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Art and leadership – what does it have in common?

I was raised in a home which held art in high regard. Both my grandfathers were artists – one a professional photographer and the other an architect and painter. My parents used to take me to art galleries when I was little and our flat was always full of pantings and albums full of paintings were all over our house. My father played music as a hobby and my mother has been into photography since I can recall.

As a kid I used to invent new songs and tape-record them. I wrote poetry. Later on I took drawing and painting lessons and was granted access to an art high school. I decided to leave myself more options and not focus on arts. In the mid-90’s I became fascinated with the hip hop culture. For a few years I was a graffiti artist and rapped in a local band.

Art is a waste of time

I gave it all up when I landed my first job at the age of 19. Suddenly everything had to be „reasonble”, „make sense” and „make ends meet”. I put the artsy part of myself on the shelf and focused on learning how to do business. I gave up what was dear to me as I thought it was „useless”.

Is that true? Looking from another perspective I realize that my early fascination was not only useful in my later career, but giving it up didn’t make sense at all. Maybe I just lacked a good mentor at that time. If you are still reading this it means that you either experienced a similar dillema or you have not been into art that much, but consider getting into it from curiosity. There is a number of reasons it is worth a try, so let’s dig into them.

Why art may matter to a leader

  • Courage to make new, imperfect things that nobody will understand.

When you write a poem or draw something with no intention to publish you can hush your internal self-critic. There are no limits to creativity and experiments. It is an excerise of courage. There is no need to worry if it fits the rules, if it is good or bad, it it is off the limits or not. You art is as it is. Doing so you can become more self-confident and willing to show your own style. This translates to your behavioral patterns in your professional life.

  • Openness to different perspectives.

If you go to a gallery and see a fridge standing in the corner painted with blue and yellow car spray. You may like it or not but as you are already there, you face it and may develop an opinion or just observe with curiosity. What is amazing about art is that it knows no boundries. It feeds on breaking the rules and the element of surprise. Interacting with it may help you develop openness.

  • Creativity helps in problem solving and programming.

To copy something that exists already is not easy but may require diligent work to reverse engineer an established process. To build something that has never existed is a challenge not only writers but also programmers or product managers face every day. And this is what art is all about – creating new objects in a World where „everything has already been told”. Embracing the ability to come up with new ideas is invaluable.

  • Space for mindfulness

Try painting an object and thinking about something else at the same time. Impossible. One of the reasons why doodling is believed to increase productivity is that it attaches you to the here and now. It turns off the busy mind and improves focus on the thing at hand. Writing or drawing can be the way to pause while your mind is overwhelmed with problems and cannot find a solution.

  • Deliberate practice

Hardly anyone can learn how to paint overnight. It requires hours of work and tons of paper to draw an apple that will resemble a real one. Imagine playing Bach after a few piano lessons. Art – as any skill – requires practice. I believe that great artists, just like athletes, build an artistic muscle that can help them overcome challenges in their career in business.

  • Joy of life

Hitting deadlines and crossing out tasks on the to-do list is obviously everything. Unfortunately, sometimes we may get in the mode when we feel as if nothing except work matters. As if tangible results are the only good reason to live. Doing something that „makes no sense” eg. doesn’t give you fame or money, but just pure fun, may seem like a waste of time. Engaging in singing or knitting can bring just pure fun. The fun of creating for the sake of creating. That can bring true relief to a goal-oriented mind.

Is art for you?

Some of the benefits are available just by interacting and being curious about art. Some require becoming an artist. Anyone can become an artist – even if this means making one drawing a year and putting it at the bottom of a drawer. In my opinion it is the state of mind and openness to experiment that make an artist.

Nowadays I go to a gallery wherever I travel. This year I am going to take caligraphy classes and plan to use my own drawings to illustrate some of my writing (eg. the one above). I find it difficult to rewire myself for spending time with this „impractical” state of mind.
If you want to read more on this topic, the following books gave me a lot of joy and were of inspiration:

„What is Art” by Leo Tolstoy
„Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott
„If You Want to Write” by Brenda Ueland

How do you feel about art?


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