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The power of Art4Transformation@

· Art4Transformation

The context in which we live and work nowadays in complex. Using a well know acronym, we entered in the so-called V.U.C.A era (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous). Based on my personal and professional experience and most updated social research, I start to believe that the logical and efficiency-based approach that we have continued to apply in the last 100 years or more, is not the best way to succeed if not integrated with a creative one. The current context needs more adaptability, creativity, ability to make sense of things, a better integration of mind, hearth and hands, a higher connection with our emotion, values, spirits and purpose. These concepts start to enter even in the corporate context where previously they were almost banned. Organizations do not use anymore the “Machine” metaphor to represent themselves and start using the “Living Organism” metaphor which embrace many of these new concepts. It is common nowadays hearing that “right” brain type of people is becoming more and more essential in our type of world, where many “left” brain activities will be taken over by machines.

So, if that is true, how to integrate the new “creative” mindset in our life and work? How to shift paradigm? This is where art can really help because art is based on creativity, emotion expression, meaning making, passion, artistic skills such as envisioning, empathy, observation and many other, exactly the type of culture we need to develop in our society and organizations.

Being an individual who has been exposed to both Efficiency paradigm (as Corporate Executive/Transformation Expert in the business context) and Creativity paradigm (as an artist), I started to reflect on how art practice and art appreciation could help for self-development and transformation and started to journal about my personal artistic journey from a self-development angle. Beside publishing articles on this topic, Marco Polo Consulting has started also to propose and facilitate:

  • Sessions of discussion on Art for transformation and Art Appreciation
  • Programs around Art4Transformation that integrates different types of artistic techniques, such as Theatre, Storytelling, Literature, Graphic recording, Clay, sculpting with Lego, Cinema to help individuals to develop skills such as creativity, empathy, observation, presence, flexibility, critical thinking and many others
  • Self-development and transformation retreat with Art and Nature in Pulau Ubin (SG)

Artistic creativity is a U journey

As a facilitator of transformation I refer often to U Theory from Otto Sharmer and the more I explore the topic of Art4Transformation I realize how much art practice is enabling me to sense and experience all the steps of the U journey.

1. Holding the space: every painting starts with an intention or an openness to listen what how the painting "wants" to be paint

2. Observing: beside the act of painting, most of my time is spent to observe, to do research that will give me insights for creating

3. Sensing: art is not only in the mind, art is about feelings and only by connecting with them you can create

4. Presencing: when I enter in the state of flow I am in tune with my Self, My identity, I let go my assumptions, I open to new possibilities. Not easy but when it happens it is magic.

5. Crystallizing: The sparkling of an idea, the "aha" moment of creativity is not enough, when you create a new piece of art you need to articulate this idea and intention, make it become concrete. Only by acting you will know if it is right or wrong and you understand how to improve it.

6. Prototyping: how many paintings I made that I considered wrong or mistaken? so many! but only through them I got the ones that are good.

Be present and authentic

  • Painting a good artwork is not just a matter of technique. As they would say in China, it is also a matter of expressing your "Qi" (vital energy). This is possible only by slowing down, being present and aware of our own feelings while putting a stroke on the canvas or paper.
  • Harold Speed in “The practice and Science of Drawing” wrote something I really resonate with. “The painter expresses his feelings through the representation of the visible world of Nature, and through the representation of those combinations of form and color inspired in his imagination, that were all originally derived from visible nature. If he fails from lack of skills to make his representation convincing to reasonable people, no matter how sublime his artistic intention, he will probably will landed in the ridiculous. And yet, so great is the power of direction exercised by the emotions on the artist that it is seldom his work fails to convey something, when genuine feeling has been the motive. On the other hand, the painter with no artistic impulse who makes a laboriously common place picture of some ordinary subject, has equally failed as artist, however how much the skillfulness of his representations may gain him reputation.”
  • How this can apply to our daily life or work? I do remember that once, during a project with a client, an employee made a comment regarding a recognition program organized by the HR department. Technically the program was a very good idea but because the HR and the managers were not putting they heart while giving the recognition award to the staff, they were perceived as fake and the result was disengaging. Often the result of WHAT we do depends on the HOW we do it, meaning it depends on our "Qi" as for the painting. 
  • One of my corporate clients asked us support to let their managers practice better connection with their team members because they were focused only on the results (the WHAT) and not on the emotional relationship or connection (the HOW) with them and this was affecting the engagement (and the results) of the company. During a facilitated activity one of the workshop participants (Japanese) told me that learning how to connect with emotions would help him not only at work with his team members but also with his wife.
  • Unfortunately, the pace of our life and work too often does not allows us to slow down enough to be aware and present to other unless we are really keeping attention to it.

The importance of unlearning

  • I am currently trying to move from a traditional and realistic type of painting to a more contemporary one, learning from Cubism how to let go the concept of a unique point of view and perspective. I am realizing how difficult it is to unlearn a concept so ingrained in my concept of space. On one side I understand that perspective is a "convention" created during Renaissance, which can be challenged, but on the other side this is my current way of seeing the world and I am really struggling to move out of it. I am still in the process of understanding how to do but I am conscious that this realization is already a very important step.
  • In the same way, in everything we do in our life and work, we have been "programmed" to see things in a certain way by our culture, by our family and personal experience. So, when we want to change a behavior or solve a complex problem in a "disruptive" way, we need first to unlearn our "program": the assumptions about how the reality has to be interpreted.

Practice, practice, practice

  • These are a few of my ink and wash/watercolor works from the 1st I did when I started 5 years ago to the last one done today. Creativity in art is important but it is not enough. Learning how to artistically convey a message is a long journey of daily practice and commitment. It is important sometimes looking back and appreciate the evolution and improvements. 
  • It is not seemingly the same in our life and work when change is needed?

