I found myself somewhat immersed in the world of visual art this past week. From looking at my son’s latest creation, to watching a movie about Georgia O’Keeffe and having dinner with a friend who is celebrating his 50th year as an artist, I took a fresh look at the world and contemplated life.
The three styles of painting are distinctively identifiable with each artist. The canvasses speak to the essence of their creator, hinting at their values, as well as bits and pieces of their life’s journey. But most pronounced in the work are the artists’ passions, undeniable and, for the most part, unwavering.
While my son is just beginning, the stories of the other two reinforce this sense of passion, including a passion for the unique self. O’Keeffe had at one point early on given up on her art, noting that the tradition of what she had learned was not one with which she could distinguish herself. Then, while attending a teaching college, she met Arthur Dow, who believed the goal of art is the expression of the artist’s personal ideas and feelings.
O’Keeffe says Dow “…helped me find something of my own.” It was from within that O’Keeffe found the connection between herself and the land, transferring it to canvas for all to see. And from that point on the world was enriched with her shared intimacy of our landscapes.
In “finding her own,” came a strength and freedom to stay the course. She is quoted, “I get out my work and have a show for myself before I have it publicly. I make up my own mind about it – how good or bad or indifferent it is. After that the critics can write what they please. I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.”
The same is true for my friend, Paul Gruhler, who finds that his modernist abstract works are not always enthusiastically welcomed. And yet, freely he continues, and in doing so his art reveals a strong voice, full of colorful subtleties and an undeniable integrity.
He does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. A January exhibition in New Hampshire proved to be a very confirming and lucrative one, as about a dozen of his paintings sold. His work is currently on exhibit at the governor’s office here in Vermont, and has been a constant in another state official’s office for some time.
Gruhler grew up in New York “in awe of the tall buildings and the orderly grid of streets and avenues.” Combined with an equal wondering reverence for the art of Sung and later Chinese dynasties, he creates both harmony and tension through a sophisticated use of the basics: color, line and form.
He creates with a respect for the individual in all of us. Thus, he doesn’t title his works because he wants “above all to leave them available to the experience and discovery of others.”
This passion, this relentless commitment to share the best of who they are, is a wonderful display of leadership. For at the core of great leadership is authenticity, which can only begin with self.
That’s not the only lesson here, though. Key to survival in the art and business worlds, alike, is something upon which many a strategic planning sessions have focused. That is, the unique value proposition.
If artists can take the same tools and palette of colors, and present the everyday in a way that is recognizably of them, a business likewise can present its products or services in a way that sets them a part. Like so many things in life, these distinctions come from taking a deep look within, as opposed to solely keeping a watchful eye on the outer world.