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One of the aspects of coaching that I’ve become interested in, although perhaps not quite as proficient in as I would like, is the idea of ‘clean’ coaching. Clean coaching includes the use of clean language which is “a simple set of questions developed by counselling psychologist David Grove. These questions are used with a person’s own words to direct their attention to some aspect of their own experience. Asking these questions in the right context often results in an interesting new insight or the recognition of some new possibility. And if that new possibility is then questioned using Clean Language, the result can be quite profound. Clean questions invite people to consider their experience from different perspectives and they are often surprised by their own capacity to generate new, powerful and useful ideas about their own experience”. See https://cleanlearning.co.uk/resources/faq/what-is-clean-language

This week in particular I have been struggling to keep it clean during my coaching sessions. One of the problems (and strengths) faced by artists coaching other artists is to do with shared experience and knowledge, mutual networks and common interests. Which are not problems in themselves but what I have experienced lately, whilst coaching relevantly recently graduated artists, is that sessions inevitably become closer to resembling mentoring sessions where we end up discussing actualities of the art world therefore diluting any ambitions I had of concentrating on clean coaching for the whole session.

The reasons for this are to do with the struggle for all new artists of finding their place within an art world that seems impenetrable, an unsureness about the direction of their practice, overwhelming frustrations around the financial implications of making work and the practical considerations for maintaining a studio practice whilst having to earn money in often low paid, time consuming jobs. Really, why would anyone embark on let alone persevere within a profession that promises such difficulties? BUT clean coaching techniques/questions CAN work to a new artists advantage within these parameters of doom. Where I managed to adhere to the principles of clean questioning within the sessions it was interesting to observe the ways in which they (the coachees) generated levels of thinking that broke some of theses seemingly insurmountable problems down into manageable chunks that they were then able to break down even further to consolidate thoughts that were then converted into practical tasks or solutions. The other parts of the sessions (maybe 50%) concentrated on necessary practical advice – where to go, who to speak to, what to apply for, does my website look professional, can you read my statement, or do a portfolio session…etc.

Where the clean coaching also proves effective is in trying to define a young artists developing practice. I’ve found that using the clean coaching questions helps young artists to consider more carefully their ambitions for their work, recognise and refine the threads that run through their practice, and establish routes/positions within the art world in which they can further develop. All of which will ultimately provide them with a useful stepping off position to progress towards professionalisation.

An interesting question within this is ‘Is there an ultimate time within an artists career when clean coaching will be at it’s most effective?’ I’m currently working with artists at varying stages of their careers and notice that for the more established it IS easier to keep to clean coaching. That’s not to say that sharing of information doesn’t take place, it would be absurd for two artists in the same room to not share information or discuss aspects of the world we call art, but it does appear to be the case that as an artists practice matures a deeper understanding of that practice can be facilitated more easily through clean questioning.

This idea of the greater efficacy of using purely clean coaching as determined by the artist’s experience or longevity of practice may prove to be irrelevant, I don’t know, but it is something I’m taking notice of and will reflect upon further at a later date.