Comfort Zones

As a student, your tutor may have asked you to step out of your ‘comfort zone’. I certainly have asked that a few times from my students; where typically I say, “for the next assignment, I recommend that you step out of your comfort zone by trying this method”, or “Just ask them if you can take their picture, the worst that will happen, is they will say no”. The latter is usually applied to photography students undertaking the Portrait unit, where they are reluctant in asking strangers if they can take their picture.

But what is a comfort zone and who defines them? Well, we all do; they are defined by our lack of experience or familiarity with a subject. They can be as little as trying a new technique, to exploring an alternative research pathway, and it is the discomfort and uneasiness we feel undertaking a new task that reaffirms our zones.

So what do us tutors do, we prod and push you to get uncomfortable and uneasy, but why?

We ask you to step out of your comfort zones in order for you to try different techniques, to explore alternatives and to approach the assignments from a different angle. But what about failing and not getting the results you had in mind? Well, two essential terms stated in the ‘Visual Arts, Assessment Criteria’ is ‘experimentation’ & ‘risk taking’. With these, failures can occur and these are fundamental in your learning development. As part of your synthesis, failures should not be ignored; once you fail and then reflect upon them, you will start to modify your approach and understanding, which inherently will cause your practice to evolve.

To support my advice and going by the old adage of ‘practicing what you preach’; last year, for a personal design project, I took a leap out of my comfort zone to explore a medium I had no experience in. Along the way, there have been many technical challenges, coupled with some disastrous results; yet, through experimenting and reflection, my experience has grown. Compared to last year, I am now fully comfortable in undertaking this project and I no longer look at it as being out of my comfort zone.

So when you undertake a new project, try not to create and define your comfort zone, look upon the unfamiliar as experience not yet gained, challenge yourself and your work will lead to exciting and new directions. And don’t forget, most of you have already taken a huge leap out of your comfort zones by undertaking this educational journey; so continue to experiment, take risks and continue to explore your ‘uncomfortable zones’.

2 Comments

  1. Doug Burton 14 June 2017 at 3:04 pm

    Very good point Russell and made me think of strategies that we might employ to make us take risks or be unpredictable. Brian Eno and Keith Schmidt made a set of ‘Oblique Strategy Cards’ in 1975 to tackle this problem with creativity once they felt that they were in need of a shake up. Students could consider making there own cards and picking one at random when needed. To start things off…’Make a sudden, destructive, unpredictable action; incorporate’…

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  2. Anna Goodchild 16 June 2017 at 2:02 pm

    Thanks for the suggestions, Russell & Doug. As a stepping stone between the comfort and discomfort, we are taking intermediate steps with our new initiative in the SW by getting together as students from all different study pathways and sharing our work, hitches and stuckness. I find it immensely inspirational to hear students and tutors from other disciplines talk about their work and it gives me a prompt to try something different in my own work. I like the ‘sudden destructive action’, Doug – very relevant for my prisons project!

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