Sunday 4 October 2015

Enquire within about everything: the influence of Pablo Picasso and Sir Tim Berners-Lee on my learning #twistedpair

Dove of Peace by Picasso

Sunday afternoon and Steve Wheeler has set a new blogging challenge. This time building on a post of his own he tempts us to write a blog post about a strange or twisted pairing of two unlikely people or characters and tag the post #twistedpair. The idea being that I then go on to challenge three other people. To get the creative thoughts going he also presents a list to choose from. My attention was caught by Pablo Picasso and Sir Tim Berners-Lee. A tweet from Steve directly setting me the challenge was enough to earmark some time to reflect on why I had been drawn to these two individuals and the resulting blog post is a summary of my thoughts and memories.

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso was a Spanish artist (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973) who is possibly best known for his quirky Cubist paintings and sculptures. Any art experts out there will no doubt expound upon this and talk about his 'Blue Period, 'Rose Period' and 'African influenced Period'. You can read more about this here and view a wide variety of his work by googling PicassoLove or loath his work he was undeniably talented. I am not an art expert nor an artist, but I do know a little about Picasso and can recognise his work when I see it. My favourite pieces are actually his simple graphic line drawings. I have both the Dove of Peace and the Sleeping Woman; prints purchased for a just few pounds from Ikea and then framed. I was captured by their simplicity and the fact that they speak to me and evoke feelings of peacefulness and the symbolism of peace.  Just as love is in the eye of the beholder, art appreciation in any form is individual. We have only to look at the Turner Prize named after the artist J M W Turner held by the Tate Gallery and find ourselves raising an eyebrow when thinking about some of the nominated or indeed winning pieces....

Sleeping Woman by Picasso
Sir Tim Berners-Lee

In contrast Sir Tim Berners-Lee is a Computer Scientist and famous for inventing the World Wide Web and perhaps less so for establishing the World Wide Web Foundation and dedicating his life to ensure the Web 'belongs to all of us'. Tim saw the potential of linking together otherwise unconnected information back in 1980 when he was working as a consultant at CERN where he pursued this idea in his own time for his own personal benefit. He named this prototype Enquire (the title inspired by a Victorian book on his parents' book shelf called 'Enquire Within About Everything' - a collection of tips on anything from stain removal to managing finances). What is less known is that his initial paper on the system was rejected by a conference, because the organising committee considered his proposal too simple an implementation of hypertext. However Berners-Lee persevered and went on to publish his landmark paper in 1989 called Information Management: A Proposal and to build the world's first website. Even at this stage his idea is reputed to have been considered as vague but exciting. In 1994, he founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Connecting through enquiry

So what do these two people have in common? Both had the drive and energy to believe in themselves despite setbacks. Ideas are the building bricks and foundation for new ideas. Making simple connections between previously perceived disparate objects, opened the floodgates to inspirational outcomes.

It could be argued that Tim Berners-Lee has empowered us all to take ownership of our own enquiry pathways. Through the 'web' we can find practically everything we want to know and in multiple mediums. We can connect with others to co-learn and collaborate; to discuss and debate; to seek and provide feedback and advice.

In his own book Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor (1999), Berners-Lee talks of his vision:
"The vision I have for the Web is about anything being potentially connected with anything. It is a vision that provides us with new freedom, and allows us to grow faster than we ever could when we were fettered by the hierarchical classification systems into which we bound ourselves."

Picasso felt empowered to use his artistic talents and the freedom to explore these in new and exciting ways. He in turn was unfettered by what might be referred to as traditional art style. 

Art and HTML 

In 1996 and 2004 my life changed irrevocably following a divorce and the loss of my Father. I was also made redundant. My Picasso prints are a symbolism of my independence and gave me both joy and also a sense of peace when admiring them on my wall. Embarking on my first degree as a mature student at the Institute of Lifelong Learning, University of Shefield I was introduced to HTML and can still remember the joy of creating my first web page. The web has since paved the way to open many new doors and enabled me to connect with people I would never have met otherwise. I remain curious and know that I have so much more to learn, but in the confidence that through enquiry I can and will continue to be a lifelong and lifewide learner.  

So for me Picasso and Berners-Lee are somehow intertwined in the re-making of a more confident me.  It is in our power to accept our own fate or to create our own destiny. 'Enquiring within' starts with ourselves. Maintaining an open and enquiring mind is how we can continue to learn and grow.

flickr photo by Backbone Campaign shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license


  1. Brilliant connections Sue - love it! :)

  2. Thank you Steve! A great challenge and inspiration to use with my own students.

  3. I also see both of your twists are invoking as well: the genius loci of their time and palette. Picasso used an artists palette, Berners-Lee a web page palette. Empty space waiting to be invoked wit code and color.

  4. Thank you for your insightful comment Terry.