice very little.   Perhaps, as this morning,  a bunch of buttercups standing tall on a bank or a squirrel running up to its dray, and even these moments are observed and not  really registered. 

Yet they can create a calm, a preparation for later when even the creak of a door or the falling of dry eucalyptus leaves onto a table draw our attention in to the moment and we see that  the tree’s gently swaying boughs, dappled light and shaded bows have a meaning all their own.

And then there is  the simple, unexpected moment of realisation –  that we are guests, passing visitors in this world – which prompts the following musings:

We are guestswe are guests
Passing through a world
That is old beyond understanding
We have no right to the whole story
We’ve not the time to hear it
Instead we are offered
Mere glimpses of truth

Each one of life’s moments
Holds more than we can process
Whilst we may weave them into stories
We do well to remember
That we act only
On imperfect knowledge
And the stories we tell
Are never as rich
As those we are told.

Have you had a moment of realisation? Can you describe it?

Here’s the wonderful Tom McCarthaigh talking about the moment he realised he is an artist   a moment from this Walk in Development.

What is your development framework?

Our development framework is our understanding of ourselves, other people and the wider world (these three concepts are interdependent and can only be fully understood together).

We all have a development framework. It is informed by everything we have done and it informs everything we do.  Over time the moments we experience build up into our sense of self and our attitudes towards other people and the wider world.

If we are not careful and conscious these aggregations can become solidified into negative attitudes towards ourselves and others which can become arrogance and disdain  and ultimately structure our society in terms of dependency and oppression. But it doesn’t have to be this way…

A walk in development can  help us choose the moments that matter to us, align our development and choose our steps carefully, consciously and creatively.

At Arts in Development we seek to build a development framework that minimises the negative impact of our actions on others and the wider world and fosters a positive, mutual development in which everyone contributes and all of us benefit.

Having a development framework is also a powerful tool for sustainable social change because it helps put every moment into the context of our long-term development as individuals, organisations and communities.


Entry points
Contact me
if you – or your team – would like to experience  a walk in development and get some support to build your own development framework.

Development is the art of living.

If you are reading this you are alive and in development:

Life, where it is not exhausted, is incapable of stagnation” (Keyserling)


We cannot avoid development but we need to choose  whether we want to shape our own development or have one imposed upon us*.

We have been reminded recently that if  we are not concerned with our own development  – there are powerful forces that are not squeamish about shaping it for us.

The good news is that we already have a development approach –  we all have a sense of who we are and who we want to be – it may be hard to hear amongst all the noise and confusion of modern life  but it is there – and there are things we can do to help each other  be ourselves.

Walks in development help us remember who we are and explore the authentic creative development that occurs when we align who we are with each other and the wider world.  We all need people who can walk alongside us and remind us that we are not alone.

Access is a development issue, as is exclusion, homelessness, inequality, climate change etc…  None of these issues exist in isolation.  Anything that impacts on our capability to be ourselves is at heart a development issue.  If you’d like support to tackle the causes and not just the symptoms then Ask me about  Strategic approaches to creative development and how we can create sustainable social change.

Join our Development Community.

  • Only in development can we be fully ourselves
  • Only when we are fully ourselves can we truly support each other
  • Only when we support each other can we create lasting change.

Let’s walk in development together!


*‘Is it better to take part in a conception of the world mechanically imposed by the external environment… or to work out consciously and critically one’s own conception of the world and thus, in connection with the labours of one’s own brain, choose one’s sphere of activity, take an active part in the creation of the history of the world, be one’s own guide, refusing to accept passively and supinely from outside the mouldings of one’s personality?’  (Antonio Gramsci)

A few thoughts on walks and development.

Last week, I sent out an open invitation to join a community in development. One of my goals for this community is to find a way to share things early – while they are still in development. So here are a few early thoughts on walks and development, hopefully you will find within them some seeds for your own development.

  • Walks bring us into development, into an appreciation of this moment…
  • The things I am reaching for will always exist beyond the reach of language.
  • Development defies definition – I can describe lots of its features and even the kind of development I am interested in  but the thing itself eludes me – the closest I can come to it is to say it is the art of living.  I think this is not a thing but an experience, an attitude, an approach…
  • Development is a walk, we can approach it, but we cannot acquire it, tie it down or achieve it, there will always be room for more development.
  • The fact that something is beyond our articulation actually makes it more inclusive, and universal, more human.
  • Maggie O’Neill discusses how walking can break through power relations in this insightful walk.
  • This is our moment – the moment that brings us all together.  Young and old, rich and poor, black and white –  we all share in this moment. This moment finds us all at different points on our journey (with different experiences and capabilities)  and not one of us is perfect, but that’s OK, it is being alive as we are now, together that makes this moment so momentous…
  • “With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world”.
  • I’m looking forward to talking to Patrick Nolan about how practical tasks (like walking) can bring together people with different ideological frameworks (more on this and his fascinating initiative soon).
  • Emma wrote this beautiful response to my starting points piece describing a moment that was a starting point for her that was beyond thinking:

“Your starting points piece has really got me thinking, they are integral and yet with my current artistic path looking at mental health I only realised it by reading your blog.

It was an improvisation performance that really surprised me ….. I just talked and moved and what came out was all about my mental health issues nothing I had ever placed so directly out in the open. I remember people crying afterwards, but I don’t really remember what I said or how my body moved. In improvisation for me its meditation gestures of awareness as opposed to thinking. If you stop to think you cut off your senses, and that is what is at work when you undertake to work in the moment. An embodiment that you nod to with awareness and recognition as the journey for that moment.

