Reflections on art and leadership

I use my art to reflect an artist and a senior manager in the financial services industry. I notice that the deeper I understand myself the more I succeed to impact others; in both art and work.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

La Valise Noire (5) The dark side as inspiration

It is sometimes ironic to see how crises in your life become a trigger to explore new ways, seriously reflect and face the challenges that you didnt see before, provide the courage to go in the deep and be less superficial, ...
The same for my art since my divorce some time ago. It provided insight in the patterns I follow, especially in relationships, it made me more deeply engage with every step I took, more clearly seeing my own beautiful sides and the dark sides that come with them.
Specifically I have seen how important it is to have balance between the magic side of life as well as the rational part.  Our basic vital powers are very earthly, very powerful but also easily out of balance. We can use our rational side to guide ourselves back to balance, without losing touch with these catonic powers.

Today I made some notes when artist Frederik Beerbaum used to explain some of these things, mainly by using a metaphore that was taken from an eskimo family, it is quite shocking the way the eskimo explained it but I trust no fragile souls to read this ;-)
The mother of the eskimo was a good witch and she mastered the magic side of life and ensured protection, she kept things in balance and kept danger from happening, for example when the eskimo would go fishing.
After his mother died the eskimo used the skin of his mother to cover the outside of the boat. As a miracle the boat was in perfect balance, and the eskimo was safe when going out fishing. After some time, under influence of the salty water the skin dissolved and the boat became unstable. Then the eskimo took paint and decorated the boat with magic patterns linking the boat to the powers of his mother. The boat was again in perfect balance.
In Frederiks words this metaphore symbolises the role of art, bridging space between magic and the conscious self, creating and maintaining that balance.

So, we need to stay connected to the earthly powers and not be afraid to engage with them. These powers are our origin; it was not ratio that was used as the origin from our creation. These earthly powers can create happiness and pain, and exploring and expressing this pain is at the basis of many art works; the basis of inspiration. Good art scratches the soul of the artist...

La Valise Noire (4) everyone should be an artist

Brilliant, not yet used to the new Blogger interface and ended up deleting the previous version of this post...reposting this article now. Sorry for the ones that reacted on this post.

Had a nice an long exploration of the La Valise Noire concept yesterday with friend and psychologist Gerald.
Main reflections from there:
At work people expect me to meet the expectations; being reliable, following guidelines, creating stability and always be reasonable. In general in such an environment we have to be aware that - when pushing this desire of control too far - we end up with people that get rewarded and promoted for showing that behaviour. And basically people staying away from the tough choices, from solving the underlying problems (that are below the actual symptoms being treated), away from challenging what is not right. We stay away from conflict, but as such we hide it and we start re-reflecting and re-digest many times which increases the intensity and the size of the pressure; it seems this is often resulting in people being stresssed or burnt out.

I observe that as an artist I explore my dark sides, and people almost expect me to be excentric, unique, different, trying new things...In a way it seems I allow my artist-self more to make mistakes as it is part of being an artist, where I would not naturally allow my business-self to take the same approach.

In the end we will have ups and downs, and we have to accept that. We can not control all ups and downs, we should nonly aim not to have too many extremes, and guide ourselves in the direction we want (without the illusion of control).

I am an artist, so...I have the right to f*ck things up (which gave me the ide for this drawing)
And maybe everyone should be an artist then...? :)

Another articile with a cartoon on La Valise Noire?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Gertrude Stein by Picasso

I was last week at the exhibition in Le Grand Palais in Paris:

Matisse, C├ęzanne, Picasso... The Stein family’s adventure in art

Sorry, it just ended and was an interesting exhibition showing the many works that the Stein family collected.

A few things I took away from that exhibition:

The importance to support and engage with young artists
Unique was the way that Leo Stein and later Gertrude (his youngest sister) engaged with painters, giving them assignments and buying their work. At the start of an artists career it is important to be valued and recognised. And supporting at that time did not come at a great cost. Later when some of the artists became renowned and their painting much more expensive it seemed that the Steins would focus on others. This confirms me in the idea that I should myself support and engage with some younger artists; be in touch with their ideas and financially support them, and at the same time build a collection of art works that I really like.

The power of Cezannes apples
It is interesting to see the power of Cezannes painting of apples (sorry, I could not find a picture of that painting). The apples dazzle, combine vivid strokes of different colors and are really impressive. Like a Van Gogh painting with apples (in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam) I can look for hours admiring how someone can come to such an 'odd' way of painting an apple, and at the same time make you really see the apple, almost taste it.

