Good art is … when a scientist lets go

I just read a great post by Helen who has struck ‘garden writer’s block’, making her reluctant to visit gardens – which made me think about my first meeting with a wonderful scientist.

Other writers or artists feeling they are working in a certain ‘mold’ might like this story too.

A few years ago I met a lovely* Italian researcher, Andrea Berardi, at a seminar at Open Uni. Andrea had spent the summer before conducting geographic field research in Italy with about 40 volunteers. Each volunteer had to work on their own in an isolated location for about 4-6 hours and record certain observations on a proforma under quite clear instructions.


They were working in a very picturesque location around the Bay of Naples but in rather rugged conditions.

After a few days Andrea noticed that the volunteers’ proformas would come back with little doodles and drawings in the margins or with randomly recorded words, thoughts, ideas or observations that didn’t fit into the proforma and sometimes whole poems and sketches. The volunteers noted the sound of church bells peeling in the distance and butterflies landing on the white forms.

So Andrea ripped up the proforma and his entire research method and just gave each volunteer blank books and tape recorders and cameras and asked them simply to respond to where they were however they liked (but only after sitting for an hour or so first.)

What was collated were not dull statistics but rich collages about the place and the observers. More remarkable was that a number of volunteers started similar projects when they returned home to help connect people back to their own environments and communities.

I think we often lose the ability to just be in a place and sense what is around us when we have a certain idea of how we should structure our response to that place. Instead of creating something infectious and challenging we produce something expected and dull.
It might not work for a garden writer but then maybe it might?

(Now after thinking I’d repost the comment I left on Helen’s blog – I completely lost the link – so I hope you come and find me and I can put a link here >>>)

Pictures from

*lovely is apparently a word of fear for the critical garden writer!

Andrea Berardi December 2009 picture by Eddie

Professor Andrea Berardi Open University, 12/09 picture by Eddie


6 thoughts on “Good art is … when a scientist lets go

    • Thanks so much for including a link back here to my post – I’m a bit of a victim of my own block at the moment – a bit too crowded in by work and the day to day things of life. Time to get out and look around again.


    • Thanks Hilary. Andrea’s presentation was so extraordinary. He played a recorded of the church bells sounding and the birdsong which you could sense rising up from the valley below – it was just beautiful.


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