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.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Assessing possible added value of art in business

Some time ago I was asked to present about my art and leadership approach to a group of professionals; managers, consultants on leadership and artists that are trying to deliver services to business.

It was interesting to understand how different people thought about the role that art can play in personal and business context. Several options and views were brought forward, and I will try to summarise the key elements that I observed.

a. art is a nice decoration and in some cases could be an investment
Nothing really more than that. The view would be that art and business are completely different topics and maybe even two different 'worlds'.

b. provide art related workshops
Making art together as a sort of team building, or using as a metaphor to obtain learning, and creating a shared image of the strategy (create and attractive visualisation of our 'target' and our added value)

c. reflect more conceptually on personal and business approach/leadership
Art traditionally is more seen as 'autonomous' and strongly reflective. Art concepts and ideas can be used to reflect on behaviour, finding direction, inspiration, and challenge our views or innovate our approach.

"Presenting your business"
From cartoons website
I observed that some artists in the group normally focus on a limited part of element b (provide art related workshops), where they try to find ways to integrate their artistic talents into business and 'sell what they can offer'. This you could see as a 'supply-based' approach where we sell-what-we-have. In these discussions I also observe that several artists do not actually always 'know' from the inside what challenges companies are facing.
From personal experience I would say it is actually a good starting point to focus on what companies actually 'need' based on the challenges they face (which is more 'demand-based'). This also helps the manager to 'sell' a program to his management, as in the end each investment will be judged by its results and concrete added value.
In this case there are currently several topics and trends in companies where art could be helpful to reflect and find solutions. Providing 2 examples here that I have encountered:

  • More and more companies try to be 'efficient' and 'effective', using often methods such as 'Lean 6 sigma' or varieties of Total Quality Management. At the same time workload is increasing as staff numbers have strongly reduced. People feel a loss of energy as a consequence of the increased work pressure, the challenges that are quantitative and less qualitative and the lack of appealing direction. And as a result management does not succeed to reach the actual goals. Art concepts can be used to create insight and re-create inspiration, energise people and actually reach new goals or find new added value services.
  • In large companies middle managers have a hidden but important role; they need to achieve ambitious objectives and at the same time ensure human resources are motivated to go through these changes and walk the extra miles to achieve these goals. The role of the managers is key in a) ensuring there is a clear direction from the top, and reach actual decisions for the 'real' choices the company faces, b) creating the right conditions for the people to deliver the results and c) people are stimulated to participate and contribute ideas, after which the manager should support these ideas towards implementation. In the centre of all this the middle manager has to motivate him/herself and influence without always having direct or hierarchical power. Art can help to create insight in required creative approaches and self-direct and self-energise the middle manager.

Taking concrete business challenges as a starting point, and then engaging with people from the business side (and probably from other areas too) can help to really find added value for art into business. And I am convinced this added value exists, without directly transforming the manager into an artist.

I find it interesting to explore a bit more to which extent people find there is a role for art in business, and based on my observations so far I decided to start a poll. The poll will be published on this site and I would really appreciate if you could fill in and share with others to provide better insight in 'how people think about a role of art in business'.
Comments, ideas and personal experiences and/or insights are of course welcome too.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

art is not design

It is interesting to look at what the purpose is of art, and what does it mean when you are a ' succesful' artist. Recently I observed some discussions through LinkedIn artist group discussions, and it was surprising how diverse the opinions were, and also how passionately artists disagreed.
Le pinceau voyageur 2
Recent art work - Subconscious Power concept
decided to use silk and cut shapes away
I still do not have the answer to this, although I have been trying to understand more and more about it over the last years. There are however a few insights I learnt, and during a long evening/night conversation with friend Arjan I realised it might be good to capture some of these thoughts.

Art is not design, and design is not art.
You can make nice things, paint lovely images, express your feelings etc. In the end there is a difference between art and design:
The purpose of design is to make other people like it, where the purpose of art is to 'scratch the soul of the artist'. An artists primarily focus should not be to make what other people like. The artist should build his/her skills and insights, try to explore oneself. And in the end, when the artist truly touches himself, the art work is more likely to touch others.
Basically, painting without any purpose is like a journey without directions, repetition of skills without deeper learning.