I had completely forgotten about this improvisation performance until your blog and it dawned on me that was mine for my current path.”

  • I came across this  quote from Dean Inge in my notebook some 35 years ago:  “…these experiences which rather possess (us) than are possessed by (us) are in their nature as transient as the glories of a sunset… language, which was not made for such purposes fails lamentably to reproduce even their pale reflection” 
  • life, where it is not exhausted, in incapable of stagnation” Keyserling (in the same notebook)
  • In praise of the lost art of development.

We are all in development, development is inevitable , the choice we have to make is how we will develop. I seek to facilitate the authentic creative development that comes from a creative alignment between ourselves, others and the world (strategic approaches to creative development). If you like my approach please consider joining  our community in development or join me for a walk.

Thanks for your support.

What are our starting points?

Every action has its starting point. Before a walk, or any other endeavour, it is worth taking a moment to consider our starting points.

Starting points

Sometimes we are very aware of our starting points — we only may have decided to act after an extended period of reflection and analysis — but at other times our motivation may emerge from a fleeting feeling or even a deep seated resentment that we are not fully conscious of.

Starting points matter. They set the tone for everything that comes after. The more complex an activity is the more sensitive it is to the initial conditions. Crucially, understanding our own and each others’ starting points provides the basis for communication and collaboration.

Pretty much every time I’ve reviewed a project I have wished I had started earlier in the process and had not made so many assumptions about the starting points of the other participants.

Every moment comes with its own starting point — a seed of development that we often ignore or fail to see. A feature of ‘Walks in Development’ is that they can open us up to the possibilities inherent in each moment. We may experience moments of clarity and connection that help us understand who we are. They may not be as dramatic as, for example, the moment of deep connection to all of humanity that led the philsopher Bertrand Russell into a lifelong commitment to pacifism, but they are important. We can choose our starting points and these choices matter.

So, let’s consider our starting points: What is it that has led us to this moment? Where would we like to start from?

I suggest that we reflect on (and feel free to share) the moments that have most meaning to us. Perhaps if we describe our starting points they can become an entry point to others and make it easier for us to find that place of creative alignment that makes true collaboration possible?

As a next step on our journey we might like to describe moments that have been starting points for us. Perhaps we’ve had a moment of realisation when we became aware we were more capable than before, or had an idea or an experience that set us off on a new stage of our life’s path?

A final question: Can a stop become a starting point?

Stop for a moment

In praise of the lost art of development

There was a time when the concept of development was widely understood but it has been spoken about less and less over recent years. These days I expect to be met with a blank look when I talk about it.  Yet, it seems to me, that the principles and practices of development  are as relevant and reliable as ever. Surely now,  when man’s arrogance has brought us to the brink of ruin,  the need for a more human, developmental approach is greater than ever?  So, I ‘d like to take a moment to praise those people who are prepared to go against the grain and engage seriously with their own development and build a development approach into their work.

Development is not easy – it requires an openness, an honesty and a vulnerability that is very much out of tune with these brash, confident times  – yet the rewards are immense and long-lasting. It is the only way to achieve long-term social change.  Recently, I have had the privilege of walking and working with a number of artists, who have put the hard yards in to hone, articulate and realise their own creative vision and I’m delighted that many of them have been able to turn their ideas into reality.

I’d also like to give a special mention for the team at PAPER Arts who are working really hard to engage all their stakeholders in understanding and enhancing the social impact of their work with young people. We had a great time working on this in Snowdonia recently and I’m really looking forward to an event they are hosting in April when they will share their leaning with the people and organisations in the creative community of St Pauls (Bristol).

Whilst all development centres on our capability to be ourselves,  in the work I’ve been doing with PAPER and others, we’ve been exploring the authentic creative development that occurs when we align our own development with those about us and the wider world.

My approach to development can be summarised in these three statements:

      • Only in development  can we be fully ourselves
      • Only when we are fully ourselves can we truly support each other
      • Only when we support each other can we create lasting change.

Exploring this multi-dimensional nature of development is one of the key aspects of our walks in development. (see some examples here) . One of the things I enjoy most about these walks is the moment when people realise how simple and natural development is and that, one way or another, it  is something we’ve been doing all our lives (it is just that some of us are more considered and conscientious about it).

I’ve been in development since 1962 and am still very much a work in progress. One thing I’ve learnt in that time is that change and uncertainty are inevitable but there are some very simple development processes and practices that can make our life and work much more positive and rewarding – particularly if you have someone to walk along side you.

So if you would like to explore a ‘strategic approach to creative development’ do get in touch and let’s go for a walk and explore the lost art of development together!

I have nothing to say

I have nothing to say about death, or loss, or pain or suffering.  Those things lie well beyond my words. My understanding is silent. I have nothing to say.

I will accept this reminder that in all other things too I have nothing to say and to remember this is not what people seek of me – there is no value I can add that is not already there.

benches 2

Perhaps I may share what I notice? – like the first hint of sunlight today that forms the lightest shadow on my page as I write this, or the way the sunlight creates contrast on the old town buildings I can see through the trees; how, as a robin feeds on my crumbs,  I hear the peculiar cry of a  gull and the croaks of crows that pester a buzzard overhead.  Maybe I can notice, suggest or intimate, what is already there?


“I have v little to offer you” maybe the best we have to offer.  Perhaps the best I can be is content free. A sparrow is eating from my plate now and I am reassured to feel I’m no longer a threat. I have nothing more to say.