The unapologetic, raw, unedited interpretation of living life. Each of us is the artist of our own life, constantly remolding, reworking, and roughing out the details and applying what we've learned to the changing canvas. There are no do-overs, no take backs...just rough cuts that release what lies inside us.

I saw the angel in stone and I carved until I set him free. - Michelangelo

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Your Artistic Identity Defined

Throughout my life, I enjoy being able to take a moment to look back over the “Seasons”.  There are specific moments and milestones which mark the end of one season and the beginning of another.  We each possess the ability mark our progress to full awareness and begin to make choices regarding our life path.  Over a series of seasons, milestones, and maturity, we begin to shape who we are.  Discovering who we are provides self-awareness, some call this their “calling” or purpose in life.  Clearly we each have our own path, have you found yours?

If we were to define your destined role, would you define it any of these terms?

The Artist:  Britannica Online defines art as "the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others."  Therefore the Artist, would be the creator, one with imagination, and one who uses his skills and creativity in such a fashion as to share them with other people.  Do you often symbolize your ideas or express them in unusual ways?

The Student: any person who studies, investigates, or examines thoughtfully, usually in a formal setting.  The student is fixated on a subject matter to the extent he internalizes its meaning and in turn is able to make connections to life, the world, and other matter.  Do you find you most enjoy the act of discovery?

The Educator:  a person or thing that educates, especially a teacher, principal, or other person involved in planning or directing education. This person organizes/controls the way in which information is delivered to the student.  Do you find you relate to wanting to share ideas in an organized way and are usually the one who most come to for advice or guidance?

The Collector:  is aware of and appreciates the value of particular thoughts, ideas, things which he then seeks to harbor in his own possession.  Usually he is of particular taste and looks to compile those things which expand his collection.  Do you find you accumulate knowledge, experiences, or ideas, to become an expert of a particular subject?

The Dealer:  a person who buys and sells articles without altering their condition.  This individual is excellent at identifying valuable commodities and delivering them to the appropriate audience.  Do you find you are skilled in delivering added value to groups or individuals by means of maximizing return on your physical, emotional, or intellectual investments?

Which one of these describes you?  Do you identify with more than one?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Moments of Clarity

I recently had the chance to spend some time in focused thought, hence my recent absence from the blogging arena.  Opportunities to disengage rarely come our way in today's fast paced world, it's risky: it creates the possibility of "falling off the grid" or worse, being left behind in the dust of others trudging ahead chasing the proverbial carrot. Every Artistic Leader needs a chance to step back and evaluate, refresh and clarify what it is they are about.

So why not just follow the raging current and move with the work?  Well, there are a few reasons:

What if the work is really a distraction? So often we think a creative idea is so great, it warrants our effort, time, and attention.  We need clarity to filter which ideas get our attention, which we save for later, and some that just need to be pursued by others because they simply don't fit.  It is essential to have a framework by which your vision is defined.  Rabbit trails are exhausting, so leave it to the rabbits!

What if you get so wrapped up in the work, you forget the vision? Did you ever spend so much time on a project, deeply engaged in the act of doing to the point you forget WHY you are doing it in the first place?  An artist can become so focused on the act of creating, he may just forget what it is he is trying to create.  Don't do this!  Plan your work, work your plan.  Mark milestones so you know when to stop, celebrate, and evaluate what has been accomplished.  This also gives you time to reassess.  Have you ever been lost, passed your exit, realize after hours of driving you have no idea of where you are?  This is a scary feeling.  It is a frightening experience for your team when they realize they have been following a leader who hasn't a clue where they are or where they're going.

What if the work drowns you?  Failure is defeating but don't get defeated!  No, that isn't a typo.  Failure is the best learning tool available, you just have to fine tune the art of failing gracefully.  You will experience failure.  My hope for my children is they know and understand that disappointment will happen, it is how you handle your failures which makes the difference in what type of leader you are.  When I was in 3rd grade, my Art Teacher explained "happy accidents".  She showed us one of her own paintings and was clear to show us a lantern she painted on the exterior of a beautiful Victorian home.  She explained the lantern was not intended to be there at all, but while she was painting, a drop of black ink fell on the canvas.  Wiping it would have created a large smear and there is no eraser for ink.  Instead of scrapping the project, admitting defeat, she turned the ink blot into a quaint lantern.  Artistic Leaders do fall, but they make it look like a dance.

The bottom line is Artistic Leaders need clarity, great success require preparation, thought, and management.  Momentum is a great morale booster as long as it doesn't lead you away from your vision.  Purposeful breaks, focused retreats, or a ever so brief pause can launch new energy and passion for your craft.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Cost of Living

There is a common theme running in life right now, everything has a cost.  This does not refer to the purchasing of goods or services, it goes much deeper than that.  The cost this refers to is the emotional, mental, and physical cost associated with decisions which face us every day.  Commitment equals a certain degree of intensity and focus.  When we are hyper-focused on our goals, there are absolutely areas that do not get attention, we become more choosy about where, with who, and when we direct our time and energy. 