Why would an artist then expose his/her art ?
It sounds contradictory that the purpose of art is not to make it beautiful for others...and then artists go through so much trouble to find a gallery, and to show their work and even sell their work to others. Others that quite often just buy art works because it 'looks nice'.
The first time I was asked to participate in an exhibition I thought a long time about it; my art works are so personal, they represent an important journey, reflections, struggle and internalisation of new insights. In the end there were and still are a few reasons to exhibit and even share thoughts and insights through a blog:
> art is a great way of sharing deeper reflections; I have noticed when I meet people and talk about the reflections that are part of my art work or concepts, people open up more quickly. Where normally the first discussions are about the weather, work etc now it is possible to talk about dysfunctional behaviour, dark sides, frustrations, etc.
> describing your ideas makes them also clearer to yourself; often ideas and art works are made in silence, they start in the head of the artist and end up as a series of 'images'. When explaining your concepts to others, and being faced with questions and remarks it forces you to make the concepts more clear; find more simple ways to explain what the paintings are really about.
> communication helps to explore, find other words for the same insights and collectivise learning
> extend the personal purpose to a larger audience; often the artists build new insights for him- or herself, digging deeper and deeper into oneself. The surface of what we see of our self is still very much linked to our social context; it shows the values of our direct culture, it is linked to the behaviour that is considered normal in our context. The deeper an artist touches and challenges himself, the more the artist finds insights that are reflecting on his or her context. An ambition of the artist can be to share his insights with the world and create inspiration and true reflection with other people around the same concepts.
> test and enrich your concepts - an artist can stay in his or her cave during and after the creation process, and enjoy the process of making and the richness of the result. At the same time an artist should not be guided with fear for what others find of the work. Feedback of others can help improve the work, find ways to enhance the skills and deepen the concept.

Branding art
""the giant that has been overpowered"
Subconscious Power concept
Now for sale at
I read an interesting book The $12 million stuffed shark: The curious economics of contemporary art by Don Thompson. It describes many things about art and branding, too much to all mention here. Key elements is the role of branding the art works; nowadays a large aspect of becoming a renowned artist involves branding; how do I market my art...etc. Although I would say that branding my art is not my key objective, it made me realise that I should spend some time thinking about these topics. Some elements I have taken into consideration:
- take time to describe your concepts and ideas, and make it easy to find for others
- decide what type of gallery you would like to work with;
- look at how others promote themselves and see how this could apply
- decide what I do and do not do; I want to promote my art, but not at the cost of my art
- go much further in thinking about a concept, not wanting to make concessions to the initial idea because 'this is good enough' or 'the next step is too difficult' etc.
I can recommend to other artists taking some time; there are plenty of books about how to market your art, and at a minimum it improves the way you promote what you do today.

Selling art through the Internet
Some of these reflections also crossed my mind when deciding whether or not to post my art works at for sale. I will participate to their exhibition in Barcelona this year, but at the same time I wonder what the sale through internet will bring. The site is quite good for people to get an idea of the art works and even can see it hanging over a couch - just to get an impression of how it would look in the room.
I also like that people can send the art works back when they are dissatisfied.
In the end I decided to participate, and see what it will bring. One reason to do this is also the enormous value I found in creating this blog and how people have reacted, bringing lots of ideas and inspiration as well as new insights.
So, I have now uploaded 4 art works and preparing for the exhibition in just waiting what will happen. Fortunately plenty of work to be done so will not have a problem filling my time with useful and distracting things to do, such as making new art works :)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Good to be bored

Last Friday I had a friend visiting that wanted to make pictures of me. Not because I would be specifically beautiful, but more because some time ago I had grown a beard, and she wanted to make several portraits of bearded people.
One of the portraits
by Hanneke van den Tooren
We discussed several aspects that i wanted to capture here.

Sometimes when making pictures or learning new painting techniques you have to think consciously about how-to-make-it while making the art works; which somehow prevents you from getting into an inspired mood (or flow). This by itself can be a bit worrying but is just a phase. In trainings one would normally address 4 phases:
1) incapable unaware; we are not aware of how we make mistakes or how we are limited by our skills or behaviour.
2) incapable aware; we have become aware that something is limiting us, which could be (i) through another person pointing this out, (ii) because we reflected and discovered ourselves, or (iii) because we have decided to set new goals and need to learn new things.
the learning curve with 4 steps
3) capable aware, meaning that we are aware of how to do things and start to be able to integrate this in our approach. But thinking is still required as part of execution
4) capable unaware, when we actually integrated the new insights into our behaviour and do not need to think any more when working.
The best step is of course step 4, but once we reach that stage it is good to realise that step 4 is probably the same as step 1; as there is a next step to be achieved and new things that limit our results and growth.

I would say that an artists stands on the shoulders of all previous artists in history, reaching for new levels. The artist needs to first understand and learn what others have done before him. And, even though this is sometimes unconscious, the artist will replicate many of these artists.
I remember when making my first cartoons; although I tried to make new cartoon characters they always ended up very much like my favourite cartoons (the Doorzon Family from Gerrit de Jager for example). And while searching for new characters and story lines to make my cartoons I was always trying to be original. Frustrating would then be when my brother - being confronted with my newest cartoon - would say "wow, nice, it actually looks like the Doorzon cartoons". Although intended as a compliment such remark could really bring me down. At the same time I had to go through these phases to at some point be capable of really creating my own cartoons and my own style. And even now for my latest cartoon ArtBurshy I can imaging people recognise other cartoon styles in it.