Have a good mentor

  • This is also very critical. A mentor who does not spoon feed you but gives you the right challenge at the right moment to move to next level. Someone who see your potential and guide you to be the best you can be. Someone who encourages you but also give you room to learn from your mistakes and tells you the candid truth on where your work needs improvement.
  • Are we doing this as leader, mentor or parent in our life and work? As learners, are we taking responsibility for our learning journey and know the importance of learning how to learn? Are we expecting to have all instructions or are we looking for as many learning opportunities as possible?

Flow

  • When I paint, I enter in a state of complete abandonment, time stops, my concentration is completely absorbed by the act of painting, I lose consciousness of what is around me. They call this state “flow” and is a state where you give your best artistic expression, because in that moment you do not care about the results of the painting or what others will think about it, you are just fully and effortlessly taken by the enjoyment of your hand coloring your canvas.
  • Flow does not happen only while doing art, it happens any time we are in connection with something we are passionate about, something which has meaning for us and it is close to who we are and that is challenging enough to excite us but not to much to  frighten us.

Mindfulness

  • I had the same experience also at work when I was doing something new, or working in a project I was passionate about, or studying something I was really interested in or talking with inspiring people. I do believe that creativity and passion expressed in any contest connect us to the best of ourselves and too often we just lose this opportunity by adapting routine and status quo.

Learning from mistakes

  • I am currently trying to using a new approach for my black and white artworks: loosing up the first layer, applying interesting mark and then tightening up with more structured lines. The result of my first trial has not been very nice but I learned something important: we cannot improve if we do not accept to step back in order to move forward when we learn. I can see now what I can do differently next time and this is the most important step. If we are blind in front of what we should improve we will never progress. Another great lesson from art.

 

Accepting unpredictable outcomes

  • When you paint you learn to accept that you cannot always be in control. Especially with some media like watercolor it is very critical to “let go” and let your hand go with the flow, sensing the movement of the brush on the paper.
  • Sometimes unpredictable accident happens too and it is very interesting to see how welcoming them and finding a way to integrate them in your painting can bring unexpected results. Once I mailed one of my paintings for an exhibition and when it arrived the curator called me very preoccupied, telling me that the canvas arrived partially cut. I told him to wait for me arriving there and see if there was anything I could do.
  • The painting (see below) titled “Unbearable” was representing suffering and despair. (I represented the “cut” in the canvas with the below white line). Thinking about the message of the painting I thought that actually it was right to have it “broken” because the person in the painting was in a way also “ broken”, so what I did was to stick the cut with a red wire, without trying to “fix” and cover it but showing it very clearly and giving a meaning to it consistent to the entire painting mood. It was than very interesting to explain the creative and sense making process to the people coming to the exhibition. The title of the painting is now “Unbearable and Broken” and I like it better than before.
  • Several time, while painting, it also happened to me that the painting just WANTED to be different from what I had planned, because at the end the painting is an expression of our unconscious and our hand is freer than our mind and it expresses our deeper self without filters.
  • Wouldn’t be helpful to have the similar awareness and approach in our life and work? Sometime we really cannot fix things, we just need to embrace them and integrate them in our life with a sense-making process. At the same time if we are always “in control” we lose opportunities for unexpected surprise and innovation that can bring us to better results. We would not have “post it” if someone would not have the idea of using in a different way a glued paper that was less sticky than normal. Also listening to the message of our Unconscious (the body) without the filters of our logic mind is also very wise. Our body sometimes gives us messages that we are not prepared to listen.

Art as a dialogue

  • Have you ever thought at your painting as a dialogue with the viewer? I did. When I paint, I express an idea, a feeling, a view of the world and when my painting is finished it goes “in the world” often without me explaining what was my intention. So, in a way the painting is my vehicle of communication and when it encounter other people looking at it, the paining starts a conversation because what I meant to express is not necessarily what will be received and at the end this is not really what is matter. It is the co-creation of meaning between the viewer and the artwork that is important to me. The viewer reflect him/herself in the painting I made and by doing so add or change my initial intention. And this is for me the power of art. It touches the sensitivity of people, proposes questions and reflections, stimulate emotions, by using a metaphorical language which by nature accepts multiple interpretations.
  • David Bohm says that " in a dialogue, each person does not attempt to make common certain ideas or items of information that are already known to him. Rather, it might be said that the two people are making something in common, i.e. creating something new together. {...} If people are to co-operate they have to be able to create something in common, something that takes shape in their mutual discussion and actions, rather than something that is conveyed  from one person who acts as an authority to the others, who act as passive instruments of this authority.
  • But how does this "dialogue" happen when it is between a person and an artwork?  I do believe that a painting effects on your inner state and this can be as fleeting and superficial — or as profound and transformative — as you allow it to be. “Inner state”, meaning the whole inner space of “eye-mind-heart-body” system which is you. What you are seeing is created for you by your own brain, based on its accumulated knowledge and patterns of image recognition.  Your response is not determined by the painting alone, but also by who you are and where you are in your life right now. The practice of contemplative observation opens a connection between your inner state, your consciousness, and the innermost core of the painting. In a sense, you become — for a time — the subjective consciousness of the painting. Your inner response is the mirror of the painting, and the painting you see is the mirror of your inner response. The key to contemplative observation is to witness this response in its interaction with the painting. 
  • In our Art4transformation sessions we practice contemplative art observation, starting with a transformative question in mind. It is powerful to see how this can generate in the individual unexpected connections with unconscious assumptions and a blind spot that the person need to let go in order to be able to embrace the new: a fantastic act of co-creation between the painting/artist and the viewer.
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