The portrait of Gertrude Stein by Picasso
This is the image I included at the start of this article. Gertrude was drawn to Picasso, where her brother Leo more and more disagreed with his direction. Interesting is this portrait; it seems Picasso had many sessions studying for his painting of Gertrude, and at these occasions they would have vivid discussions about several topics. Picasso made the whole painting but at some point stopped the painting as he could not finish the part of her face. He was so much into Gertrude that he couldn't see the real shapes any more, and he gave up. It was only much later that (by heart) he finished the painting.
What I recognise from this is that - when you are seeing all details it is difficult to capture the whole. I have made portraits myself since I was 14 years old and have made so many. Sometimes it is much easier to paint people that you don't know, as you can easily 'take distance' and capture the key shapes and proportions.
Maybe this is also in life; with people that are close to you it is more difficult to observe how they are, what they mean to you and which dynamics occur, and it is also more difficult to take the right action, show the right behaviour or intervene in the right way. Maybe even most with your children.
So, when looking up close at the painting it is remarkable to see indeed that the painting of her face lays on top of the painting. And it is great to see how Picasso - when having more distance - was able to capture the personality of Gertrude, showing her as intelligent and determined.
To see the painting larger there is a nice site where you can zoom in by moving the cursor over the painting. Best is of course to go and see the original painting.
As a conclusion; I guess it is sometimes good to take a bit more distance from people that are close to you, and from there get a more clear view.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

La Valise Noire (3)

This weekend overheard two writers in an interview, each with an interesting quote:

About identifying a very personal subject of her writing the woman said:
it was the subject that is so close to me that I couldn't see it anymore
Guess this happens with more topics and issues; they get so much part of our being and sensing that we actually stop recognising them.

From another writer:
what evokes your fear is also what attracts you - being afraid of hights implies actually that you would like to jump
Actually, having a bit of fear of hights I realised this actually might be true; whenever I am near a high open window I feel fear; and basically as I can see myself jumping down.

I decided to make self portraits the coming time, drawing shapes that just come to my mind, trying to see which patterns and shapes will appear and try to interpret what they say about the areas that are so close to me. One I started to make this weekend and is shown above, interesting patterns I see, and so many details appear when just following the thin line created by the pen. Enough food for thought.

Next article with cartoon on La Valise Noire

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fw: La Valise Noire (2)

I had quite some interesting discussions this week about this new concept, and I had quite some different reactions.
One conversation I had today with Frederik Beerbaum, another artist with much more experience but with the same interests in philosophy and the role of art in life.
He had a few interesting comments that made me think and I would like to document them here.
One of the new drawings this week for La Valise Noire.
I would say the two silhouettes at the top would represent my children.
One reflection:
We have different force fields at work inside us, made of areas that we do not understand, creating tension. This tension requires us to release the related subjects frequently in order to reduce pressure. For an artist this can be through the process of painting.

I very much like this concept. In fact I tried to translate this to the concept of La Valise Noire; by making the drawing I bring the escaping images into the light, they become part of the explicit part of my unknown, and then get sent back into the darkness of the black suitcase. This would also support the idea that it helps to reduce the force fields if we know more of the forces inside us. At the same time we will never be able to know all, which is also good; if we could explain everything in our lives we would reduce the magic of life to a set of mechanical formulas. This also relates to the start of the book I found with the title 'La valise noire', where the writer says: 'as our images and thoughts are the result of an area we don't understand we can never see the full truth. And despite that we always succeed to convince ourselves that our opinion is the right one, the only way to see it'. Well, that's a very free translation.

Frederik also had a nice poem of Dutch poet Gerrit Achterberg that he quoted (sorry quoting in Dutch):
O vrome vuur
Breng in mij over
Uwen uur en tover
Ik ben een lege schuur
Een lover
Een landweg in het middaguur
Een afgezette passagier
Een in beslag genomen koffer

He also referred to a nice book from Mello Ponti elaborating on the value of painting. He is part of the phenomenological stream of philosophers ( such as Kant, Heidegger etc.). The book is called 'oeil et esprit' (eye and spirit). Will definitely look this up when I'm in Paris.(issued by Galimar 1964)

This exchange of ideas comes back to the purpose of communicating; it helps to verify and enrich our own view of reality. And it brings lots of inspiration, especially for me when I talk to people that are passionately exploring the concepts of life, such as Frederik.