To make these evolutions and then create your own style requires going through the steps of learning several times. And crucial becomes step 4, and specifically when getting bored; finding no challenge in the current making. I would say that real inspiration comes with a vision of where you would like to go, and with a challenge. If there is no challenge it is the same as the last painting; we are copying not really creating. I understood that also Picasso several times started a new style after fully mastering his previous style; a nice inspiring thought I keep in mind to push myself for new ideas when being bored.

For these moments when being bored I always keep my notes of ideas. These ideas come at the weirdest moments; often just when getting up or after a strange dream; when walking on the beach, when having a conversation with a friend (and sometimes when using some alcohol ;) ). I try to write these ideas down, as they fly away as quickly as they come. And I use these notes when feeling bored.
As a side note I remember an interview some years ago with Karl Lagerfeld, who always slept with a notebook next to his bed, as most of his creations came when waking up.
Often these notes represent crazy thoughts, things that seem appealing but difficult to reach. These appealing images are the ideal drive to move from step 4 towards step 1, starting to identify the horizon for our renewed journey.
Generally I discovered when learning myself or when teaching others; it is more easy to learn new things when trying to reach for a new goal than just by sequentially teaching skills.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Every limitation is... a source of inspiration

On 14 July I will participate to an art show in Barcelona. The venue will be a beautiful Gaudi house/museum/gallery; Casa Batllo ( ) located at Passeig de Gracia.
This exhibition will show multiple artist and I got involved through the organising gallery: One of my art works will be shown there, but as this is a traditional building with many nice curves and decorations there are limitations to the display size. The concept is that each artist shows one work and his/her other works are available through iPads that are made available there.

Limitations are quite strict and as I joined a bit later I had a bit less options; so I can show one painting of max 60x90 cm... And actually I don't have that type of size at hand;  had been working on larger formats recently, some of my art work being sold, some being still displayed in a longer exhibition in Amsterdam. And at the same time I want to make sure that the painting that will be shown is a nice representation of my other works.
I faced a bit of pressure, but decided to use the limitation as an inspiration for some new art work. Focusing on limitations can remove loads of energy, which will delay the production of art, which on its turn will increase the pressure and reduce the energy. Instead I decided to look for a new way to create art works in my Subconscious Power series.

When I started looking for a format of my favourite type of paper (hand made from cotton rags) I discovered the art store had no such sizes; normally a frame takes 10 cm on each size, so was looking for something like 40x60 cm. But after size 30x40 the next one was around 60x80... Was a bit disappointed; I had been looking forward to buying some new materials and let that inspire me...

So then on the way back I realised I had been thinking for some time now to use thread in my paintings; to accentuate shapes, to create another layer on my paintings. And I had thought to combine painted sheets with sheets that were drawn with pencil; as a contrast and showing how even very different materials together could make a rich and beautiful composition. I decided to go to a small store in the West of Amsterdam, specialised in threads, needles etc. I found some lovely colours in silk and bought myself some embroidery needles to weave the thread on the paper. Had no clue yet what it all would look like, but just felt energised and decided to follow this flow.

I started working on the papers; already had some 30x40 pieces that I had been decorating in the snow. I selected a few and started continuing to decorate; getting myself in the flow and feeling what I felt when I originally made them. This gave some nice combinations of sheets; one painted and one made with pencil. The pencil part I worked by spraying water on it to fade some of the decorations and make it integrate with the other image.

Then, had been waiting for the right moment and finally had some time reserved to start the weaving of the silk threads. Had the needles, the paper, the silk colours... I put the thread through the eye of the needle...but the eye was not big enough. I couldn't get this done and there I was...filled with inspiration on a wonderful bright Sunday in Paris...stuck with all my materials...

I told my friend that evening and she gave it a try...after 15 minutes she had one done; she also did a few other ones and I could really start. I worked into the night, and also the days after, energised by finally making it happen. The first one got finished this weekend, and really happy with the result; cant wait to start finishing the next one.

Result? Two different sheets of paper decorated with different techniques, connected through silk threads that form the highlighted pattern that connects both images. Somewhere this week I will make a better picture and upload it to the website; and the promotions can begin.

It is funny however to keep reminding myself that every limitation is a source of inspiration. If I don't I just lose energy at every step and it becomes a very long journey.

Read about how I made the art in the snow here.
In next articles more about the art exhibition in Barcelona 14 July.
Art work available for sale at The Funky Art Gallery
Also coming up: exhibition in Chelsea NY November, December 2012