So, what is this 3-Line Matrix?

It is a multi-dimensional visual thinking tool. A field descriptor. An oblique coordinate system, or a scenario matrix on steroids. A topological device meant to breathe and stretch.

How to use it: In any given discourse, broadly determine 3 prevalent categories. Assign an axis to each. Then name the outlying positions and mark the end points of the axes. Spin the axes around, play with the ordering. Allow affinities and associations between the end points to emerge. Within the field thus sketched out, place other pertinent points. Is the background filling in densely, are hotspots emerging? Can the elements stand to stay in one place? Are they itching to move? What happens to the axes now? Are they starting to oscillate, bend towards each other, grow tentacles, narrow, widen, become more fluid or rigid? Is a field getting established? Does it oscillate? How can it be navigated?

3Line_ETSU copy

Example 3-Line Matrix conference, ETSU: The overall theme of the Outer Regions conference was how artists work outside of a big, urban center and how they determine their aspirations. Explored were access to networks of peers and gatekeepers, awareness of discourses, confidence, and questions of sitedness of practice. This initially led to the three axes:

1. A practice axis considered the making and distribution of objects. 2. A place axis spanned actual location and facility with and access to virtual reach. 3. A movement axis included both being able to afford and being interested in travel and/or relocation.

At their respective ends, market, mobility and the virtual enable international discourses. There’s a constantly refreshing layer of what is new, just like the most recent information is on top of a Tumblr. The actual, the site of work, and the considerations of motility privilege depth and longer term considerations.  But while they seem to group naturally, these endpoints also exceed conventional narratives and reach towards each other. Web and archive interact with each other. Art making and marketing may trade places. Mobility and motility present constraints and choices. Artists traverse and expand this universe.



Example 3-Line Matrix organization, 6018North: The non-profit’s mission is shaped around uses of the site and its owner and director’s broader activities as a curator, host and facilitator.

1. A Modes of Perception and Presentation axis speaks to enabling new experiences for both audiences and artists/curators. 2. A Programs and Frameworks axis captures types of events that center on art and on discourse about art worlds. 3. A Communities and Infrastructures axis considers longer-term structures, both of the organization and the field it is part of.

What emerges is a playing field; specific occasions and events can be inserted, also loosely in relation to their physical location.


Adel_map copy

Example 3-Line Matrix art practice, self-portrait: In 2006, I drew myself as a ceiling fan. Clearly, the 3-Line Matrix owes to that image. Recurring formal elements in my artistic practice are: two adjacent focal points, cross, circle, infinity loop. Figure and ground at odds, reversed, or merged. The 3-Line Matrix fits into those patterns.

1. A Cultural Policy axis collects discourse about art contexts, with data visualization on one end and more playful and poetic diagramming on the other. 2. An Art as Research axis addresses discourses about art making. 3. A Topics axis captures thematic explorations, carried out through writing or forms of visualization.

The left field emphasizes linear ways of working – writing and data visualization, along with the presentation of results; the right side collects imaginative making and performative presentation. Both ranges draw from the central intake, reading and listening.


When I talk to other artists about how they work, the diagrams I create based on those conversations (with one exception so far) have not employed this 3-Line Matrix, but generated a range of visual devices that are more specific to the ways of working described to me. I am interested to see if the 3-Line Matrix can be a helpful template to structure an understanding of other’s ways of working.

Artist, professor [Arts Administration and Policy] at SAIC.

Tagged with:
Posted in 3Line_Matrix, art, conferences, facilitating
%d bloggers like this: