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Idea Mining

Ideas are often very difficult to find. You often end up staring frustrated at a blank piece of paper, wondering where on earth the inspiration will come from. So try Idea Mining the next time you’re stuck. This exercise involves applying the objective or purpose of the idea to different thinking strands, thereby simplifying it or increasing its complexity. I’ve compared these different thinking strands to layers of rock that you have to drill down to, to access. The deeper you go down, the more complex and sophisticated the idea should be.

  1. Surface Mining: These are the first ideas you think of. They are usually literal, obvious ideas, but they can also be observational, i.e. inspiration by seeing something. Examples: Realist observation

  2. Picture Bands – Pick out and select parts of the theme of the idea you identify with. Simplify and isolate elements, then stylise your ideas. Examples; Cartoons, graphics, printmaking, batik, street art.

  3. Composition Veins – This is where you compose more complex ideas using more than one element. Consider the relationships between aspects of the idea, to develop subtle and intricate ideas. You might use composition to create a tension in your idea. Examples: Collage, good quality photography, design

  4. Symbolism Seams – Develop symbolist ideas by substituting the more obvious solutions with metaphors or symbols. Bury the immediate meaning under analogy or allegory. Examples; Surrealism, Symbolic art.

  5. Deep idea tunnels – Create complex, personal, unique and often introspective interpretations, not immediately obvious. These can be attained through abstraction or the use of more complex symbolism, juxtaposing opposing ideas, using personal experience, creating or using codes or associations. Examples: Abstract art, good Contemporary art.

Let’s apply some examples to Idea Mining to see how it works. Say you are trying to think of ideas for art based on football:

  1. Surface ideas – images of people playing football, supporters, images of people celebrating a goal or representing the human form in motion literally.

  2. Picture Bands – Club graphics and badges, football strips, comic strips, ball design

  3. Composition Veins – collages based on football images, personal photography, point of view drawings of the game, depicting past or current players, the songs and banter on the terraces or the history of the club.

  4. Symbolist Seams – Portraying the emotions of victory or defeat, examining loyalty to a team, growth and/or decay of success.

  5. Deep Idea tunnels – Depicting the speed and movement of the ball, abstracting the human form in motion, looking at the colours, patterns and shapes on the pitch.

Or the emotion sorrow:

  1. Surface ideas – images of people crying or in sad situations.

  2. Picture Bands – a single eye crying, a tear, an agonised face.

  3. Composition Veins – a scene of a solitary person on a bench with an Autumnal backdrop. An image of a gravestone or a funeral, a broken love affair.

  4. Symbolist Seams – A dead bird, a wreath of flowers, black edged sympathy card, a wedding ring in a gutter, old photographs.

  5. Deep Idea tunnels – decay, the earth/soil, colours associated with death/decay, personal objects associated with sad meanings.

Cliché potholes – Be aware though, as there are some pitfalls lurking here and called clichés. I would suppose you want your ideas to be unique, fresh and interesting, so ideally you want to avoid these. But coming up with truly original ideas is virtually impossible, so if your idea is a bit well worn, you might need to give it a fresh twist. Think of how you might adapt or change your idea slightly to add an original slant to it. The rule with cliches is; ‘avoid them or own them.’ Which of my example ideas would YOU describe as cliché and how would you take ownership of them?

Lesson idea

Divide the class into pairs or small groups. Place a number of words or phrases into a bag then ask one person in each group to draw a few out, (depending on the time you have). Now the group have to think of ideas related to the words they have picked in each of the idea strands.

Share and feedback the lists to the whole class. It is interesting to compare how different groups have represented the same word.

Identify where the clichés might be and discuss how you might depict them in a more original way.

Do this exercise regularly as a starter or warm-up to big thinking sessions.

Of course, the examples I use for Idea Mining infer that these ‘strands’ or idea types need to be taught. You should teach pupils about symbolism and how artists (and writers) use it in their work. You should also teach pupils about the principles of abstraction, how to compose pictures for dynamic effect, using the formal elements in their work and how contemporary artists relate deep meanings in their work.

But then you knew that anyway didn’t you?

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