I imagine the last sentence will receive the highest probability for misinterpretation, but at this moment for the sake of the illustration, it doesn't really matter, because you and I know it is true:  Decision takes Boldness, Effort takes energy, goals take focus, and success takes work.  It always costs us something and time is of the essence!

Do you think DaVinci had time to chat it up with every person who walked by?  Do you read stories about the applaudable social skills and raving fans of Vincent VanGogh during his lifetime?  I am sure you can insert any driven, successful person's name here and draw a definitive line from who they were to what they achieved.  What you won't find here is a successful name and a laundry list of how they interacted with every piece of hate mail, invested in every penny stock, chased every rabbit trail to get them to their moment of glory.

Could you imagine if your favorite professional football player decided to take up tennis on the side?  You would say they were crazy, that they were wasting their time.  Here is where this applies to the average-striving-for-above-average people like you and I:

Get Focused:  You first have to decide what success looks like for YOU.
Maybe for you, this is buying your first home, running a marathon, being debt free, deciding you want to follow your dream of starting a self-owned business.  This step cannot be completed by anyone but YOU.  No one is going to be able to tell you what your dream is.  You may hear the word "supposed to" or "should", but only you know your heart.  Once you OWN your dream, it will be easier to know how to be successful at it.

Get Intense:  Plan your Work. Work your plan.
My husband and I set out to be debt free by 2012.  This was not going to happen just because we wanted it to; it needed a plan, a specific plan.  We needed resources, support, and each other to get prepared to throw everything else aside and push hard to our goal.  This is the step where "cost" (both symbolically and literally) hit home.  This is NOT the EASY button! Your dream is not an overnight win.  We some emotional hurdles to overcome, a hoard of "No's" lined up to greet anything that would tempt us from moving forward.  The "No's" got bigger and bolder as time passed, some were emotional and we shed some tears together.  Our goal is in our sights now and we are moving forward with gusto!  You need this intensity in your life to make it.  There is going to be not one, but MANY distractions along the way. 

Be Accountable:  Invite a friend to go with you.
Loneliness invites a menagerie of garbage to find you. It takes an extraordinary amount of focus and dedication to perform some of the feats you will face in your pursuit.  Having a partner, a sounding board, a friend, or someone to keep you focused makes all the difference.  I was doing a phenomenal job of running and training for my half marathon goal when I knew my dog needed to get some exercise.  When those circumstances changed, I allowed other things to distract me from my training.  Some choices you are going to make are not going to be the most popular; having someone in your life corner serves as a reminder it will be worth the cost.  For some, this may be a full reliance on God and faith, so hang on to Him!

There is not a single decision you can make in this life that comes free to you...indecision is also a choice. Everything will cost - what do you have to lose? Everything, including the life you want to live!
What cost are you willing to make? What distractions do you need to turn away so you can focus on moving forward?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Captivating the Audience

"The only thing that matters in art is the part that cannot be explained." Georges Braque

Any book with this as the first line in its foreward commands my attention and requires a sincere acknowledgement.  I just picked up Leadership Presence from the growing pile of books on our night stand this evening and had to tear myself away from the engaging dialogue to post tonight on the topic of Artful Presence.  The authors are the cofounders of The Ariel Group, a group of former actors and performers who teach skills in leadership through purposefully led "presence exercises".  I won't divulge any more than that, just want to tease your pallet because by now I am sure you are asking "What does acting have to do with leadership?"  And the authors do a brilliant job of answering that question, so I will not attempt to do so.  You are going to have to read it for yourself. 

It does, however change the definition of leadership and speaks to the essence of what this blog is all about - Living and Leading Artistically.

The artist has the unique ability to influence and engage.  The psychology behind use of color, shape, and must be understood fully by an artist in order to gain "participants".  This is the same principle needed for effective leadership, is it not?  As a leader, you must posses the inconcievable ability to know what people need before they know they need it, understand motivators and WHY they cause people to move in your direction.

Those who embrace people and strive to create a genuine, unique experience command our attention.  They tear at our core and fuel our passion to be part of something greater than ourselves, to connect with what it is that motivates them.  People want to belong, be noticed, and discover something better about themselves.  Learning and mastering the art of leading is far greater than positional attributes or perfectly aligned plans.  The art of leading takes patience, willingness to open ourselves to others and develop authentic relationships.  The human spirit is complex; it takes time to uncover its many layers.

Think about the last time you were moved by a song lyric, movie, photograph, or sculpture.  What about it made it captivating?  Was there a specific element that spoke to you?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Living Artistically - Life in 3D

There is a significant difference between two-dimensional and three-dimensional art when it comes to how we observe, interpret, and interact with it.  The same goes for how we engage in life, observe it, and experience it.

When I studied two-dimensional art, we focused on color an the ability of the mind to interpret even the slightest variation in shade.  The mind plays tricks on us occasionally, you may know these as "optical illusions".  These illusions are simply line, color or form placed in such a way to convince the mind it is seeing something which may not actually be there.  Two colors placed next to one another in a purposeful way can affect the color thought to be present.  Once a proximal color is covered, the true color is revealed.  It was all in the details. 

