Blog like an artist

I went to see the Late Turner exhibition at the Tate Britain last week. Remarkable work. It covers the period from when Turner was 60. A highly productive, startling phase characterised by his use of light, simple lines and looking beyond form to the essence of things. He seemed to be seeing through his accumulated wisdom. And, in his time, many critics dismissed this work as a descent into senility.

In the Tate shop I bought Austin Kleon’s second book called “Show your work”. It complements his first, “Steal like an artist”. Kleon’s credo is: build sharing into your routine.

I spent the next evening with a group of close colleagues and two of them (Vik and Jo) gently challenged me: “So Stephen, what happened to November’s blog post?” I muttered the odd excuse that added up to not quite getting around to it. Austin Kleon’s book helped me recognise that

I had made the mistake of making ‘blog’ just another item on my to-do list. It became a task rather than part of my process. And sharing your process is what it is all about.

So what? Well, blogging is an essential part of how I do reflective learning. Writing stuff down means that I have to focus and achieve some clarity. It also plays to some strongly held beliefs about the value of what experienced coaches, teachers and leaders do. We have insights and through working at a high level of expertise, we create new ones as we work. It’s important to share what we learn. If we don’t, the only voices will be those of academics, with their clear, clean and tidy models rather than the messy, contingent and emergent sound of real work. Practitioners have a unique contribution to make. If they do, it can change the nature of theory from observation to dialogue. Theorising becomes pragmatic sense-making.

That prompts a challenge – one that I reflected back to Vik and Jo: what stops you blogging? Here’s what I have found helps:

  1. Be like Turner, always carry a notebook. (It will save you getting out of bed as I had to when I had some ideas for this piece.)
  2. Be an observer. Collect fragments – your own and others’ – and make connections.
  3. Share your first attempts with trusted friends and colleagues. Ask: “what was the impact? Did it interest you?” But don’t let them edit – speak with your voice not theirs.
  4. Post when it’s fresh. By all means take a day to read it back and check it says what you want. But if an idea or theme goes off the boil, save it and wait for something to refresh it.
  5. Embrace the ephemeral nature of the form. What you say does not have to be right. It just has to be true for you now (and, ideally, interesting).
  6. Write for provocation not agreement. The point is to share, to be read and stimulate others’ thought and action.
  7. Let go of needing to be expert


Blogging is, of course, about visibility, about speaking out and being heard. But it can also be an act of generosity. So be like Turner and trust your wisdom. Share your learning, your insights, your wisdom – you never know, you might find a new collaborator, or save someone a decade.