BLG Leadership Insights

Leadership Lessons From an Art Studio Visit: Are There Any? (I’m Not Sure)

I escape into the world of the artist’s studio for 2 weeks ever year. For a moment, I become a voyeur, eying cautiously, the artistic journey that leads to discovery and creation.

For half a month I focus on one challenge: find a piece of art that I can afford on my academic salary that I can add to my small collection.

Over the years I’ve honed my tastes and now I prefer a series of contemporary artists who have mostly emerged in the 60’s, achieved visibility in the 80s, and, of late, have become senior spokesmen in the art world. This summer I’m especially intrigued by a group of Israeli contemporary art.

With Yaaccov Chefetz, a master of paper work, I spend time in his studio discussing his paper drawings, sculptors, and installations. We talk about what it means to construct art while working under, what he calls, “a volcano.”

Yaaccov Chefetz
Yaaccov Chefetz

With Tisiba Geva, a master painter, we talk about his early career, his middle career, and how, in his current career, he has gone back to some of his early work. We talk about the artistic career and artistic work as a tool for self-discovery.

Tsibi Geva
Tsibi Geva

With David Reeb, a well-known artist whose political voice is easily seen in his work, we talk about the politics of art and the art of politics. We talk about artists and their role as a witness to history.

David Reeb
David Reeb

With Yaacov Dorchin, the major sculptor, we talk about the relevance of the lyrical. We discuss material like steel and it’s ability to ground people into the reality of the moment. We finish by commenting on sculpture’s power to work both locally and universally.

Yaacov Dorchin
Yaacov Dorchin

With Ibrhaim Nubani we talk about the use of culturally mixed metaphors in his work. Metaphors taken form the politically divisive work he finds himself him. We talk about his art as a reflection of his ambivalence, alienation, and if you will, his confusion with identity.

Ibrahim Nubani
Ibrhaim Nubani

There is something captivating about sitting in an artist’s studio talking about their art. The first few minutes in an artist’s studio you realize that you have wandered into a metaphysical cave whose boundaries are abstraction, color, rhythm, and social relevance. I feel as if I’ve been uplifted just a bit and have escaped from the triviality of my own pursuits.

Every time I engage with these friends in dialogue I’m trying to escape from, what I consider, the mundane details of organizational behavior, leadership, and negotiations. But you know what happens? After awhile, I begin to realize that their world, the world in which I’m trying to escape into, is exactly the world I live in. The world where the constant challenge is, how do you become proactive? How do you take your ideas and move them forward? How do you take ideology and passion and build a career?

Artists, in any culture, are visionaries and witnesses, but they are also craft people who need to make a living. They have to be proactive in the world. They have to market their ideas, make adjustments, and move their career forward. They dream, but they have to make their dreams work for them. When their voice is unheard, when there work is dismissed, when, indeed, they don’t sell, they don’t pay their mortgage.

Artists face the problem of execution. The key problem of leadership. The problem of taking good ideas and moving them forward. The challenges of being proactive. I discover that in this world of the studio a disproportionate amount of the discussions are about the practicalities of doing art in a practical world. The practicalities of executing ideas in a world that’s not idealistic. Artists talk about getting people on their side, keeping people on their side.

My notion of escaping into the artist’s studio is a bit idealistic. The artist’s world that I try to peek into is really just as cemented in the mundane as the world I live in. In fact, very little separates our two worlds. I walk away from these artists studios refreshed in my knowledge about art, encouraged about my capacity to have a dialogue. However, I realize while there is much I can learn about art, there is the challenge of intellectual dialogue, the friendship and camaraderie, but subterranean reality for all of us remains pragmatic and a bit mundane.

During my last visit one of my favorite artists, David Reeb, told me he had just read my book Get Them on Your Side and found the ideas of relevance to his work. I was disillusioned, but thrilled. Disillusioned because in my romantic way I had hoped that artists never needed to have political skills. Thrilled because I found a new audience.

I recommend that you visit an artists studio once and a while. You get a fresh perspective and you realize that your problems and their problems aren’t that much different.