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  • Writer's pictureAmy Burvall

#rawthought: Learning Curve: Mondrian or Gaudi?


Today I had the pleasure of watching (and reading) Howard Rheingold’s interview with Unflattening author Nick Sousanis. Like Howard, I am a big fan of Nick’s work- not only for the content (which is phenomenal), but for the essence of it- the “ness” I mentioned in an earlier post. I love the way Nick maintained a process journal of sorts on his “Spin Weave Cut” site and always points people there to be a part of his “living” work. That is what the #showyourwork movement (via Austin Kleon) is all about. It’s an

“Open…as a spirit”

ethos I’ve heard Doug Belshaw speak of  (and practice, in his “neverending thesis“), many times.

This week Dr. Sousanis also threw out a challenge on social media – it’s called #gridsgestures and was picked up by #ds106 as a Daily Create. The premise is to sketch out a series of geometrical shapes, much like a comic book would have, as representations of your day. Inside you can draw whatever metaphorical scribble you like that could refer to your activity or emotion. Sousanis likens comic books to architecture, in that

“…it’s in the way we organize the space that we can convey movement and the passage of time. Unlike storyboards, to which comics are frequently compared, in comics we care not only about what goes on in the frame, but we care about the size of the panel, its shape, orientation, what it’s next to, what it’s not, and its overall location within the page composition. The way you orchestrate these elements on the page is significant to the meaning conveyed…”

When I attempted to do this, I felt almost compelled to break from the confines of traditional “boxes” and draw squiqqles and dots. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog- I abhor lines.


Nick assured me this was fine, and that many people draw circles, for example.

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and then @Ronald_2008 chimed in and said

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Wow. Poignant, actually. Especially if you extend the metaphor to other parts of our lifelike school, for example.

It seems that

most formal  learning we do is in storyboard fashion – it’s linear, and builds up in a trajectory.

We have distinct times for Algebra and distinct times for Shakespeare and never the twain shall meet.  You are a “scientist” or an “artist”.

But…E.O Wilson reminds us that

“The ideal scientist thinks like a poet and works like a bookkeeper”

I was struck, in my recent interview with exomoonologist David Kipping, how important the role of crafting a story and using poetic imagery is to a scientist – especially when we can’t physically or visibly encounter the things we are studying (like atoms or other galaxies far far away…)


The kind of learning we are used to seems to me like a Piet Mondrian piece – distinct blocks of colour separated by thick, black, straight lines. Mondrian was convinced that

“Vertical and horizontal lines are the expression of two opposing forces; they exist everywhere and dominate everything; their reciprocal action constitutes ‘life'”

I must admit I am drawn to Mondrian’s art for its minimalism (I’ve always wanted that famous Yves St. Laurent tribute shift dress!)…but I do not think or learn or live like that nor do I want to.

I’d rather be like Antoni Gaudí, the Spanish architect famed for his whimsical, almost Seussian structures, who claimed

“The straight line belongs to men…the curved one to God”


My art history professor in university once told us that the Doric columns of the Parthenon in Athens are ever so slightly curved – and this “organic” curvature gives the building the nuance of a breathing, living thing. Perhaps rightly so, Mondrian quipped:

“Curves are so emotional”

So what if we re-imagined school (and indeed all learning) as a Gaudí? What if we tended to the twists and turns…the intersections and the messy overlapping of it all? What if we embraced Einstein’s notion of  “combinatory play”? What if we

tapped into the emotion of learning…the poetry of knowledge?

After all, knowledge is a breathing, living thing. But let’s take this abstraction further.


In order to be innovative in our thinking we need to connect some dots – because that is the crux of creativity. That’s where Vasily Kandinsky pops in with his

“Everything starts from a dot”

Knowing how to find dots – and how to collect and organize them (affectionately called “curating”) is essential for the learner.


However, if you are sequestered into boxes (such as in a traditional school setting with “periods” for “classes”, or in an individual department at work), it will be difficult to connect the dots, wander down the curvy paths, and frolic in the holistic orbs (I always think of King Arthur’s Round Table and the reasons behind it).

We need more water cooler (and water colour) experiences…more snakes than ladders…more Gaudí than Mondrian.

*special thanks to Edmund Monk for inspiring me with the title

#pietmondrian #school #art #austinkleon #creativity #architecture #vasilykandinsky #davidkipping #education #unflattening #dougbelshaw #nicksousanis #knowledge #eowilson #antonigaudi #metaphor #ds106 #amyburvall #learning #howardrheingold

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