I don’t own any paintbrushes, pastels, charcoals, or watercolors. I’ve never sat in front of a pottery wheel, or stood in front of an easel. None of my work has ever been framed, nor has it ever hung in a gallery. Yet, much to the surprise of many who know me, I sit on the board of The Art Association of Jackson Hole. Even to me, that seems a bit ironic. However, the more time I’ve had the pleasure of spending around artists, the more I’ve come to understand that, in fact, I am an artist! Perhaps “struggling artist”, or “starving artist” is more accurate… but an artist nonetheless. I have no doubt that there’s an artist within you too. The question is, “will you let it out”?
The dictionary defines art as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, to be appreciated primarily for beauty or emotional power.” Think about that. By definition, art is about skill, combined with imagination, for the benefit of emotion. It’s not about painting. Or colors. Or canvas. It’s about sharing. Sharing your gift with others. Sharing your imagination with others. And, sharing both of those in a way that affects others emotionally. The good news is that anyone can do that! The bad news…or at least the reality… is that doing it is scary! Which is why not very many people do it…. why we don’t have enough artists.
Being an artist takes commitment. It takes courage. It takes persistence. It takes an ability to be miserable. In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield (a former Marine turned renowned writer) says an artist must “be like a Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable.” Being an artist requires sacrifice and passion. It requires patience and persistence. It requires vulnerability and curiosity. And, it requires work. Sound familiar? It does to me to. It sounds like being a leader is much the same as being an artist! And we know every industry needs leaders…needs artists!
Regardless of the industry we are in, we can all be artists. I’ve seen it first-hand. I’ve seen Marines be artists. I’ve seen mountaineers be artists. I’ve seen CEO’s be artists. I’ve seen artists in boardrooms, and I’ve seen artists on the factory floor. Watching an artist at work is a gift. And, unfortunately, it’s rare. Being led by an artist is a privilege, and it’s equally as rare.
Which brings me to my point. As leaders, we owe it to our people, to our organizations, and to our communities to be artists. To be someone who uses our skill and imagination to affect others emotionally. Being an artist isn’t about title, environment, or structure. Being an artist is about intent; the intent to share. And, the tools of an artist are not found on the shelves of an art supply store; they are found in the heart of the artist.
My challenge to you is to commit to being an artist…to find your artist within. As Seth Godin says in his book Linchpin, “Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient”. For the good of your people, of your organization, and of your community, share your gift. Or, as Steven Pressfield says, “Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got”.