Wednesday, 2 April 2008

The Art and Craft of Life and Work

What makes work a work of art? Short articles can repay pondering awhile — incuding Hilary Austen Johnson in the JBS, Artistry for the Strategist. Excellence shines out of some work — Mastery + Originality = Artistry. It makes something really subtle and clever look easy and fresh. You get it in art, or in music, when you sense that the notes are in exactly the right place. You can find it in any field of risky endeavour, including leadership. Some think Artistry is Voodoo magic that you're born with, or not. In fact it’s acquired — learned by trial and error. Even Mozart took six years to learn how to write symphonies!
It is developed through participation in a discipline as action in that discipline unfolds. Taking action allows us to generate knowledge through time.
Sheer Plod makes Plough-down Sillion Shine. So say the Police — and Gerald Manley Hopkins. Three things prevent us becoming original masters of our craft:
  1. Trying to copy other people’s finished performances thinking it will take us directly to our goal. This is why How-To books promise so much more than they deliver. Even if, improbably, you produce good work, as Billy Graham used to say, “sleeping in the garage don’t make you a car.” Artistry is an emergent capability and you can’t just make it happen. Being too captivated by the finished product distracts you from the sources of your own capability. Very rarely, if ever, does anybody get a hole in one.
  2. True artists know there's no finished product. Artistry evolves as understanding, ability and preferences evolve. It’s a constant learning process. Each peak only leads on to another peak.
  3. It is not possible to work in an artistic fashion without experiencing failure. Everything is provisional. Studios are full of things that didn’t quite come off, which you work to improve. Failure and success themselves become hard to pin down sometimes.
In other words, it’s all about Faith
  1. Faith grasps hold of what could be, but isn’t captivated by the vision to the extent of losing touch with the infrastructural processes going on in the believer.
  2. True Faith is always pressing onward towards the goal of the upward call...
  3. Faith doesn’t give up, or get surrender to smugness.
Along with good ol’ fashioned fear, what blocks us from true artistry is perfectionism — fantasy that disconnects us from the creative processes inside us, or satisfies us with second best, or makes us feel that if it’s not perfect first time it’s not worth trying and trying again. And when we try to learn and grow in our work, reading how-to books or however, we need to do so with great realism and humility before the truth.

Is our work an act of faith? how could it become a work of art?

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