In my three-dimensional study, we focused on bringing ideas to form.  The way in which someone engaged physically or emotionally with a project had to be planned out from the beginning:  is the piece meant to be touched, heard, seen, felt, walked on, stood in, put on, or any variety or combination of experiences.  The separation between the kiln dried pot and the fabric covered building can be as expansive as the stimulation they invoke to the participant.

I love the word participant when we discuss Art because it correlates well with Life.  I ask myself daily, "Are you participating in today, or observing?"  Think about your day, how would you describe the way each moment interacts with another? 

Is your description about the things, the places, and the people in your life?  Do you use adjectives to "color" those pieces?  An artist could most likely paint a beautiful portrait of your life from the intricate detail you might divulge.  And there is nothing wrong with this!  We love our families, our churches, our jobs, and the special places where we spend our time.  Where we risk creating illusion is placing color too closely, or just a shade too dark or bright, then we elude to a "picture perfect" life which may or may not be real and fulfilling. We also risk becoming observers of our lives, placing things instead of participating in them.

The opportunity to truly develop the Art of Living and participate fully in this limited engagement lies in our ability to connect moments, use all of our senses, and make experiences tangible.  We progress from 2D to 3D living when our thoughts become our feelings, considering our impact on others and theirs on us.  How do we all move together, intertwine, and PARTICIPATE in shaping life?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Released from the Stone

When the roughing out is done, the angel begins to release from the stone.

Over the course of the past two years, I have come to approach my life as one large block of marble, hence the concept behind my blog and the past several months of writing, hashing out of ideas, sketching, mapping, and taking a journey deep into the world of "what if" and "what could be".  The enjoyment of it all is not having the pressure to be productive in the pursuit.  I am free to explore ideas, find nuances and niches my own mind could not fathom previously.  I was in a dark corner for so long that when the day finally came to be released from my own solitude, I broke free from the mold!  The journey to discovering freedom beyond my imagination to be comfortable in my own thoughts is overwhelming and exhilarating.  I liken it to walking barefoot in the grass in late spring, digging in the sand at the beach and feeling the first waves crash on your skin, or my personal favorite, the first day of 70 degree weather when the windows are rolled down, the radio is cranked, and the open road is calling your name.

I did not know where this journey would take me, but I knew where I was could not get me there.  I took a risk. I stepped off the edge and ran boldly toward a faint glimpse of a dream.  Along the way, there are disappointments, mistakes, and lessons to be learned, yet at each step I gain confidence and strength to pursue a clearer vision.

It begins in our thoughts.  In those still moments, when in between each breathe a voice speaks.  What is it telling you?  The thunderous beat of your heart adds an exclamation point to every word.  Those quiet moments form the foundation for your creation, your dream, your own masterpiece.  How do you respond when the voice is telling you "You can't!" I let that voice win over my quiet moments. I let it convince me I wasn't good enough, that someone more talented, gifted, unique would do it better. The only person between me and a new day...was me.

A masterpiece is not an instant success. My first step out of darkness took 29 years! There were days when I wanted to run back to what I knew, to hear the voice tell me the truth again, but the voice got quiet, the dark corner faded in the distance.  The more I focused on where I was going, the less I ran in to barriers. The steps get smoother and with each day comes a deeper understanding and a clearer vision of what my creation will be.

Are you still looking back? Is the voice too loud for you today? If you took one step out today, where would it take you? 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Got a Dream? Dig a Ditch!

When I was eight years old, our family's home had a spring in the back yard.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching water spit out of seemingly no where into a ditch, which in turn flowed into a larger drainage system in our neighborhood.  With my limited world view and knowledge of where such water could come from, this small little spring fascinated me.  Some days is would be nothing more than a drool from the clay in the embankment, others is was as though the earth turned on a faucet as the water flowed into the ditch around our house. Water ultimately finds it way to larger bodies of water, no matter how humble its beginnings, it finds the path it needs to expand and grow. 

The human spirit has this same tenacity, the same need to find ways to grow and become larger, to join other stronger and more expansive places to be.  Yet it has humble beginnings.  It begins in the form of a simple thought, an idea, an epiphany and then bubbles up, joins other thoughts, feelings, ideas and experiences. From there it forms beliefs, values, and life choices until it reaches the heart and the other areas of the body from which the thoughts pour out into streams of action, response, and influence.

It is in these tangible outpourings, we are able to see the true person.  We have the chance to experience what lies inside the hard exterior and visualize the spirit which lives and breathes within the heart of another.  Once this is released, the heart is exposed and presents itself in ways we understand, such as the human spirit compelled to feed the hungry, who yearns to travel; his heart is revealed to a starving, third world village. We see this in the cancer survivor, determined to educate women about getting annual exams.  We see this in a child, challenged by the condition of local animal shelters, take a wagon and coin jar to his neighbors for donations.

What are we doing as Artistic Leaders to create spaces for this spirit to pour out into our organizations and communities?  What outlets do we provide for this spiritual energy to be release in positive ways? 

Are you forging rivers or building dams for the people you lead?