Next article with reflections on La Valise Noire

Sunday, January 8, 2012

La Valise Noire

Explore your dark side, as it enriches the colors on the light side. Just make sure you do come back out of the dark.
I observe that there are moments when the darker patterns inside me take over; when for example something that started as inspiring threatens to become sort of destructive. Personally I experience this with alcohol; by itself drinking some wine helps to open the mind, even sometimes really supports getting into a highly productive flow, getting more in touch with my feelings, and reduce the influence of my ratio that wants to remain too much in control. But in the not so frequent occasions that I drink more and where there is a more sensitive context I can actually start showing behavior that would normally be corrected by my mind. And then it can ultimately damage the experience, a relationship or my self-image.

I think we all have our natural patterns, desires and dysfunctional behaviors. We can try to stay away from it, we can try to push them away or ignore them. In the end I think that we do not really change the darker and dysfunctional aspects of ourselves, we can just learn to deal with them in a better way. Whenever we have done things as a consequence of giving in to these darker patterns and desires, and we have been confronted with the unintended result, it gives us a feeling of guilt; causes a (sometimes more permanent) loss of energy. This loss of energy by itself is not really dysfunctional; when looking at it from a distance the ‘takeaway’ from what happened and the negative feeling should be that we learn something, that we act better next time; by compensating, solving or preventing. However, just losing energy because something went wrong in the past does not seem to bring anything to anyone.

I read some articles/books on Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) where people learn to deal with such situations by visualizing the negative experience in their mind, and then sending it away until it has disappeared in the far distance. I have tried this for some situations and in some cases it actually seemed to work. Now, at the same time some of these things tend to come back after sending them away in my mind, but that could also be linked to my lack of skills and real training on this topic.

Now, the concept of La Valise Noire came into my mind when I saw some authentic metal suitcases somewhere in a small and charming shop in Paris. The basic concept will be: visualizing my dark experiences and the guilt related and send it into La Valise Noire, focusing on what I can improve/learn.
A few interesting thoughts to be taken into account while making the drawings that will fill La Valise Noire: (i) I will take a specific situation in my mind when starting to draw; I will try to recall the feeling and relive the experience. Starting with just a simple line I will then trust that the right image will appear; (ii) I draw with a small pen, making it a long work to finish the drawing, enabling me to really digest the feeling and the specific situation where I have feelings of guilt and/or regret. (iii) on the back side of the drawing I will write to the person concerned, explain in short phrases which elements were driving me when things happened, and trying to face the brutal truth. And add what I think I should change, as I should not forget the learning part.
I also see some parallels with leadership, but will explore that another time.

Anyway, I thought to share the start of this new concept. Any ideas or challenging opinions are welcome as they will help develop or change the concept. And any suggestions of things I did wrong are welcome too; there must be plenty and they will inspire me for making the right drawings ;)

Read here next article about La Valise Noire

Monday, January 2, 2012

Exhibition Cezanne et Paris - Musee du Luxembourg

Painting: la seine a Bercy >>1876-1878; second more powerful version of same painting in 1874

I was having a new years walk through Paris, covering quite some distance to push away all things that troubled and clouded my brain and creating some space to breathe.
I decided to visit the exhibition of 'Cezanne en Paris' at the small Musee de Luxembourg. The museum is tiny indeed and guess that they have some 50 paintings and drawings there now...not a lot and several paintings are landscapes or elements that are purely realistic and can be seen elsewhere. Still, I took away 2 things.
First the interesting relationship between between writer Emile Zola and Paul Cezanne from when they were around 16/15 years old until the moment that Zola wrote a book some 40 years of friendship later, about a strugling artist, who showed only a few similarities with Cezanne and in the end commits suicide.
Second is the technique that Cezanne uses in some of his paintings where he almost sways his strokes on the paper/ dazzles, it moves, it creates enormous dynamics. It is interesting to know that Cezanne grew up among the evolution of impressionism, and also some time worked outside to capture landscape. At the same time he seemed convinced of realism, which also caused Zola to write about it; in a caring way he observed his friend Cezanne following this 'wrong' path of realism knowing the new artistic flow of impressionism.
Things I take away are (i) a confirmation that we need to seek interaction to undrstand what we paint, exchange ideas to test them and innovate. And (ii) to dare standing on the shoulders of my forefathers, to keep studying their techniques and see where I can improve or innovate. For example I started to experiment with similar strokes as Cezanne and although not perfect yet I am sure I will integrate this in my coming abstracte work. I am convinced it will enrich it and create more dynamics in the painting, especially when mixed with abstract shapes.

All in all quite inspiring start of the new year.
Bonne annee to all.